Tag Archives: house hunting

Mission Almost Accomplished

Sawasdee Krab from Chiang Mai, Thailand. Four days into our Exploratory Trip to Thailand it looks like we’ve got a beautiful place to live. Having given notice to our landlord in Penang, we worked out a very favorable and amicable deal whereby she agreed to use our two month security deposit in lieu of us paying rent through the date we’ll vacate so we bought plane tickets and headed to Chiang Mai for 15 days in search of a place to live. Also needing to open a bank account, we lucked out by finding a friend on a Facebook group willing to introduce us to his banker. Thailand’s always changing rules sometimes means navigating an endless web of complications and although Plans A and B both failed, we’re glad to report we opened a bank account despite not yet having a visa.

Since it’s quite difficult to navigate posts using an IPad, especially when the battery is almost dead and it constantly freezes despite the Apple Genius in Canada claiming that’s not possible, I wanted to check in and let everyone know what we’re doing. Given the amount of traffic I’m still getting even without having posted awhile, we also what to stress that as of July 7th, we will no longer be living in Malaysia. Given the blog’s focus on two North Americans choosing an overseas early retirement due to an unexpected layoff, I’ll be shifting the focus from Malaysia, the MM2H Visa and Penang to our life in Northern Thailand. Understanding there’s literally thousands of blogs on Chiang Mai, I’ll continue trying to tell stories rather than writing “we did this, we did that”. And many of you accustomed to my usual brand of sarcastic cynicism may be surprised because so far, Thailand is about a million times better than Penang.

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House Number Three that You’ll Never See

Apparently The Experimental Expats won’t be making an episode of a House Hunters International any time soon. If you’ve noticed there’s rarely any episodes made in Malaysia, it’s not your imagination. Overdeveloped condo units owned by almost all foreign investors, mostly from the Chinese mainland means you won’t see very many condo boards agreeing to show their precious properties on television, especially if there’s nothing in it for them. Despite the fact they might actually rent some of the dozens of empty units, we’re told they’d rather leave them empty than take a loss or even a small profit as this would be a huge loss of “face“, the most important cultural aspect of Chinese culture. Welcome to Asia.

The view from our pool

The view from our pool

For the benefit of anyone considering a tryout for an episode filmed in Malaysia, let me save you some time. The most basic requirement of the casting producers is a signed release by the owner of your property (for renters only) and an authorized representative of building management (obviously not applicable for those who might own or rent a single family home: not very common in Malaysia). Seemingly the easiest step in the process, our western brains thought it’s a no brainer to gain exposure to the unit and is clearly in the best interest of owners on an island that has a sinfully low occupancy rate due to overdevelopment. Wrong. Moving right to the very tedious 16 page questionnaire, I spent several days writing and editing our responses which is an important factor when the producers are considering your overall audition. After constructing a wordy but thoroughly developed Word document, we sent it off to the producer and then emailed our landlord through our property agent. Basically not objecting but refusing to sign the waiver until we get condo board approval, we visited the guy in charge of building management and received less than a warm welcome.

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Home Sweet Home

Yay, we have a place to live! Having accomplished an amazing amount in a relatively quick timeframe, we’re glad to report we signed a rough draft on a rental agreement in the beautiful Bayu Ferrengghi apartment complex. Having spent another day searching in the areas closer to amenities, shopping and “the big city”, we decided that suburban living facing the oceanfront was more our style. Unlike many beachfront locations, Penang is a small island served with an amazingly efficient set of bus routes that are quick, clean and air-conditioned. Seven day Bus passes cost MYR 30 for unlimited rides and monthly passes are also available but you need to fill out a form and attach a passport picture so we can do that later. Served by two lines that traverse the entire side of the island from downtown Georgetown all the way our to Penang National Park, getting anywhere is easy.

Lemak Laksa, unique to Penang

Lemak Laksa, unique to Penang

Proving everything you read on forums is not always true, I want to give an immediate shout out to our incredible property agent, Catherine Loh. Having read horror stories about agents that scam, steal, and don’t care about anything but getting paid, I’m happy to tell you there’s at least one agent with honesty. Acting with the same integrity as the realtor in Walnut Creek that got us 15% over asking price on the sale of our house, Catherine knows the island well, speaks impeccable English and genuinely puts the interests of her clients first. Not seeing the need to use any other agents, we realized that although there’s a lot of rentals available, many of them come with annoyances such as being in the middle of construction zones, being too far inland for those without a car or with occupants not in line with what we’re looking for. The famed Miami Green Apartments, for example, is the most popular expat complex on the island with an 80% expat population. Unfortunately, people come and go, security is lax, the road is dark and dangerous at night and its location halfway between Batu Ferrengghi and Tanjung Bungah make it impossible to walk anywhere. If you want to know these things, you need a good agent. Like Yvonne at Joy-Stay, Catherine is this agent.  (they know each other and thT shows the best work with the best) .Feel free to contact her at propsolutions.com or contact us for her phone number.

Compromising a bit, we decided on a ninth floor unit and not the original one we viewed in the 26th floor because its furnishings were more complete and it had a good feel to it. Although limited compared to the rest of Penang, a huge scale construction project is just beginning not too far from our complex and the view hides the ugliness and keeps some of the noise down. Everything in Penang is negotiable and interestingly enough, the owner of the higher unit wanted MYR 3900 but counter-offered all the way down to MYR 3200 when they discovered we found another unit in the same building that was much cheaper. Satisfied with our decision, we can get the keys next Monday and our tenancy begins in July 15th. Terms are one year with an option to rent at the same rent for an extra year and the owner pays all the condo fees.

Getting started in Malaysia is quite expensive compared to North American rentals. Most landlords demand two months rent, a half month more for a utility deposit, a stamping fee for legal paperwork and then most agents charge an additional one month’s rent as a fee. Considering this fairly exorbitant, be ready to shell out as much as 3 1/2 months up front. Luckily for us, Catherine agreed to charge us only half a month’s rent as a fee and we consider that very reasonable. Not even demanding proof of MM2H approval, we probably used the ethnic advantage so my advice to all the white guys is marry a Chinese girl if you want favorable treatment. On that note, everyone in KL speaks Cantonese so Diane understood everyone just fine. Penang Chinese people speak Hokkien, a dialect so strange-sounding that it may as well be Swahili to anyone speaking Cantonese. So although Diane can’t understand one word they say, the funny part is she can reposed in Cantonese and they all understand. Inquiring where they learned, they told us from watching TV. At least they don’t think she’s Filipino like in San Francisco.

As for shopping, there’s a large Tesco located nearby and we’ve already seen that’s the main place for just about anything. Open from 8 AM until 1 AM every day, there’s a myriad of American, European and Asian food items, housewares, toiletries and almost everything else. Already applying for a club card, I’m sure we’ll be there next week to buy bedding, laundry detergent, some cutlery and many other small items. Cold Storage is also here should you crave European meats, cheeses or various other sundries. As expected, alcohol is crazy expensive and even a cold Tiger beer at the hawker centers are expensive by Malaysian standards but since we had our fill of California wines for enough years, this is no big deal for us. (Although nothing tastes better than a cold one in the sultry heat of a food court, especially if you like spicy dishes like laksa and curry Mee)

Malaysians are possibly the most helpful and honest people in any country on earth and moving here has been surprisingly easy so far. Both of us think of a throwback to 1960’s America where people helped each other, everyone knew their jobs thoroughly and things ran smoothly and efficiently. Not really encountering the slow, inefficient island like speed that everyone writes about, we’re both equally surprised how easy navigating things is. Peacefully co-existing, it’s a far cry from the sad and pathetic depiction of Muslim counties that’s drilled into heads of every American. Graciously helpful, the staff in every store goes out of their way to help and if they don’t understand, they immediately find someone who does. Refreshingly pleasant, we’ve been able to get our bank accounts open, buy new cell phones even though the system is very different from North America and navigate the transit system. Our banker Shahreeman is possibly one of the coolest and hippest relationship managers anywhere. Email us if you need a referral in Malaysia.

Kim Chee pork and rice

Kim Chee pork and rice

Receiving word yesterday from Joy-Stay that they signed our MM2H Conditional Letter of Approval, the visa process is almost complete. Unfortunately, it requires another trip back to KL to complete but they give you six months from the date of the approval to do this. Thinking we need some time to relax, we’ll probably go in late August once we’ve had time to settle into our new condo unit. Requiring a trip to Joy-Stay’s offices, Yvonne will arrange a medical appointment which is quick and simple and hand us the hard copy of the approval letter. Returning to our banker the next day, we’ll place the fixed deposit of MYR 150,000 and receive a bank lien letter. With everything already set up and the funds transferred, this is a painless and easy issue. Proving timing is everything in life, the Ringgit continues to weaken against the U.S. Dollar and our deposit comes to just under $40,000 USD, an astounding drop of over $10K since we began researching the program. Given the currency rates, now would be a good time to convert more and not less and having all our money based in the U.S. Is highly advantageous at the moment. (The ringgit,is it this low versus the Euro so Europeans don’t enjoy this benefit).

Jack fruit at Tesco

Also needing to secure a medical insurance policy for one year as a requirement for the Visa, we’ll visit one of the many multi-global companies with a presence in Malaysia like AIG or Allianz. Typical insurance premiums for healthy people run somewhere in the range of a few hundred US dollars for all the standard coverage. After that, we will probably pay as you go for any routine medical treatments. The ministry also insists on applicants shelling over ten years worth of annual fees at one time which we think is excessive but there’s nothing we can do about it. Finally, we will visit Putrajaya with Yvonne and get a stamp in the passport allowing for ten years of unlimited entry in an out of Malaysia, renewable indefinitely. Hello new life.

Having so much more to share, please accept my apologies as I end this post for now. Promising a food based topic next time, we’ve already enjoyed scores of Penang favorites lite Laksa, Curry Mee, Mee Goreng, Char Kway Teow and Popiah (the best spring rolls ever and unique to Penang). We already made a new friend as one of the hotel employees is an awesome 30 something Malaysian woman who went way above and beyond to help us get out of the crappy Copthorne. She lives five minutes from our new condo and we exchanged contact info so we can get some personal tours of the area and find out where the locals eat. Cheers for now as we’re off to the hawker center for dinner that will no doubt cost under $5 USD. Selamat Tinggal.

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