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Sunday, November 29, 2015

A data guy's analysis of the Perth Housing market - Nov 2015

As a renter in Australia who lived nearly 10 years in a Canadian house that we built, cared for and loved it's nearly (no, it's fully) impossible to ignore the property market in Perth.

If you've read any of my posts you know that Perth in 2012 was absolutely booming.  Ex-pats and their companies were paying extreme sums per week for rental properties and at the lower end you could have up to 30 family's bidding for a single rental property the day it came on the market.  The rental housing market was on fire period with the number of vacant homes (units and houses) said to have hit a low of ~1200 September of 2012.

Things have changed.  A lot.

There are a lot of stories of the declines in real estate with examples of huge rent cuts, as well as significant discounting of homes to sell them. The problem is these are a sample of one.  

So, that said, I've started to pull data.  I've started with 3 key metrics which are readily available and get reported weekly - Sales of Houses, Number of houses on the market, and total vacant rental properties.

Note that I've selected just houses for sales data and properties on the market, not including units or land.  At this point I've not been able to do this with rentals, so it's total vacancies including units.

So here's the first chart:
The index on left is houses for sale on the market - reported weekly (on the blue line).  The index on the right is number of houses sold per week (on the red line).  The green line is a moving average of houses sold using an average of 12 weeks.  

Here's some quick first thoughts:
The sales trend is down per the moving average line, BUT, I'm unsure about the seasonality and I'm interested to see if sales come up in summer and show some of the big peaks that were shown last summer.  So far when you compare November 2015 vs 2014 sales are down ~21% or 130 houses per week.

The other thing is there is a significant change in the trend of houses on the market that starts on the 25th of August 2015 and really hasn't stopped since.  On average during the period from August 25th to Nov 26th - 180 houses have been added to the market.  (That's 180 more houses listed than sold per week for 12 weeks straight - 2200 houses)  

Next is a simple chart of rental vacancies.  Unfortunately I don't have data going back to 2012 but I do have reports that the low was Sept 2012 at 1200.  The week of Nov 26 hit 9400.

There's not much to say either than the trend is good for renters and bad for property investors trying to rent their properties.  

If anyone knows where I can get the rest of the data going back to, well as far back as I can go I'd love to hear it.  I'd also like to hear whether you find this data valuable / interesting.  

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Getting a permanent residence visa in Australia

I've been away from the blog for a long time....and funny enough people keep reading so I thought I'd write about the topic that I get the most questions about: getting that coveted visa for Permanent residence in Australia.

My disclaimer, I'm nowhere near an expert on the topic, I'm not an migration lawyer and this is purely my experience so yours may be different.  The other thing to mention is that Australia are extremely serious about immigration and as such their approach to immigration is subject to change rapidly in some ways and is constantly being debated in the media and in federal politics.

The Backstory
In early 2014 when we made the decision to leave the cosy cotton blankets of "Big Red" I negotiated with my new company "MediumYellow" to pay for me and my family to get our permanent residence visas.  This would take away some of the risk and cost of being on the 457 long stay visa.

To explain the risks / costs:
1) 457 visa holders do not get medicare/public health (with the exception of some countries with reciprocal agreements).
2) Laws in Western Australia had just changed and we were about to have to pay 4000 AUD per family for our kids to attend public school.
3) 457 visa holder have only 90 days to find a job with a company willing to sponsor their existing visa if they are laid off.

"Medium Yellow" hired a migration agent / lawyer we will call BlueLaw to manage the effort and so the process began.

I'm going to try to tell this story in terms of timing so you can get a sense of how long it took and I'll also share the costs that were incurred which are not for the faint of heart.

July 7 2014 -
Medium Yellow engages BlueLaw to handle our transfer from 457 visa to Permanent residence.  This begins a long discussion on which visa we will apply for. I had not yet worked for MediumYellow for 2 years, the standard required transition time for the temporary resident transition stream which took away the easy route.

The discussion becomes whether to apply for RSMS (regional sponsored migration scheme) 187 subclass or ENS (Employer nominated scheme) 186 subclass through the direct entry stream.

MediumYellow with guidance from BlueLaw chose to go the RSMS route which reduced the cost slightly. (Around 500 less)

July 23 2014 
BlueLaw send me the questionnaire of the century.  This thing was a beast.  Questions like, name every trip you've made to every country ever, with dates.  And....every job you've held since birth.  It took me about a week and a half to gather all of the information and then longer to gather some of the requested reference letters.
BlueLaw's questionnaire required that we provide passport style photos with the application.  We didn't do this originally and though I expected this to cause a problem at some point they never did come back to request it.
My suspicion was that the form was one that BlueLaw used for all migration schemes and was potentially overkill.  This became evident further in the process but ultimately worked fine.

August 31 2014
I finally send all of the information back to BlueLaw.

September 17 2014
After two weeks of not hearing anything I send an email to BlueLaw asking for status and if they got my submission.  They claim yes and that they are liaising with the business on something.

September 25 2014
BlueLaw and MediumYellow advise that they have to change which visa they are applying to from the RSMS to the ENS 186 direct stream because the RSMS required that my job was posted for 3 months prior to the application.  Given that I was already employed, this option was out. An extra 500 bucks and some time lost but not a huge deal.

October 21 2014 
Yes, nearly a month went past and finally BlueLaw sends a letter telling us to go and get a medical clearance and security clearances from any countries we have lived in (in our case Australia and Canada).

The problem is we're headed to New Zealand on holidays and I'm working on budgets at work so the whole thing sits for a while.

Nov 19 2014 and Nov 21 2014
We set up online accounts with immi which gives us a number we can use and then book the health clearances and subsequently go to the BUPA Visa health centre in Perth for the health checks.  For me and the Mrs this consists of a chest x-ray, peeing in a cup and a few questions about a questionnaire we filled out.  For the kids, the 6 year old peed in a cup and the 4 year old had the doctor touch his belly for approximately 5 seconds and ask me if he was healthy.

This cost around $1000 AUD.  Yep  $1000.  It was a joke but a requirement.

Also...please note the part about peeing in a cup.  I did not realize this would be a requirement and went the the bathroom approximately 30 seconds before they told me about said requirement.  I'll let you do the math.

It takes 5 days to get the results which in our case were all good.

Nov 27 2014
Me an the Mrs go online to the website of the Australia Federal Police and order police clearances for Australia.  The whole process takes only seconds, is completely online and costs only $42 AUD per person.  We receive an email the next day saying the clearance has been completed and will be mailed out.  The letters showed up within a few days.  EASY!

The same day I research how to get cour Canadian clearances.  The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are not quite so easy.  The website details that we need to be fingerprinted and then we have 2 choices.
1- Send those fingerprints and wait 6 months (yes 6 months) or
2- Engage a third party in Canada to digitize the fingerprints and then send them to the RCMP for an almost immediate turnaround.

Dec 2 2014
We head down to the Australian Federal Police offices in West Perth to have our fingerprints scanned.  We brought multiple copies printed forms that the scanning company in Canada had provided.  They suggested getting multiple copies to prevent any issues which the security guard at the AFP tasked with the prints is not super happy with and initially wants to charge extra for.

Cost: ~$50 AUD

Mid December 2014
We select Morpho Canada (also known as L1) to do the scanning and courier the fingerprint sheets to Canada.  ....and wait and hope that these guys are who they say they are....

Jan 7 2015
The fine folks at Morpho send us the completed Canadian Security clearances.  The last major piece of the puzzle.

Cost ~250 CAD which is about the same in AUD.

BlueLaw send us the completed visa forms for our approval.  The mistakes are many but are easy to fix and go back the same day.

Jan 20 2015
BlueLaw make it official that visa application has been lodged.  They mention that we should now be eligible for Medicare (public health) - which we were and applied for quickly.  They also mention that there is no way to expedite the process, we need to just wait it out,

March 9 2015 
Done right....nope....BlueLaw need us to sign forms transferring the agent to a new person.  Ok easy enough.

April 30 2015
Visa approved.  It becomes much harder to get kicked out of the country.

The total costs in Aussie dollars (somewhat updated as I am putting an employee through this right now)

Professional Fee (for primary applicant):                        $4000.00 + 10% GST
Professional Fee (per additional over-18 dependent):        $500.00 + 10% GST Professional Fee (per additional under-18 dependent):        $350.00 + 10% GST

Government Lodgement Fees (nomination):                $540
Government Lodgement Fees (for primary applicant):        $3,600
Government Lodgement Fee (per over-18 dependent):        $1,800
Government Lodgement Fee (per under-18 dependent):        $900
Credit Card Surcharge (1.99%)                         

Bupa Health clearances - Approximately $1100 
Police Clearances - Approximately $500

So for my family of 4 (2 adults 2kids) Gov't fee's of $7740 + $1600 for clearances and then $5720 for BlueLaw's services.

So here is the part where you say, is it really necessary for BlueLaw to be involved.  MediumYellow use this mob exclusively and they do seem to get the job done.  That said, besides the original selection of which visa to apply for, it's not clear to me that they added much value.  The forms they filled out were pretty basic and as you can see from the process they added quite a bit of time to the process in their lack of responsiveness.  It could also be argued that they also saved time by knowing what they were doing.

My final take would be, if the company is paying use them, if you're doing it on your own, just pay an agent for some initial guidance.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Ant killing time - Dealing with our ant problem

Expats come to Australia with the worry of spiders, snakes, sharks, jelly fish and other animals / pests that will mess you up.  In Perth my experience is that you need to worry about ants.  Ants are everywhere in Perth...I might go so far as to say that Perth is one gigantic ant hill.

The last house we were in, a company provided McMansion that was only 3-5 years old really never had any issues on the inside.  They were brutal at times outside (mostly in the Summer) but could be controlled by dropping Ant Killa down the hole of the nest.

Our current abode is different.

We noticed them as soon as we moved in.  Mostly in our master bathroom and in areas near the kitchen.  They were bad the first summer but manageable.  When winter came around they disappeared giving us a truly false sense of victory.

The other problem is children.

My lovely children (who we've decided we're going to keep despite this problem) leave food bits all over the house.  30 minutes after the food bit is left, a trail of ants (somewhere in the range of hundreds to thousands) move in for the extraction.  They are seriously impressive how they work as a team to move fairly large bits of food.

The ants are now everywhere.  They're on the counters, the kitchen table, all of the hardwood and tile surfaces and even some of the rugs.  The seem to come in through holes in the brick and baseboards and the second there is food present the numbers climb exponentially.

I've had enough...it's ant killing time.

Today I'm going to Bunnings.  My plan is to use several possible methods, in a disciplined and routine manner until their under control.

Here we go....

Day 1, a Saturday, I spend $25 on Ant Killa see image above in a big bulk 5Kg bag.  $9 on indoor Ant traps from 2 different brands and $18 on Bayer Advanced Ant and Wasp dust.

The strategy is going to be this...

1) Indoors where there is a steady trail of Ants I'm going to put Ant traps.

2) Outdoors where there are noticeable ant hills I'm going to lay down Ant Killa (a sand like compound) directly into the holes.

3) The Ant and Wasp dust is going to be put in spots where the Ants seem to be penetrating wood and concrete to get into / out of the house and any areas where they seem to be congregating.

So on the Saturday I put down 5 traps and a healthy amount of Ant Killa outside on the ant hills.  The dust would have to wait for another day.

Day 3 progress.

The ants are still around but the numbers have dropped significantly.  The ant traps do seem to attract the ants but I can't say for sure what affect they're having.  A couple of areas that had massive numbers of ants have very few now which honestly surprises me.  In a few days I'll check back and then may add the dust.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

WASO's Symphony in the City (photos and mini review)

Last night we went down for the Western Australia Symphony Orchestra's Symphony in the City.  The annual event held outdoors in Langley Park is a free event and had an attendance over 20,000.  I've seen a number of WASO concerts of late (including a concert with the brilliant Ben Folds) and continue to be blown away by the quality and this event was no exception.  In fact, given the setting, the inclusion of the entire WASO choir this is right up there as one of my favorites.

Well done WASO....see you soon!

Balloon animals....and helicopters

Langley Park is an awesome setting for any event
Tight Security :)

The finale with fireworks

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Getting stranded on Rottnest Island

Back in early September we decided to take a short 4 day trip to Rottnest Island.  Rottnest for those who don't know is an Island off the coast of Western Australia which takes approximately 30-45 minutes by ferry.

A couple of key points about Rottnest:
There are essentially no cars on the Island outside of support vehicals and a bus that runs the length of the Island.  The main method of transport is bicycle which you can rent or bring across on the ferry.  This made a perfect place for Owen who wasn't yet 4 to practice his cycling skills and charm the locals doing it.

Rottnest is one of two islands in Western Australia where you can find the Quokka.  A cute agreeable marsupial which is everywhere on the Island.

Hello Quokka

Rottnest was once a military installation and still has some of the original equipment (A massive gun that was installed to protect the Submarines that were stationed at Fremantle - the second largest installation in the world only to Pearl Harbour during the second world war) as well as some of the tunnels that were built to support the installation.

Gun from World War II....it had a ~30km range

Storm coming in....

September meant we had the Island nearly to ourselves AND that the weather may not be the model of consistency that Western Australia was normally known for.  On the third evening the Wind exceeded 100km's an hour.  The following day, which was supposed to include our journey out the Ferrys were cancelled providing another day (at no cost) on the Island.  I can't say that we didn't enjoy being stranded an extra day. :)

I highly recommend the trip to Rottnest!

A couple of other notes:
We stayed at the Geordie Bay Cabins on the Island which are self contained with kitchens and bbq's and all have a view of the Indian Ocean over Geordie Bay.  They are basic, rustic and everything worked.  The cabins are about a 10-15 minute bike ride from the main town.  Luggage service was provided with the ferry ticket.

We brought an esky / cooler with food for the trip.  Food is quite expensive on the Island.

Geordie Bay

Friday, September 26, 2014

My ongoing list of favorite Perth cheap restaurants

We quickly found out, after being in Perth for a day or so that it's not an inexpensive place to eat out.   Let me rephrase that: it's mind numbingly awestrikingly outrageously expensive.   But... there are exceptions to the rule. 

Here are my faves.   I'm going to keep adding to this list it as I find more.  I'll only add restaurants that I have tried and would appreciate any suggestions in the comments.

Sept 26 additions:

Trangs Cafe (Vietnamese/Pho): Girrawheen

This is a new find and I've now been 3 times as the food is cheap, fresh, high quality and with decent portion sizes.  Dishes run between 10-13 dollars.  So far I've tried a Spicy Noodle Soup, Fried rice noodles, Vermicelli Noodle bowl with spring roll and pork and the Rice paper rolls with prawn and pork.  Trangs has just renovated and looks great in the small premise.  It has been busy each time I've been in there.

I should mention that in the area of Trang's there are 6 or more Vietnamese restaurants, 2 of which are producing BMT (Banh mi thit) sandwhiches for ridiculously low prices (5 dollars cash at the one I went in to try)  It's not a destination area for scenery but it should be for great food. 

EB's Cafe:  Wangara

Wangara is apparently known for having great lunch bars and I now know why.  Every day EB's has a different offering of Chinese food served with their standard tasty fried rice (you can also ask for steamed rice but you'd be missing out).  I believe the rotation is Monday: Chicken and Veg in Black been sauce, Tuesday Egg Noodles and a separate chinese omelette, Wednesday: Chinese Curry with chicken and potato, Thursday: A spicey thin noodle dish and separately a Chicken satay dish that seems more like a green curry and is my personal favorite, Friday: Some sort of stew that I've yet to try.  They always have a pile of sweet honey chicken balls that you can add on. A medium order of chinese with fried rice is $6.....$7.50 for a large.

The other thing EB's is doing daily is a $6.50 Pork Gravy Roll.  Take roast pork chopped up, add some of the cracklin, put it on a fresh toasted bun and pour tasty gravy all over it.  It's consistently really good and my go to when I'm not feeling like having Chinese.  They do a number of other dishes but I just haven't got to them yet.

Original selections:
Ali Baba's takeaway (Turkish / Kebabs): Rivervale
There are a lot of kebab shops in Perth and most are reasonably priced.   Ali Baba's is by far my favorite and by far beats any Kebab shop (we called them donairs) back home in Edmonton.   They have a massive wood oven turning out fresh awesome turkish bread which you can buy.   This same fresh bread makes up the bread component of the kebabs.  Everyone I've brought here agrees the food is excellent and the family that runs it is very friendly.

When we first arrived in Perth we would go out for an evening drive until both kids fell asleep, then pull up right in front of Ali Baba's and have a cheap date at one of the small tables arms length from the car while keeping a watchfully eye on the kids.  

The Red Chair (Breakfast / Vietnamese) : Crossways Mall, Subiaco
I'm not sure how we found this place but it has quickly become a goto for a cheap healthy lunch.   They're open until mid afternoon every day and serve baked items, good coffee, and nice breakfasts.   The reason I go though is the fantastic Vietnamese vermicelli bowls which are so fresh tasting, good portions and around 12 dollars.  I also find the ambiance of eating in the middle of Crossways Mall quite enjoyable.

Ten Ten (chinese) : Albany Highway Victoria Park
My buddy Adam turned me on to this place a few months ago and it's become a weekly favorite.   For 9 dollars you get a healthy portion of killer good fried rice with your selection of protein and sauce.   All served to you at bullet train speed that would make Mcdonalds envious.   See below my Curried Beef with Fried Rice.  The curry has a nice spice and the beef is tender.

Sparrow (Indonesian): Lord Street, Mount Lawly

I fell in love with the flavors of Indonesian food on my first and only trip to Jakarta back in September.  Unfortunately my body wasn't nearly as fond of the food for a good week after the visit.  

Then I found Sparrow in Mount Lawly.  Sparrow encorporates the flavors of Indonesia with the MUCH higher quality ingredients of Australia, fast service, and no need to deal with Jakarta traffic.  The owner is a total character and offers 10% discount for first time customers.  Three mains, rice and 2 ice teas came to $30 AUD.  That's seriously cheap here.

Any suggestions for what else should make this list???

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Great mobile apps for Expats - Part 1 the basics

I spend a serious amount of time using my three mobile devices.  My current setup is a Samsung Note3, a 4th generation full size Ipad, and a reasonably new Dell Lattitude laptop.  I also have a trusty Windows PC I built around 5 years ago which still gets a tonne of use.  At this point I'm going to focus on the apps for the phone and tablet but you'll see that many are also available via webapp (usually via the Chrome Web Store).

This first batch is the basics....these are useful for all expats regardless of what country you're headed to or already at.  I personally think these are excellent for anyone.

1) World time buddy - Basic (free) - Pro $4.00
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One of the major downsides of working in the Asia Pac region for a US company is dealing with the difference in time zones.  We're never at work when they are at work and vise versa.  Add to this many don't take the time to figure out time zones so I end up with meeting invitations at 3 in the morning or just comments like "What is the time there?"

World time buddy takes world clocks to a new level in that it shows you on a clever grid format up to 4 time zones for the free version and up to 10 per group (I haven't run out of groups yet) for the pro version.  The tool allows you to select a time in your zone (or any zone for that matter) and see immediately what time it is in the rest of the world.  I personally think it's an indispensable tool.

2) XE Currency converter (Free) - Pro $2.00.
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If you're changing countries, you're dealing with multiple currencies and need to be able to convert them.  This, besides being by a Canadian company is the best I've found.  I spent the whopping 2 bucks for the pro version which eliminates the adds and allows more currencies to be tracked.

On this point I suggest read about converting currency here if you don't have a plan or you plan to use your bank

XE Currency Pro - screenshot   XE Currency Pro - screenshot

3) Lastpass - requires 12 dollar per year subscription for mobile use (free if you don't want it on your phone)
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Lastpass is my soapbox app.  That is I get on my soapbox and tell everyone I can about it.  Lastpass handles every single password I have on every device I have extremely securely.  At current count I have 233 passwords - every one is different, and intensely secure (Lastpass will create them for you if you choose). The only one password you have to remember is your Lastpass master password.  The ones you want extra secure can be set so Lastpass asks again for the Master password.

Lastpass is actually free if you just want to use it on browsers on a PC, Laptop or IPad and then you pay $12 per year to have access on your mobile phone (as well as other helpful features).

Lastpass also has Secure Notes.  These are password protected notes you can save within your Lastpass vault.  You're an expat now, and as such have new country tax numbers and other funky data. Create a Secure Note for them and they are always at your disposal with your master password. You can even add attachments to your secure notes.

In Android Lastpass is also now filling in username and password in Apps.  In both Android and iOS they have created their own browser which works well and auto populates user names and passwords into your websites.

In Windows - Lastpass has browser extensions for Chrome, Explorer and Firefox which work flawlessly.  This is one of my can't live without applications.

4) Any decent cloud storage app - Dropbox is my favorite (free)
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You're moving.  That means you have more documents to fill out and sign and send than you can shake a stick at.  You also have travel documents and it's a really really good idea to have scans of them available to you at all time.  Enter the cloud storage app.  I choose Dropbox as my favorite but Google Drive, Microsoft Onedrive, and Box.net are all good solutions and there are many more.

When we were moving I created a folder in dropbox to contain all of the many many documents. Real estate, moving, visa submission, job contracts, expenses, taxes, policies, insurance, and much more.  I have dropbox installed on my PC, my laptop, my Android mobile and my iPad.  When I put any file into a dropbox folder on any one device it synchronizes to all of the devices and can be accessed by any computer anywhere in the world at the dropbox website with the correct user name and password.

When you're doing one of these moves this accessibility is unbelievably convenient.

I personally like dropbox because it can natively read all of the major file types without needed other applications in both Android and iOS. Dropbox give you up to 2GB free and then you can buy additional space or earn it through a number of methods.  Lately buying a Samsung android device has provided around 50GB for two years.

Dropbox - screenshot