I never figured myself for a green-thumb kinda guy and my early childhood spent watching South Africa's favourite gardener, Keith Kirsten, left me with an overall impression of gardeners toiling all day in the dirt and smelling not unlike a combination of formaldehyde, mulch and whatever growing thing they happened to brush up against last. Recently, Gemma and I purchased a house together. Through all of our adventures in house buying, the one thing which became the veritable holy grail of the first home, was a layout in which the kitchen led onto the garden via a gaping large sliding door at the back of the house, welcoming the fecund scents of spring into the expectant kitchen carpel. For me, the focus was always on the house and all the beautiful things it could be filled with, but lately, with the weather so very excellent in February, or indeed by any other month's standards, the focus has shifted, to the outside. Walking around the garden the past few days has revealed things I couldn't see upon moving into the house half way through September last year. Small buds have begun to appear, grass has begun to grow, barren shrubs have regenerated from nothing, grey has turned to green, indeed everywhere I now look, new life has sprung forth from the earth where only barren soil and dead branch resided only days ago. Eager to assist our new garden in its efforts to reclaim all that was lost to it during the winter, we have purchased Primroses and planted Lily of the Valley and all types of herbs, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Mint and even some Rocket. The garden is alive and to my eyes, presently only beginning to exhale after holding its breath for so many months. I Look forward to the spring and summer with unbridled anticipation... oh if Keith could see me now.
It's been a successful last couple of years in London. Since starting at Merrill Lynch and moving on from the days of £200 dinners for kicks, expensive cars for fun and designer suits for nothing, I've wised up at last and started trying to make more of my opportunities. To this end I have added a 3rd property to (what I am now calling) my portfolio.
I've been shopping around for about the last 6 months for a good investment. By now, everybody knows the party is over for the London property market (in fact it's more like the morning after when you come out the club and it's light and you can't get a cab, and it's raining) so I knew I needed to look further afield to invest in something with actual growth potential. At the moment there are several so-called property hotspots in the world, among them Eastern Europe, Brazil, Macau (and indeed China in general), several of the Caribbean Islands, Mongolia and Malaysia. One thing I have learned through the process of looking for a good investment is that if you can see the herd, you're already too late, but for a part-time amateur investor like me, I was never going to be intrepid enough to take the risk on a completely new market so it was all about finding a location which was booming, but still not overpriced. The investment also had to be 'hands-free' (i.e. No more to pay after deposit) and preferably cash-flow positive or at least neutral (i.e. actually returned cash or simply took care of its self). Lastly, there needed to be good let potential and exit strategy, which implied strong local market demand.
Finally, after so many hours reading about different locations, analysing local markets, tax laws, exchange rate trends and rental yields I have found what I believe to be the best investment possible within my budget, a new apartment in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. KL is a booming metropolis and Malaysia is really on the up and up with 50% of the population under the age of 27, an urbanisation rate of 10% per annum and a booming IT services industry servicing neighbouring China, it looks set to achieve solid growth over the coming years. It should also be largely protected from the downturns in the current credit crunch given the economy is not dependant on the US consumer, like so much of the rest of the world is. The property is a two bedroom, 77sqm apartment in the heart of KL's Golden Triangle, about 5 minutes away from the Petronas Towers, the world's tallest buildings. Set for completion late 2010, this is definitely a long term investment and anything could happen during that time, but I figure what the hey, one can't be too overly cautious. It's a risk to be sure, but a risk I hope will pay off.
Update 26/05/2010: Initial completion estimates have proven to be overly optimistic. Instead of October this year, the Crest KLCC will now only be complete in the final quarter of 2011.
About two months ago, my parents came down to London for a visit. It so happened I was feeling a bit feverish that day, the start of what ended up being a good bout of flu, so I stayed home and it was well I did because at some point during the day, a skinny, lost and cold ginger cat with a sniffle followed my father back into the house after he went out to his car. Having grown up with cats, I immediately liked him but with Gemma being allergic to cats, I tried to discourage him from staying, so I gave him as much food as I had and a saucer of milk and after he had a two hour nap, I put him outside again with the promise, to myself, that if he came back, I would take him in right away and take care of him. An hour or two passed and then what I had secretly hoped for but didn't think would happen, happened, a little flash of ginger and white appeared on the window-sill outside the lounge and I leapt up from the sofa, almost knocking over my Lemsip, and let him in the house. Poor little thing, he went straight into the bedroom and fell asleep at once, for several hours. After Gemma came home that day, we decided (tentatively) to keep him. After much deliberation, we decided to name him Pantoufle, after the little girl's imaginary friend in the novel Chocolat by Anne Harris. I had always wanted a cat in London, but not having a garden and leading a fairly irregular life of late nights at the office and triathlon training schedules meant I didn't feel I could be a legitimate cat-minder. Now, with a garden in our lovely mid-terrace home, a cat has about forty other adjoined gardens to play in and in some ways, life has normalised to a certain extent. The point is in any case moot, the moment he jumped up on that window-sill, he was here to stay for better or worse and even when he wakes me up at 4am, for food and to be let out, he's still the best little ginger cat in the world.