Lee Rotbart

Archive for the ‘The beginning’ Category

Learnings so far…

In The beginning on August 2, 2010 at 1:57 pm

Bored of moaning about the mortgage, and unable to update you on anything as there is no news as yet, I thought I’d take this time to reflect on how things have gone so far.

We arrived back from our holiday in Cornwall 6 weeks ago and in that time we’ve managed to get an offer accepted on our dream guesthouse, sell my flat, appoint a solicitor, write a business plan and gather all manner of statistics and research about the Cornwall Tourist Industry.

Not bad going when you consider that we left for our holiday with absolutely no intention to do anything bar have a lovely relaxing time, and partake in a bit of walking. Also in this time, I’ve learned a helluva lot about mortgages, about juggling a job while trying to fulfill a dream, about estate agents, and about myself.

To summarise:

  1. Not all estate agents are bad people; yes they’re a bit pushy and a bit insensitive, and it did annoy me the way they addressed all correspondence to ‘Mr’ Lee Rotbart when I am quite clearly female. However, they have been pleasant, efficient and did a very good job at alleviating the guilt I felt when I couldn’t sell to the first guy that saw the flat – apparently house buying should not work on a ‘first come first served’ basis no matter how nice the person seems.
  2. The headlines about banks not lending are NOT fabricated or exaggerated. They really are not lending.
  3. Getting annoyed about #2 does not do anyone any good. Ranting and raving about cause and effect, focusing on articles in the newspaper about giant bonuses paid out to banks when they not only caused this crisis, but are exacerbating it, does not make it any more likely that we will get our mortgage.
  4. I am not very good at juggling two jobs, and the more I focus on the guesthouse the less motivated I am at work. In my defense I haven’t had a pay rise or decent appraisal in over 2 years so there are few reasons for me to pull out all the stops at work. However, things still need to get done and I am finding myself working late and checking emails at weekends to compensate for day time shenanigans.
  5. Everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY, thinks they will be able to identify the solution to our mortgage problem. “Have you tried ‘x’?”, and “Did you think about ‘y’?”; this isn’t really a problem as we do need all brains on board for this, however my ego is bristling at the intimation that people don’t think we are exploring every single avenue available to us.
  6. I have an ego. A big one. A giant one, with a whole heap of pride on top.
  7. I don’t like cleaning. This is something I suspect that I knew about myself already, but with my cleaner having been away for over a month, I am struggling to dust, sweep and wash floors in an efficient manner. This does not bode well for when the live-in maid takes her leave of Porthminster View.
  8. I understand more about business than I think I do. Even though I have an MBA (Masters in Business Administration), I’ve always suspected that I have very little business acumen, yet I’m discovering it’s not actually that bad. Both Danny and I have written business plans and cash flow reports, and I’m amazed at how much I understand about pulling this together.
  9. I really do want to leave London. This might seem like an obvious thing to anyone reading this blog, but I have to admit that at the beginning I had my reservations. Do I really want to leave the convenience of 24 hour corner shops? Friends on every street? Family down the road? Will I miss the choice of 30 cinemas in a 3 mile radius? Late night coffee places? My favourite bars? Ultimately, I probably will miss all those things, but not so much that it would stop me leaving. As the mortgage gets further and further out of reach I know that the desire to move away is not only real, it’s obviously and painfully apparent.
  10. I struggle to delegate tasks. While I moaned for the first 4 weeks about how I was dealing with all the mortgage calls, now that Danny is doing it all I want to do is get involved. I feel powerless when someone else is doing the work, and I suspect that the control freak in me secretly thinks that things will be forgotten if I don’t do them. However, this is a business partnership, and I have to admit that Danny is doing just fine without me, maybe even better.

I suspect that if this project continues, this is just the beginning. I suspect that there’s plenty more to learn. I also know that, for the first time in 6 weeks, I am 110% sure I want to learn it.

Addicted to social media

In The beginning on July 22, 2010 at 11:16 am

By day I am a strategy consultant, working at one of the top 100 digital agencies in the UK. By night I am a blog crazed, Twitter obsessing, maniac.

I am yet to hand in my notice at work and so blog activities are confined to the hours of 8pm – 1am. During the working day I am ashamed to admit that I probably spend up to an hour checking blog statistics, tweeting, following Cornwall oriented tweeters, and leaping with joy every time someone new starts following Porthminster_Vu.

NB. Porthminster View is spelt like that because Twitter limits characters for user names; it is not because I am of the ‘text speak’ generation – I can assure you, I’m not!

It’s a peculiar phenomenon – social media – 5 years ago no one would have understood the sentence ‘I’ll Facebook you’, yet today it’s part of every day speak (for the under 50s). In some circles I’m considered a digital immigrant, roughly translated this means that I’m not of the digital generation yet I’ve adopted it as part of my culture, this is in direct comparison to a digital native – someone under the age of 15 who has no concept of linear TV, doesn’t know what a VHS tape looks like, and doesn’t remember or understand a world without mobile phones.

All this aside, I never really had much interest in it. Yes, I like to share my photos on Facebook, look up what people are doing and (on occasion) stalk ex-boyfriends, friends, and old schoolmates; and that’s about it, until just recently when I discovered the pure adrenaline rush that can be garnered from Visit Britain (for example), and other iconic organisations beginning to follow Porthminster View on Twitter. It’s all very ‘clan’. In my heart of hearts I know that there’s probably some bored work experience intern sitting in the Visit Britain offices clicking ‘follow’ on every random company that pops their head above the parapet however, that doesn’t really make a difference. I love it, I text my boyfriend proudly every time I get a new person following, and every time my blog gets a new subscription.

“Look what I’m doing” I say, like a child who has just learned how to tie their shoelaces. “How good am I?”… no matter that the mortgage is still to be approved, we are yet to sell my partner’s flat, and we haven’t learned how to make toast without burning it. No matter about all those quite vital things, for I am a social media genius! *Cue brass band music, fireworks and spotlights*

I genuinely never thought that I would be one of those people, people who become so dedicated to a project / job that they enjoy absolutely everything about it: From keeping spreadsheets up to date to organising the marketing, and from proactively phoning solicitors to being almost disappointed at the end of the working day. Yet I’ve discovered that when you are truly wedded to something, truly dedicated, truly want something to succeed, there really are no limits. I’m finally understanding, and having a bit of compassion for, my workaholic CEO who has built her truly amazing agency up from scratch. I get it. I really do.

Don’t get me wrong I love my job, but I am yet to end work on a Friday disappointed that it’s the weekend, and I am yet to leap out of bed on a Monday morning thinking “thank god that’s over”. With Porthminster View however, I am genuinely frustrated when there’s nothing more I can do about something because I’m waiting for the mortgage company / solicitor / accountant / buyer / vendor to do what they need to do.

In all those gaps, and there are many gaps, I have social media. Twitter doesn’t care that it’s 2 o’clock in the morning, my computer doesn’t go to sleep at night, and email still works even if no one (in this time zone) will read what I’ve written until the morning. In this crazy situation where there is so much to do yet nothing can get done before its time, I still feel like I’m achieving something. It’s an outlet that I’m sure, if nothing else, my boyfriend is relieved I have.

My perfect guesthouse

In The beginning on July 19, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Everyone’s an expert! Or so it seems.

Everybody we speak to about this project knows exactly what they’d cook for breakfast, how the rooms would be decorated, what time they’d have breakfast, what they’d offer people in the way of extras, how they’d market, and whether they would be dog friendly or not.

My sister pointed out that it was like being pregnant and discussing names for the soon-to-be-born baby, everyone has an opinion about what you should call / not call your unborn child, and this isn’t that much different. In the end her and her husband just clammed up, and I suspect that’s what we might have to do.

The thing is, everyone LOVES a B&B and like the government campaign for teaching, everyone remembers a good one. Yet ask people what they remember and I can almost guarantee they won’t say:

“I was having a miserable time until I came down to breakfast, and there were two sausages, not the expected one, on my plate in the morning; after that, they could do not wrong”.

Very few people (in my humble, non-experienced opinion) will base their love of a place on one or two details: Yet I do believe they will remember the feel of a place when they walked in the door, they will remember if the proprietors were helpful and friendly, they will remember if they had a good night’s sleep, and they will remember if the view took their breath away when they looked out of the bedroom window.

I’m slowly realising, after the third heated debate about the breakfast menu, that the most important thing about this guesthouse is that it resembles us. The best possible version of ‘us’, but ‘us’ nonetheless. That way, while other people’s ideas are welcomed (really – they are), they are not going to inform what we do more than we will.

Differing opinions

If we choose not to be dog friendly then we will not attract dog owners, but we will attract those that don’t like dogs. If we choose to allow kids under 12 then we will attract families, while losing DINKYs, and so on.

Ultimately, the guests are the most important people in this equation and as we have no experience of them yet, we have to do what we would love, what we are proud to offer / cook / decorate… and then tweak as per guest feedback.

I have no doubt that we will get it wrong on occasion, but isn’t that part and parcel of a new venture? After all Edison invented hundreds of light bulbs that didn’t work before he found one that did, and wasn’t that process of elimination equally valuable?

Not that I’m saying we want thousands of guests to have a horrible experience until we come across the winning formula, we don’t. What I am saying, however, is that we will create our perfect guesthouse and while it might not be what you would do, or you, or even you… it will still be just right.

Catching the bus

In The beginning on July 15, 2010 at 2:36 pm

Tomorrow I am going to Bristol. This, in itself is not unusual, my other half is from Bristol so we’re down there quite a lot. What is unusual is that I am travelling down there by coach.

I don’t travel by chauffeur driven cars or catch black taxis all around London, I have neither a private jet nor a helicopter, all that aside I have to admit that I’ve never really considered National Express a viable travel option. ‘Cheap travel’ for me is a super saver return on Great Western and, even then I don’t like choosing my return journey in advance.

It’s all different now however, because now we’re budgeting. We’ve come to the shocking realisation that there’s not much money down the back of the sofa, my furniture and clothes are of little value, and I would quite like to keep my organs rather than sell them on the black market.

After years of earning a more than decent salary it’s a rude shock to discover a) that I have saved very little, and b) I fritter money away on all sorts of rubbish. This is the kind of thing that budgeting makes you aware of.

I’ve realised that, while I’m no Immelda Marcos, I think nothing of buying a pair of shoes in my lunch break. I’m not a caffeine addict yet I probably spend at least £30/week in coffee related retail outlets. I like to think of myself as immune to cheap retail advertising tactics but can’t deny that I’m a glutton for the variety of ‘buy one, get one free’ offers that line the queues at supermarkets. Add to that the fact that I’m almost incapable of spending less than £30 a time when I go into chemists (even though I only went in for £2 toothpaste), budgeting is more of a struggle than I initially expected.

It’s all quite a novelty at the moment – watching what I spend – and I would go so far to say that I’m secretly enjoying myself (within reason), I do however see the not so enjoyable in my immediate future:

  1. Bringing in packed lunches to work
  2. Getting the bus to work (as opposed to the tube)
  3. Getting the bus home after a night out (as opposed to a taxi)
  4. Not going on a night out
  5. Saying (after a meal) I’m only paying £x because I had the cheapest thing on the menu
  6. Asking “how much?????” when paying for my groceries in the corner shop
  7. Not going to the corner shop
  8. Digging clothes out the back of the wardrobe and claiming that it feels like “shopping in your own bedroom”
  9. Looking up where the local Lidl is while forgetting what my favourite aisle in Waitrose looks like
  10. Checking how many minutes I have left with my mobile network provider before picking up the phone

All this is about as familiar to me as the Koran is to the Chief Rabbi, and some of it (notably #1 and #5) fills me with horror. Luckily I have two things in my life that will spur me on. One is that I have the most frugal partner in the world, an expert in eating for free, with the patience (of a saint) to the get the bus between Hackney and Chelsea every day.  Two is a 3 storey townhouse in St Ives which overlooks the ocean.

I’m finding out that having a really good reason for making the effort is all it takes. Things that have always been under the ‘No, Never!’ list suddenly don’t seem that much of a trial. After all, we need to be able to pay that mortgage when we eventually get down there and if that means sacrificing a few coffee shop coffees, and missing out on a few dinners then so be it.

Freak Out #1 and #2

In The beginning on July 13, 2010 at 3:05 pm

As those of you who know me well can testify, I have been prone to the odd ‘freak out’ in the past.

As a rule, I’m good with the big stuff – divorce, death, break-ups, etc. it’s the little things that make me insane. Things like fuses blowing when I walk in the door, the internet not working, the aerial falling off the TV; and bureaucratic nonsense and their associated call centres are always a killer.

With all that in mind I think I’ve been relatively good over the last few weeks. Not as good – I might add – as my, virtually horizontal, other half but, for me, not too bad. It’s all gone to pot now however as I suffered two quite ridiculous freak-outs in the last 3 days.

#1 occurred at 12.30am Friday night / Saturday morning. Arriving home at 10pm full of the joys of the forthcoming weekend I, in a devil-may-care mood, insisted that we watch an episode of Fawlty Towers, ‘to relax and have a laugh’, before embarking on our pre-arranged paperwork party. While I did this with the best of intentions, I did not envisage the amount of forms I had to fill in to sell my flat (the deeds – where the hell are the deeds?).

After spending 90 minutes filling in 4 very thick forms I encountered an unexpected fifth which, while it sounds ridiculous, sent me over the edge “I can’t fill in another form” I wailed as I sat at my desk…. “There are just so many, it’s ridiculous”. Tiredness turned to self-pity, turned to a full-on strop as I railed against the legal processes that meant that I couldn’t sell my flat in 10 minutes or less.

Learning #1: when filling in paperwork start early, be prepared for it to take a while, and try not to drown in self-pity, after all, I’m not the first person to sell a flat and I won’t be the last.

#2 took place about 4 hours ago when my long-suffering estate agent phoned up with the good news that someone had made an offer on my flat. Not just any offer either, they offered what I was hoping for. Add to that they’re not in a chain, not bound to a long-term rental agreement, and have their mortgage offer, I should have been over the moon.

Ha. Not likely. Instead I used it as an excuse to berate my estate agent for being too pushy, phone up my long-suffering partner to rant about said estate agent; and generally not only look the gift horse in the mouth but count its teeth and fillings while I was there.

Learning #2: Employ a brain to mouth filter when speaking to estate agents, and check levels of insanity before picking up the phone to anyone else.

I’m hoping we’re done for a while, I’m hoping that I’ve taken those learnings on board. After all, it’s not going to get any easier over the next few months and I can’t be freaking out every time I have to fill in a form, or every time I feel the fear.

It’s at times like this that I’m very glad there’s two of us in this, and one of them isn’t prone to behaving either like a child in a sweet shop or Gordon Ramsay in a dirty kitchen.