04 March 2015

Cash

It's been interesting here to see how things run on cash here. Some places don't even bother to accept credit cards--both B&Bs we've stayed at were like that, so we made sure we had cash. Almost our only shopping is done in grocery stores, so I am not sure what it's like in other sorts of places, but we almost never see anyone pay with a debit card here. This is understandable when you consider that every time the debit card is used, a fee is charged--it was 20 cents when we first got our card, but I think it's gone up to 25 now. It would be easy for the fees to add up fast, so we have gotten into the habit of withdrawing cash and using that. This has the added benefit of making it much easier for us to know where we stand. The rent gets transferred to the landlord's bank account automatically each month. The electric bill gets taken out. The internet bill was being taken out by direct debit as well, but after our problems with the company, Bill will opt to pay that for the remaining few months of our contract. Because Bill's Social Security payment is in dollars, but is deposited into a bank that deals in euro, we are never sure exactly what our actual monthly income will be--it depends on the exchange rate and this has changed quite a lot since we got here as the euro has weakened against the dollar. When we arrived it was 1 euro to US$1.44. Now it's about 1 euro to US$1.12. In practical terms, our income has gone up automatically for the past 10 months, but of course, what goes up, must come down, eventually :-)

I know pretty much what our monthly bills will be--the electricity is the only thing that varies, and that comes every couple of months, so I just figure on 50 euro a month for that. It's not been that much yet, so that works. Because I know how much we need to leave in the bank, we can take out the cash we need and that's what we use.

One thing I noticed right away was how tiny the tills in the grocery stores are. I've been in a lot of grocery stores and worked retail a few times over the decades and I am used to the big, flat tills with slots for all of the bills to lay down flat. here they are tiny, little metal rectangular boxes that have space for the coins and spaces for the bills to stand up on the long edge. This can be done because the bills are different colours and sizes, with the size increasing as the denomination gets larger.

It's easy to see at a glance what you have. They have 100 and 500 euro notes as well--we had some when we got here, but the larger notes are not as readily accepted--we had to use the 500 euro note to pay our security deposit on our apartment because no bank would change it for us. The people in the office commented that they don't usually see those.

There are no 1 euro notes--they do that in coins. There's a 2 euro coin, too--change accumulates quickly.
Someone told us that she has a container where she throws all her 2 euro coins at the end of each day. When she goes on holiday, that's a good part of her spending money. She said it's amazing how quickly it adds up!
We toss our change into a small container and when we get a text from the library saying a book is in, we take the 1 euro per item fee from the container.
This currency took some getting used to at first--we had to examine all the coins to see what we had as we were paying for something. But now it's easy to differentiate. It doesn't seem so much like play money anymore!

01 March 2015

Attempting to Make Contact When Trying to Rent

When we moved here, we had no idea where we would end up. We'd narrowed things down to the west, but that was about it. We'd learned about daft.ie and spent many, many hours poring over listings for the last few months we were in Maine. We'd look at listings and then google the towns where these places were located so we could see whether they had bus service and a grocery store--we didn't have a lot of requirements!

Looking at the listings was quite interesting--it was amazing to see the ways in which people had tried to turn smallish kitchens into sitting room/kitchen combos, shoving the couch in there almost up against the under-counter washing machine.

Daft.ie has a big blue button on each listing that says "email this advertiser" and on a couple of occasions, we did, trying to set up appointments to see the places listed. We got no replies.

We arrived at our B&B still having no idea where we would go, but we bought a pay-as-you-go Tesco Mobile and then revisited Daft. We found a possible place up the road from Galway and Bill called the letting agent. He left a message. It was Friday evening, so it did not seem surprising that no one answered. The next morning, he sent a message to the same letting agent about another property she had listed in the next town. We figured that letting agents must work on Saturdays, so we expected to at least get some kind of response.

We went down to breakfast and were chatting with the Irish woman who owns the B&B. We told her about the phone call and message. A strange look came over her face and she was clearly choosing her words carefully when she gently explained that Irish people are very laid back and business is not done as it is in the US--we should not expect people to be eager to do business. It was unlikely that we would get a reply anytime soon from the letting agent and it was likely that her office did not even open until 10. I was very happy to have this information, because it helped us refine our plan of action!

After breakfast we went for a walk, stopping at the grocery store to get food for the rest of the day. We returned to our room, fired up the computers and spent the rest of the day prioritizing towns and villages. After hours of searching, we had discovered that Ballinrobe had several likely looking places available, all listed by the same letting agent Bill had already contacted. That was at the top of the list and our plan was to call at 10 on Monday morning.

When I called, I left a rather long message, explaining that we were looking for a place to rent quickly and since she had several places listed that we thought would work, we were sure that if she had time to see us the following day, we would be willing to take one of them. She called back within an hour and although we had to play phone tag all day and deal with leaving messages and a dropped call on her end, we ended the day with an appointment at 2 the following day--she'd squeezed us in.

She seemed a bit bewildered as she showed us a couple of places and pleased when we took the apartment. By then I understood that this was not how things are usually done, but it worked--she called us back and we moved into the apartment on the very day our week at the B&B was up. The guy from the B&B even drove us up here with our luggage, helped us bring it up, and showed us how the heaters and water heater timer worked, because the letting agent had given us the lease to sign, collected the first month's rent, brought us up and then raced off.

We signed a one year lease which will be up in less than a month and a half. We have been trying to decide whether to stay here or whether to go elsewhere. Once again we have been spending a lot of time on daft and learning about small towns and villages. Once again we have pressed the "email advertiser" button on listings. We rarely get a reply. One person did respond to tell us the place in question had been taken a couple of days before--the listing stayed up for about a week afterwards. Other letting agents have not bothered to respond. By now, none of this surprises me and I expected it, so in one case I waited a few days and called. I was surprised to speak to a live person and even more surprised when she asked me why I wanted to move to that area. I answered her, but was thinking, "That's not really any of your business!" She took my name and contact number and assured me that as soon as she talked to the guy, someone would be calling to set up an appointment for a viewing. I told her that we would be arriving by bus and staying overnight and that we were likely to take the place in question and would be prepared to give him a security deposit at the time of the viewing. She responded with, "OK, leave it with me and we'll get back to you."

That was 10 days ago (17 since the first attempt at contact through the Daft listing) and there has been no response. At this point we have decided to skip it. I am not sorry about this, because I like Ballinrobe. We will stay here for now, travel around and visit other places, doing day trips when we can and staying for a day or two in some places. If we find a place we want to go we will call and then appear in person. We will have to be aggressive, as we were when we arrived. There will be a lot of hassles involved and although I am willing to deal with them, it will be for a place that I really want to go to, not a place I settle for because that's the letting agent that decided to do their job and reply to a potential customer!