Monthly Archives: May 2012

Reality Bytes : Two Months Later

Well, it’s almost two and half months since we moved, and today, I have found some time to sit down and write again. Life has become so busy and hectic that there is almost no time to do anything else.

Between work, Varun, swimming classes, house hunting, car shopping etc the days have simply flown. So here’s a rundown at how things fared in last couple of months:

Working at IDC

It’s a little bit different from working in Redmond. I am slowly getting a hang of work life in India. In US, work life revolves strictly around work. Statements like ‘ I spend enough time with you all during the week, I need evenings and weekends for family’ are not uncommon. Work life is more social here. It’s a cultural thing to bond over meals and IDC is no exception.As soon as meetings or serious work is over, people hang out together – be it for lunch or for tea and snacks – virtually no one eats at their desk. I tried that a few times and then promptly gave up. It’s hard to resist the interesting conversation that happens over meals.

Redmond ‘Softies read books like ‘Dont Eat Lunch Alone’ – here we live by it. Networking is not the goal (as the book defines), but it’s just to spend time with friends and catch up.

The biggest plus point of this social culture is that the management shares information, business data etc in variety of different forums as well is available for reviews/walkthru with us ( and not just limit themselves to key audience).

There are people playing table tennis or carrom at all times of the day . Work pace is bit relaxed during the day and then picks up pace in the evening. This is largely due to the younger crowd at IDC than in Redmond. Moms like me typically end up leaving early and logging back in later at night to catch up on work.

And, all hands are an interesting experience. Visiting exec’s from Redmond are treated like superstars, complete with showbiz style introductions. People applaud enthusiastically and are generally interested in the All Hands content which was not the case in Redmond. The focus of all hands is not just on the Division goals and progress, but its on overall Microsoft. Needless to add, the event was catered – Chinese, Chaat and Kulfi 🙂

Life in Hyderabad

Like any other second tier city in India, Hyderabad life is predictable. Maybe life in Hyderabad with a kid is predictable. Which is not a bad thing. Traffic is manageable. Its not as polluted as Mumbai or Calcutta. We are within 20 mins driving distance to Jubilee Hills and the indulgences it has to offer. The only thing that is making us miserable is this heat. 42  C – 45 C is not something humans were meant to endure. By the time I drop Varun and reach office, I feel that I am dehydrated.

And for the couple of days that the AC is not working, we are melting in our own sweat. We just cannot sit in a room without the AC’s on. To say evenings are warm is an understatement. The hot stifles around me as Varun and I take a walk at night. And the constant hum of AC’s around when we are out for a walk tells me we are not alone. I really can’t wait for the monsoon to begin.

Relocation Experience

As we could stack our relocation benefits, we are still in corporate accommodation with the cook, help staff and driver at our disposal. After 2+ months, its hard not to feel pampered and it will be even harder to give it up after the benefits are over. I don’t think we will live without a cook or a maid in India, but driver is something we are debating about. Spoilt rotten that we are now, we are in fact thinking of getting someone for evenings and weekends so we can actually get some more free time 😉

Also, in the last few weeks, we accelerated our house and car search. After visiting 25 + gated communities ( apartments and villas), almost signing a lease and then backing out, we are planning to stay in JayaBheri Silicon county (details to follow) – the same community that we had our temporary accommodations in. And after test driving 3 cars, we have booked Skoda Rapid as well (again, details to follow). As much fun it is staying in all paid for lodgings with a chauffeur driven car, we long to be in our house with our belongings and drive our own car.

We changed too many things this year, now its time to bring sanity and routine to this change. Hopefully, we will truly begin settling in once we move into our own house!

Daycare Search

The single most important thing for us as soon as we landed in India, almost 2 months ago, was to find a day care. Although my parents were here to help us transition, I wanted to get Varun settled in a routine right away.

Thanks to Microsoft taking care of our accommodation and car with a mini army of help staff we could focus on finding a daycare. Daycares in India are a different ball game than in US or since the time we were younger. I remember my mom taking my brother to a neighborhood ‘crèche’ for some time where he learnt a few things. Not sure how good it was my modern measures but she mostly got some free time to spend on her hobby – writing!

Daycares in US, on one hand, are regulated, licensed and a bit impersonal even if it is tagged as ‘grandma’s home’ by others. The focus is on the premise (safety/hygiene/training of staff /student: child ratio etc.) and child (development/independence/routine) – which I had started to love and depend on.

On the other hand, in India, although you will be bombarded with hundreds of daycares billboards (as many as real estate projects), to find one that will work for the child is a herculean task. When we visited the first daycare, the conversation went something like this:

Principal: Are you looking for playschool or nursery?

Me: I am looking for daycare.

Principal: Yea, but playschool or nursery

Me: Ummm….What’s the difference?

Principal: How old is the child?

Me: Err…19 months!

Principal: Ok then he can come to Mommy and me group and then start Playschool in June

Me: (A bit panicked and frustrated at this point) No, but I need daycare. I work – I really need daycare!!! Also what is Playschool and Nursery? (Mentally I was thinking- why am I paying for Varun to play – when reason kicked in- I have always paid for Varun to play ;))

Principal: We have several programs. Mother -toddler groups are for less than 2 year olds for a couple of hours.2 – 3 year olds are in Play school, 3-4 years olds are in nursery, 4+ are in Kindergarten

Me: I see. (I didn’t really see which option worked best for us)

Principal: (Probably sensing that I am lost, finally asked) – how many hours do you want to send the child?

Me: Probably 9 hours

Principal: Fee is based by hours. 2 hours minimum. Hourly rate is Rs x/hour.

Finally, it made sense. All programs had a daycare facility appended. Based on the age, the child went to nursery or playschool where they focus on age appropriate activities. The daycare is for pre-program and post program care.

I spoke to several working parents- but none of them were in the same boat as us. Most have older kids so only need daycare for part of the day, if at all. Or they have family living in the city that takes care of the grandchild. Others resort to 18- 22 year old girls to take care of their little ones. These girls many a times are not educated (beyond primary school education), speak very little English and primarily tasked with feeding/bathing/cleaning the child, taking him to the park, assorted household work when the baby sleeps and not really with developmental activities. They have varying ability to follow instructions and here in Hyderabad, can manage well if you can communicate to them in Telugu.

Most daycares in India focus on money- deposits, form fees, monthly fees, meal fees, and not on child – how can they help transition, development activities of the child like gross and fine motor skills, language development, social etc. . . . Sure, we had deposited money at Bright Horizon almost a year in advance just to secure a spot and another daycare wanted a full month’s fee as deposit – it didn’t irk me as much then as a similar requirement here.

Probably because I knew what I will get in exchange- quality service, peace of mind and the fact that the wont nickel and dime me further. Here, I wasn’t too sure what to expect.

Here are my notes on the daycares we checked out:

1. Strawberry Fields – Nice bright building, decent teacher: student ratio, segregated classes by ages, Montessori style, monthly theme based teaching, separate dining area, Telugu speaking maids- far from current house, may be further if we decide to stay near campus. No AC backup.

2. Kids Paradise – In basement of Raheja IT mind space park (convenient for parents working there but not otherwise), no outdoor playtime, cooped up/dark space artificially brightened by tube lights, extra charges for meals, Hindi or English speaking maids, felt a bit stuffy and pretentious. No AC backup.

3. Esperenza – Popular daycare amongst IT workers here. Segregated classrooms, separate play area, dining area, nice and bright, emphasis on music and art, but smaller room sizes with poor teacher: student ratio. Also I saw the dance teacher yell at the kids at rehearsal. Negative points for that. Webcam to watch kids from office and also have weekend/weeknight care.

4. Blue Blocks – Not really a daycare but a Montessori style preschool. Really awesome place – something I have filed away for future. Access road was bad so may cause issues in rainy season.

5. KinderKare – First place I could actually see Varun going to. Nice bright gated building, garden and sandpit – Big indoor play area with lots of ride on toys. Separate classrooms. The principal actually talked about various developmental activities, meals charged extra but served several times a day keeping up with tiny active bodies and their little stomachs. Staff seemed friendly. We almost finalized this when we released that the school focused on forms, formalities, payments etc. without making an effort to transition Varun. Was put off by that.

6. KidsKare – A small daycare started by a US returned mom in the same housing complex that she stays in. Close to Microsoft campus. Telugu speaking maids, has AC backup, meals are included (with 2 daily servings of fruit and milk), mixed age daycare, 2 primary teachers who are extremely likeable. Focus was on Varun, helping him transition not only to daycare but from US to India. The owner doesn’t even provide form or ask for payment till she is sure that it’s a mutual fit for the child and the provider.

We received feedback on couple of more options- Polka dots, GlobeToters and Indus School – but they are in Jubilee Hills/Banjara Hills area. Some of them also pickup and drop-off kids but I wasn’t going to trust my precious to someone to transport in a brand new city.

Needless to add, we went ahead with KidsKare. The daycare also has a Kidzee playschool across the hallway which we are thinking of enrolling Varun in from June.

Verdict?

Varun seems to love the daycare. There are no tears at drop-off. He loves seeing older kids play and tries to sing the rhymes and songs that they recite. Every evening we sing Jack and Jill, Ringa Ringa Roses, Mr. Golden Sun etc. He’s begun to talk more and gets frustrated when he can’t speak as much as the older kids he observes. The other day he didn’t burst into tears when he could sing ‘Wheels on the bus go round and round’ and kept on repeating till he could master it in his own babyish way!

The food served is mostly rice + dal + veggies and Varun’s mimicking the rice eating style of the maids. I am not too thrilled about that but the ‘Endakooo’ that he asks me just makes me smile.

Will we stick to this place? Likely for a while. Globetoters is opening a branch near MS office which is full despite being under construction. Once things settle a bit on home/car front, we may revisit this again.

Do you have any other suggestions for daycares or playschools near MS area? Any observations on how daycares in India are different from US? Drop a comment…

House Sale Details

I know its long overdue that we share some additional details around the sale of our house.

When we were looking to sell the house, we knew about the high level process and got estimates from different contractors, but we could’nt find information on fair price of any given task, what are surprises that can come up during inspection and appraisal, and mostly, could we do this on our own if we had the time.

Lets dive into details. This is the summary of all costs that we paid out-of-pocket before commissions.

  • Staging for a Crate and Barrel appeal – $2500
  • Painting (all rooms except the loft and entry) – $2050
  • Repairs (Caulk, Seal, Thermostat, – trees, tile repair , light fixing etc) – $650
  • Carpet Cleaning – $375
  • Power washing – Patio and Drive way – $320
  • Inspect Roof/Gutters/ Power wash roof  – $320
  • Replace all Bulbs – $125
  • Extermination – $ 550
  • Furnace servicing – $275
  • Clean trim and window boxes with moss out solution – $130
  • House Cleaning – $200
  • Landscaping ( new sod/mulch and weekly maintenance till closing) – $450

Yes, we did spend a bunch – part of it was ‘deferred maintenance costs’ – like fixing the thermostat, repairing the cabinet door that was cracked, fixing the microwave handle etc. Others were mandatory like adding CO detectors at each level. Yet others were to ensure that the house sparkles and get the online buyers to actually come in and see the house. Also there were surprise elements that we did not account for in our calculations like the extermination – one dead mouse in crawl space cost us $550!

We only fixed things initially that will put off buyers aesthetically – others, we waited for them to point out during inspection before we fixed it. This is standard practise in business. Our microwave was old with a broken handle and peeling interior paint and I was considering replacing it but since the inspection report didn’t ask for it, we saved a few $$ on it.

What were the hiccups?

The ride wasn’t smooth at all. The initial part of coordinating the repairs, paints, landscaping, cleaning and staging was finely orchestrated by our real estate agent, Denise. Although we did put together a schedule, when we were running a day late on the painting, Denise coordinated with everyone to let them know when to come so that the stagers come after the carpets are dry but leave before the cleaners come who had to finish before the photo shoot was arranged.

I digress, but the best part about Denise were the daily updates on progress, and options with recommendations when issues were found – all this when she was already working on a reduced commission for remote sellers!

While our fantastic general contractor, Donn Keith, was cleaning out the roof and gutters, he noticed issues that he thought would come up with inspection and cause costly roof repairs later, he did a fix that would prevent them in the first place. I think it pays to have a great contractor and I can’t recommend him enough! Thanks Aarti for sharing his contact info!!

Denise took care of arranging for the photo shoot – but as luck would have it, it snowed that day and we had to Photoshop some snow out for the e-flyer so that the house really stood out. With that ready, we worked on the marketing content ( 140 word limit!!) on email and we were live on March 15th.

Two very busy open houses later, we received offers and we reached mutual acceptance.

The next step was inspection. They found minor issues other than the extermination which cost us additional $550. BTW, when the buyer submits the inspection report, they pay for the inspection, but think the seller will fix everything. Seller can counter with what they will fix and if they don’t reach mutual acceptance then the deal can fall through. Buyer gets to keep the earnest money at this point.

After inspection, comes appraisal. Given the market, even though we had two really good comps ( neighbor sold for $435K and down the street house sold for $450K), the house didn’t appraise for the asking price. We had option to get another appraisal (we pay for it) , challenge the current appraisal, walk away from the deal and find another buyer (and hope he user another bank/appraiser combo) or bargain with the buyer to still buy for the asking price.Denise spent time trying to convince the appraiser, but to no vail.

As the buyers were really interested in the house and we didn’t want to pay for another appraiser or put the house back on market (and keep paying mortgage), we split the price difference in half. Again a plethora of documents needed to be signed for the new price by both parties.

The house was inspected, repairs completed as indicated, appraisal was in place and we dared to think we were clear. But we rejoiced prematurely. The buyers still had to conduct a walk through to examine repairs from the inspection and they came back with additional items that were not in the inspection report.

Besides asking for receipts for the repairs and extermination, they wanted the patio tiles to be caulked ( as some were loose), they wanted front path tiles to be fixed( they were simply laid out on gravel and not really cemented), another round of house cleaning and get the TV HDMI cable hole covered. The sad part was they threatened to postpone closing by almost 2 weeks at this point. We had so much time and energy vested in getting this to fruition that it was beyond upsetting. And it would have cost us $700 in interest over those 2 weeks. We offered them $100 to fix those issues so that we could close on time, which they declined.

To move things along, we fixed few things and threatened to keep the earnest money if they didn’t close on time  and move to the second buyer who had made an offer. Huge thanks to our contractor Donn for repairing the additional items quickly so that a second walk-through could be completed the morning of closing. The night before the second walk-through, Vipul and I couldn’t sleep. We were relieved when Denise emailed that the walk through was complete and they were no other issues.

Finally onto Closing

The escrow company prepares the closing documents a few days ahead of actual closing. The documents are signed by both parties and the buyer brings in the down payment check at this point. Our buyer completed the document signing on time but conveniently forgot to bring the check. They promised to get the check the next day before noon so we could proceed with closing in the afternoon. Another long night for us while we waited for email updates on the check receipt and completion of closing process from escrow company. Finally at 6 am in the morning – we received the much awaited news – We were sold.

Can you do this on your own?

Totally.  Our excellent contractor was one stop shop for all repair work and extremely reliable but was not the cheapest. If we were around,we could have easily handled some of the painting and repairs on our own or hired cheap labour from outside Home Depot! We would have likely saved 3-4 K in repairs if we were around – but oh well!

Two weeks later, I still can’t believe we sold our house, remotely. The day we closed was not as emotionally disturbing as was the day Lisa from Lisa Lucas Designs Staging company came by to select the neutral colors/furniture etc. She was going to strip off all the things that made that house our home and make it Crate and Barrel like – everything that you covet in a magazine but don’t really have in your own home. I cried that night like a baby.

Here’s hoping that the new owners treat our home just as lovingly as we did.

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