In his book “A Nurse on the Edge of the Desert” New Zealand Nurse Andrew Cameron, the winner of the coveted Florence Nightingale Medal reminded me of Theodore Roosevelt’s statement,
“Nothing in this world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty. I have never envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well…Life is not easy, and least of all is it easy for either the man or the nation that aspires to great deeds. It is always better to be an original than an imitation.”
This real estate settlement was no doubt one of the most challenging and corrupted with common practices of nepotism I have ever come across in my being an apprentice Real Estate Investor. I have reflected on this piece of life changing decision and there are huge lessons to be learnt from this settlement. I felt I had made some frustrating decisions that were still unsatisfying. But out of these mistakes and frustrations came lessons of growth, development, integrity and the WILL to keep going with determination despite the circumstances.
One: Location, Location, and Location Research
Throughout my settlement of real estate, I’ve learnt that location is so important. It is always an art of profit. So always research it first. Always “avoid that holiday syndrome” where you ponder and dream about buying a property in a lovely, picturesque little village.
Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu provided me with a “Blue Chip Location.” Blue chip locations are those with water views (be they river, coast or harbour or city views for example). Espiritu Santo had a lot of potential attraction for me (in comparison to Port Vila with less infrastructure) for me. It is the largest island in Vanuatu with an International Airport. It hosts the largest South Pacific International Wharf as well as the South Pacific World War II museum currently under construction. It boasts one of the best diving spots in the world with the wreck of SS President Coolidge according to the British Times! What’s not to like about these locations called Champagne Beach, Million Dollar Point, Blue Holes and jaw-dropping beaches on a tropical island paradise? A tropical paradise steeped in natural beauty, history and culture. Weigh up the risks too. Is there a potentially large volcano brewing underwater with all that large magnitude of earthquakes? Thats all part of buying real estate!
Two: Settle in Person
Unless you deal with a competent and experienced real estate agent, Never Ever Settle without being there! It took me 10 years to eventually pay off the mortgage. Over the years, I didn’t have regular payments. As I looked over the reciepts in retrospect, I only made one huge lumpsum to the mortgage. I made no more over the years until June 2017. My family helped with slowly depositing small amounts through the years to ensure there was some mortgage activity. It helped me substantially.
But if there was a bigger lesson I had learnt from this exercise, it was about resettling the estate in person; a face to face meeting and discussions, a fronting of real conversations about the relevant issues affecting the estate, avoiding third knowledge, and more importantly a human presence that is impactful to the other parties in the legal negotiations. Settling an International Real Estate on a tropical island paradise in person is more serious and more calming.
Three: Family Support
Through the years while I was away from Vanuatu and living abroad in New Zealand, my family support was never-ending. My father Peter stuck by me and reminded me of how much it is important to secure some land for the future and earn income from it. He spent a lot of time with his travelling expenses as well as communication expenses to negotiate on my behalf. He would always ring me to brief me through the updates and what he had done so I am versed with the estate.
On reflection, it was the most expensive support I had from my father. He would know when the local Luganville Council was installing electricity, water and roading constructions to the nearby areas so he would make sure to pay for my due fees so my estate does not miss out on these important infrastructures. My mothers sister Helen has been incredibly supportive in looking after my property while I continue to live abroad. Ruby my mother continues to be my main supporter in writing me letters through the post. I have never forgotten that family support as it has been sustainably crucial to securing my assets.
Four: Local Real Estate Networks
Prior to heading to Vanuatu to settling the real estate in person, I made sure that I connected with the local real estate. The power of networking is absolutely crucial and beneficial in terms of relationships. It is important to develop, maintain and acknowledge the support of networks.
In my case the local real estate-The First National Real Estate (www.firstnationalsanto.com) was my local support network. Warren Moore, a very experienced real estate professional (a true Kiwi-New Zealander by heart) with a rich background in farming, business and real estate has been a brief backbone support for me in Luganville, Santo. Though brief, the mentorship I gained from him over a couple of days has been rewarding, rich and valuable and truly money-saving! If you ever find yourself longing to settle on a real estate in Vanuatu with the unspoilt beaches and lagoons and experiencing that beauty and idyllic lifestyle, Mr Moore is your go-to-guy with an extensive local knowledge. He will not disappoint. I highly recommend him. A bottle of red wine as an acknowledgment always goes a long way too as a thank you.
Five: A Sales and Purchase Agreement
This should be the first document that you should have in your hot hands when you enter a contractual agreement to settling a real estate. No questions asked. This document should list all the conditions between the Vendor and the Purchaser. I never had this document when I first made a deposit into buying this real estate in 2007. It should have your signature and dated for the terms and conditions of this contract. It was rotten bananas for me!
Always check the scheme plan, the survey plan, the lease documents, the title registration and the transfer of title document. I never had any of these important documents. It was so frustrating. It is still frustrating. I don’t have any of these paperworks. Except my Sales and Purchase Agreement. It wasn’t enough. It is not legal. I have completed my mortgage and I have nothing to prove I own that property. Not even a title. Nothing as yet. A big lesson learnt. Bananas went bad! But I have got the Vendors word that “they will not boot me out of my property because I have completed my mortgage payments.”
Do not be afraid to share what you have learnt. The more you talk about concerns and pressing issues, the more you will learn. It will feel lighter trust me. There are far more complex issues that I have dealt with in comparison in terms of humanity and the missions I have served on.
I was able to sit my family down and talked about the Vendor’s failures, the corruptions, the paperwork, and their incompetencies of handling legal proceedings. The biggest failure is lack of communications from them. The Vendors were a local Vanuatu Organisation highly involved with subdivisions and real estate. I was able to share with them what I have learnt from my overseas real estate settlements. This included the processes I went through. My brief mentorship from Mr Moore was valuable too and I was able to share with them what I had learnt including diagrams of the scheme plans, the survey plans, the lease documents, the title, and the transfer of title documents. They have provided feedback that they know a lot more now that I have taken time to explain to them what these real estate contracts and paperwork meant. They have a better understanding about their property too. But more importantly, that knowledge-sharing created a closer bond for us all and a clearer legacy.
Seven: Active Networking
I’ve never stopped meeting new people. Its just part of life! It is about living the good life. It is about connecting and reaching out to others. Business thrives on networking. I’ve learnt that. While I was in Luganville, Espiritu Santo I was able to meet and share a few stories and drinks with the famous Barque Picton Castle Crew. Picton Castle sailed into the Espiritu Harbour for at least a few days. It was great learning about the ship (www.picton-castle.com/) as I was invited to go on a tour (I missed the opportunity) and even got a job offer of nannying if I considered it. But the meeting taught me lessons; lessons about creating lifelong friendships and bonds. I was honoured to have met Tomas, the Ships Spanish Medical Officer who I was able to spend a day with as we spoke a lot about Medical School and the challenges it came with. I was able to thank him for serving the people of Malekula in Banan Bay-it was heartfelt and I was very grateful to him!
I was also very honoured to have visited an important project in the history of Espiritu Santo-the incredible South Pacific World War II Museum (powered by the support of New Zealand’s VSA and other local and International Organisations) that is currently being built to reflect the vast history that the war has had on this tiny nation. The importance of capturing these histories and preserving it for our future generations is so worthwhile. I’ve made it my mission to try and support this international project as much as I could from afar. In addition I am very conscious of my long-term cause-and-effects of my own actions towards this.
Eight: Plan Ahead
I have successfully secured a real estate property which is 2,500 square metres in size. That is huge. However, financially I am unable to build on it just yet. I couldn’t. My finances are not adequate. The next 6 years I will lose my capacity of earning a full time salary. My initial thoughts of wanting this asset to become an income producing one fell short. It was about leasing it to an investor over a 10-15 year period while I head back into University but that plan didn’t hatch.
I had to come up with another Plan B. That plan is for my father Peter to build a two bedroom cottage/bach on the land as an income-producing asset for rental for the next few years while I am at University. The property will be able to provide a subsistence gardening for a family. Peter has taken his research into more details; he has planted 100 sandalwood tree seedlings for oil harvesting in the next 15 years. I couldn’t blame his long term investments and thinking, but more importantly planning ahead.
Nine: Celebrate Small Wins
My family met me half way after I came home from a Humanitarian Mission with the NZ Red Cross. They met me on Espiritu Santo. We were able to have some family time for two weeks before I said goodbye again. But those family times were so important, memorable and supportive. We genuinely wanted to connect, build rapport and repair our broken family relationships. We celebrated with food and local drinks. We celebrated with reminiscing about the tribal stories and singing songs. We celebrated our culture and our children. We celebrated our small wins. We celebrated our togetherness. Family time was a priority.
As the eldest daughter of the family, I have always had pressure from my own father to perform. That pressure was often turned into sobbing sessions where I had ended multiple conversations with my father for my own mental health. He was quick to point out my failures as a working daughter abroad and the neglect he percieves from not getting what he wants; something my mother Ruby completely disagrees with. But such is life. I have always prioritised my health and my finances and what is important in life for me-being financially independent! This international real estate settlement became a notable milestone. My father gracefully thanked me for completing the mortgage and for having an asset. That was powerful!
Ten: Have Humility
Humility is thinking less about yourself; it is NOT about thinking less of yourself. But in short, stay humble. Practice humility. It will take you a very long way! My good friends have always reminded me of this valuable trait. It is so worthwhile.
Humility listens. Humilty tests. Humility admits. If there is any important advice I would dwell on these days, it is all about humility. Its an admirable act of grace, generosity and gumpness. Humbleness comes with selflessness. I have learnt that.
As I finish off this blog, let me remind you that it is ok to make mistakes. I have learnt a lot. I made a lot of mistakes. I tried to avoid the costly mistakes. It’s about taking what we call “calculated risks.” I needed a place to call “my turangawaewae”-It will be my home while I am still living abroad; Espiritu Santo on a tropical island in the South Pacific.