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March, 2019

Is this Europe’s most underrated city for expat living?

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Nanjing Night Net

Starting over in a new country is never simple, but for project manager Martin Frost, it was easy to see the benefits.

Frost, 35, originally came to Maastricht, the southernmost city in the Netherlands, as a Sydney University undergraduate in 2004. Undertaking a six-month exchange program in the field of brain imaging, he stayed for postgraduate studies – and met a Swiss girl who was also on exchange at the time.

Thirteen years later, they are still in Maastricht, now married with a daughter – and another baby on the way.

“The location, right in the heart of Europe, was really appealing,” says Frost. “We can go for weekend trips to Paris, Rome, London or Berlin really easily. And if it’s just for a day, Amsterdam, Brussels, Antwerp, Cologne and Dusseldorf are a short drive or train trip away.”

With just over 120,000 people, Maastricht isn’t a big city, but it has a lot going for it. Beyond its centrality, Maastricht has been lauded as one of Europe’s most underrated destinations – culturally exciting yet with a relaxed pace of life. The dynamic university town attracts a mix of local and international students and boasts arthouse cinemas, alternative shops, concerts and a world-renowned fine art fair.

“Growing up in Sydney, I would still love the buzz and possibilities of a big city but I really appreciate living in a smaller city now. Nothing is more than a 15-minute bike ride away and traffic jams just don’t exist here – not on the scale of Sydney.”

Frost lives with his wife Aude and their 17-month-old daughter Ella, just a 15-minute stroll from the main square – in amongst a mix of Dutch locals and expats. They’ve bought in a residential, tree-lined neighbourhood where every street name is somehow related to The Three Musketeers. “Comte d’Artagnan famously died not too far away from here,” says Frost.

All the houses in their street look the same – built in the 1970s and distinctly modernist in style. The strict building regulations in the area require every house to be painted white, which creates a charming uniformity.

“We have a carport and small terrace out the front, large open-plan living downstairs and a family bathroom and three bedrooms upstairs. The living room opens out to a lovely garden at the back, easily big enough for a modest game of backyard cricket.”

Buying is much more prevalent in the Netherlands than in Australia. “There’s a broad spectrum of houses on the market, so even fresh graduates can easily find something in their budget,” says Frost. “Banks are very willing to loan, no deposit is required and it is quite ingrained in the culture to buy early and often. We once heard that the average Dutch person buys (and sells) seven houses in their lifetime.”

For expats like the Frosts, it’s not uncommon to stay in the city for two to three years before making the transition from renting to buying.

That’s not to say rent isn’t affordable. “A two-bedroom apartment in the city centre costs about 1200 euros per month ($AUD1760). A small house further out of the centre costs about the same.”

Frost has considered moving back, at least for a few years, but is afraid he would be priced out of Sydney. “Having been earning euros (salaries here are substantially lower to coincide with the cost of living) and having been out of the housing market for so long, that’s definitely something to keep in mind.”

A few observations when home-hunting in the Netherlands:”When renting, be aware that places can be ‘kaal’ (Dutch for ‘bald’, meaning unfurnished) which means they don’t have floor coverings, light fixtures, curtains or any other furnishing. When I was a financially constrained masters student, I had no proper flooring nor light fixtures in my room for a year!””If you want to buy, consider using the services of a mortgage broker accustomed to assisting expats.””Most Dutch houses are built straight on the street, with big front windows that can make privacy a bit of an issue.””Most Dutch stairs are extremely steep and narrow – an architect friend of ours from Switzerland said most of them would be illegal there. This makes moving quite difficult!””Pretty much every house in the Netherlands is a terrace house. It’s a pretty big deal to have a freestanding or semi-detached home. Even a corner house gets special mention.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

‘I told you the rules’: Dirty dishes sharehouse stoush taken to tribunal

Domain. Suburb profile of Footcray. Hopkins street Footscray. 9th March 2016. Photo by Jason South Photo: Jason South An ugly stoush which started with dirty dishes in a sharehouse has wound up in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
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A Footscray tenant made a claim for compensation against his landlord, after a wrangle began over housekeeping, like a smudge on a plate, and escalated to mutual intervention orders.

But the tenant lost the claim after explaining seven weeks of bitter cohabitation to the state’s independent dispute tribunal.

After assessing a long list of allegations made by both men, tribunal member Kylea Campana concluded: “Living with someone is never easy. Even harder is learning to live with people you have never met before.”

The university student applicant claimed the landlord breached a duty under the Residential Tenancies Act to take all reasonable steps to provide quiet enjoyment.

He complained he was constantly harassed over many issues, including access and damage to whitegoods, the use of other tenants’ shampoo and laundry powder and everyday household chores.

He contended that scare tactics were used to get him out.

The landlord lived in a bungalow at the back of the house shared by the applicant and two others.

The tenant moved in last November. Within 10 days the landlord came to his bedroom door and yelled at him to clean up the kitchen. The tenant told him he had an exam, but after the landlord cleaned up, he returned to tell the newcomer he was annoyed.

Two days later the landlord was back at the bedroom door to say “I f—ing told you the rules.”

Ms Campana heard the tenant then locked the door and climbed out the bedroom window.

The tenant texted that morning: “I’ve just moved in and I’m already getting alarm bells. Don’t scream at me like that again and if you need to tell me anything again like that please put it in writing.”

The landlord replied: “The dishes NEED to be washed properly and the sink cleaned afterwards ??? I spent over an hour last night cleaning up your mess and removing the rubbish from that cupboard that you had hidden in there. This is unacceptable.”

Tenant: “The dishes and the kitchen were all reasonably cleaned. If this is going to become a recurring issue I will buy my own stuff so that I can clean it how I usually clean dishes. I really don’t have time for this petty stuff … some of the dishes you pointed out haven’t been used by me. As for the garbage bag, I won’t do that again.”

Landlord: “Hell if you had just listened for a couple of seconds I would not have raised my voice.”

Tenant: “Yes I know and I’m sorry if I rubbed off the wrong way but I was literally late for a board meeting and I looked like shit and I just wanted to avoid conflict.”

Over pizza, they put aside their differences but cleanliness continued to be a sore point.

Animosity escalated to intervention orders and accusations of assault and cruelty to a pet dog.

The tenant gave the landlord a breach of duty notice, explaining he was unable to work at the house and was fearful of harassment when he returned home.

He said the landlord complained about a smear of tomato on a bowl, dirty dishes lying around and food on the bench.

The renter described the house as “like a dictatorship.”

The landlord told the tribunal he was totally and utterly sick of reminding the tenant to clean up and that the tenant knew what was expected before he moved in.

Ms Campana sided with the landlord, saying he must be able to raise the issue with the tenant, especially when it affected other occupants.

The tenant also made a claim for pain and suffering as a result of the impact on his mental health, but that was struck off because it was outside VCAT’s jurisdiction.

After the tenant told the landlord he would report him to police, a friend of the landlord said to him “I pissed in your food and pissed in your products.” Another friend invited him outside for a fight.

But the landlord denied putting the friend up to it, instead discouraging interaction because “this man will twist anything.”

The applicant also claimed the landlord made his Maori guest uncomfortable by discussing her heritage and cannibalism. She left, not wanting to return.

The landlord called the RSPCA alleging the tenant hurt his dog. The tenant claimed while he was being prevented from using the washing machine, he was punched, causing a blood nose. The landlord said he punched himself.

Police advised the tenant to stay with a friend and the $77 cost of transport, two days of food and rent were part of his VCAT claim.

The tit-for-tat continued with accusations of damaging a cactus collection with a broom and internet disconnection.

The tenant claimed the landlord turned on the cold water while he was having a shower.

He also explained a car horn was blasted five times outside his bedroom window and that he was locked out of the laundry when he went to check on a load of washing.

He also claimed he was stared at while he brushed his teeth, and that he was hit in the leg with a beer bottle.

A five-day trip to Queensland to spend time with family was used to escape the stress, and the tenant tried to bill the landlord for the cost of flights.

The landlord issued notice to vacate on January 2.

It read: “The lease has been terminated due to your inability to comply with house rules???, and your misuse of other peoples properties.[sic]”

The tenant called it an illegal eviction and texted: “I’m not prepared to uproot my life because you have OCD issues. If you drag me through the mud, I will do the same ten-fold.”

At the first VCAT hearing on January 25, heard in the absence of the landlord, the tenant was granted $790 in compensation.

But the landlord sought a review and attended a rehearing, where Ms Campana dismissed the tenant’s claim, saying he had unreasonable expectations of life in a sharehouse.

“It is clear ??? that this is not a harmonious household. However, animosity and tension in a share-house does not mean that the landlord has failed to take steps to ensure the tenant has quiet enjoyment of the tenant’s bedroom.

“Being in a share house means you’re going to have some level of interruption that you wouldn’t expect if you had exclusive occupation of an entire home.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

The real reason banks are so angry

The extra $6.2 billion that Scott Morrison plans to extract from the banks over the next four years sounds like a lot of money, and it is. But here’s the thing.
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Regardless of change in government policy, the affected banks often face far bigger swings in their funding costs than the 0.06 percentage points a year the taxman will be skimming off their borrowings.

Any number of events, from all corners of the financial world, can cause funding costs to blow out by a similar amount to the tax hit.

It could be credit market jitters about the eurozone, the loss of a credit rating, or rule changes requiring banks hold more deposits. That is the nature of banking.

Remember, the $1.5 billion a year is being levied on a massive $2.6 trillion in bank liabilities.

“That’s material, but it’s well within the range of recent variability in banks’ funding costs,” says Clime Asset Management portfolio manager David Walker of the levy’s impact.

“When that happens, banks just eventually pass that on, which is what they’ve been doing.” Why go to war?

Why then, are banks squealing so loudly about the latest tax?

Why go to war with the government and risk further backlash over something that is undoubtedly big, but not out of whack with changes in funding costs that often sweep through the banking system?

Well, there’s the fact the banks feel they were blindsided, and that chief executives see shareholders returns as their top priority.

But I think there’s more going on here.

Unlike most other hikes in the banks’ costs, this measure comes amid a concerted attack on something that is far more important to their profitability than a tax: their pricing power.

That is probably one reason why bank shares have arguably overreacted to the levy, with $14.5 billion wiped off combined market capitalisation of the big four and Macquarie in the past week.

Pricing power is something shareholders crave.

It refers to a firm’s ability to set prices for the goods and services in the market – to be a “price maker” – rather than to have them dictated by the forces of competition (being a “price taker”). Pricing power

Stockbroking analysts believe Westpac, Commonwealth Bank, National Australia Bank and ANZ Bank have pricing power most companies could only dream of.

They have an 80 per cent share of the mortgage market, and we all know it is time-consuming and a bore to take your entire bank account to a rival lender in order to get a lower interest rate.

That consumer inertia has allowed the lenders to repeatedly deal with deep-seated challenges in global banking by “re-pricing”, or raising interest rates on loans, most importantly mortgages.

CLSA analyst Brian Johnson says they’ve had “unfettered” pricing power, which they’ve used to maintain profitability when the regulators introduced tougher capital rules, which lower returns.

“Post the Global Financial Crisis the Australian banks have seemingly enjoyed unfettered pricing power to increase variable housing rates to offset structural NIM / ROE pressures,” Johnson says.

But now, the banks’ pricing power looks set to be tested, on many fronts. That should make it harder – but not impossible – to pass on the levy to customers.

For one, there is the fact that only the big four banks and Macquarie Group are being hit with this tax, unlike rises in the cost of money, which affect their competitors, too. Smaller banks bite

Since Bank of Queensland, ING Direct or Bendigo Bank won’t pay the tax, these banks won’t experience the increase in their funding costs from the levy, and they should in theory be able to compete more keenly on price with their larger rivals.

There is also the fact the government will fund the competition watchdog to run a year-long investigation into how banks price their mortgages, alongside a broader-reaching Productivity Commission inquiry into competition in banking.

Yet the forces undermining the big four’s pricing power also run deeper than a new tax and a couple of inquiries.

Over the longer-term, technology could prove an even bigger challenge to big bank power, and ScoMo has made it clear he’d welcome this.

The digital revolution has the potential to unleash competition in financial services from all manner of “fintech” or financial technology businesses that want to compete with banks.

Britain and Europe are moving closer to this future through new “open banking” regimes, which basically force banks to securely share with rivals the vast amounts of data they have on customers. That should make it much easier for customers to vote with their feet if they don’t like the deal from their bank.

It’s likely to happen here, too. The budget included funding for a review of how we should go about implementing “open data” in banking here, a move welcomed by local fintech businesses.

There is also evidence that for all their pricing power, banks get less of a boost from raising prices on mortgages these days than they did in the past.

Banks’ net interest margins still declined in the latest half, to an average of 2.01 per cent from 2.08 per cent a year earlier, despite lenders re-pricing mortgages during the period.

All up, these forces and the hostile political environment are making it harder for the banks to do what they have traditionally done, and protect their returns by acting as “price-makers”.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

1-Page saga closes last chapter and ousts co-founder

It’s looking nearly certain that one-time tech darling 1-Page has gone the way of so many CVs in recent times – in the bin.
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On Monday, the shareholders of the company, which had licensed technology to create one-page resumes, voted to boot the company’s co founder, Joanna Riley, from the board and close the operating side of the business.

1-Page will now be a shell company with a multimillion-dollar whack of cash that can be used on all manner of things – like the back-door listing of an equally spurious tech start-up? A speculative miner? The options are endless.

Riley, a former elite college rower and no Lay Down Sally in this tumultuous affair, will now have to pursue other ventures in Silicon Valley where she is based.

Riley, who was for a time CEO of 1-Page, and her ally Peter Kent (who was CEO after Riley but only for a heartbeat), had offered to buy the American operating portion of the business (ie, all and sundry except for its ASX shell) for $US1. That offer, unsurprisingly, was rejected by the board and shareholders.

Instead, shareholders have opted for an alternative wind up proposal put forward by shareholder Andrew Chapman from Merchant Funds Management. Not a junket

Hold shares in some of the listed investment companies? If you do, it may be worth making a mental note to ask at the next AGM whether they spent shareholder money going to the annual Warren Buffet gabfest, the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting that is better known among some as the Woodstock for capitalists.

On Monday, BKI Investment Co’s Will Culbert and Tom Millner, duly reported to shareholders the “great insights” they received from attending the meeting.

“Warren Buffett is the greatest investor of all time,” they gushed, in a report to shareholders on their trip, titled “Be Rational and be a life ong learner”.

“He is humble, he has strong business ethics and is shareholder orientated,” was one takeaway that left your diarist scratching his head to understand how this translates to being a better stock picker Down Under.

Thankfully, their trip was “self-funded and no cost is borne by the BKI Investment Co”, the duo pointed out. But given the meeting is webcast, could it have made more sense to monitor proceedings from afar? Prince in bricks

How do you get a group of year 10 schoolgirls interested about a career in property? Talk about Frederik, the Crown Prince of Denmark.

That was the strategy deployed by AMP Capital chief operating officer for property Louise Mason when she spoke at the opening day of the Property Council’s Girls in Property Week, a program aimed to encourage greater female participation in the property sector.

“He’s very handsome and he’s very smooth,” explained Mason about the heir to the Danish throne who she once met at the Royal Palace in Copenhagen courtesy of the Australia-Danish student exchange program sponsored by AMP Capital.

“Very easy to look at,” she said in her presentation, which included images of her with the Danish royals and where she did manage to weave in some career tips and plugs for her sector.

“There are lots of fun people in property,” she added while also showcasing AMP’s Danish-designed Quay Quarter project in Sydney.

Yesterday’s event also had Property Council chief Ken Morrison tell the gathering of 120 girls from five high schools why property was such a great industry to work in.

NSW Minister for Finance, Services and Property Victor Dominello took a different tangent, starting his presentation with some archaeological fun facts.

“Around 10,000 years ago there was a revolution that took place. I don’t know if many of you know about it but it was the Neolithic revolution,” explained the minister, who went on to talk a little about property.

If that weren’t enough to excite girls about property, the Property Council as part of the week has arranged Greater Sydney Commission head honcho Lucy Turnbull to speak on Thursday backed up by Lendlease’s head bean-counter for property Courtenay Smith. On Friday, the week will be wrapped up with some talks from Investa Property chief Jonathan Callaghan and entrepreneur Catherine Ball.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Dutton’s department given go-ahead for $250m office upgrade

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton addresses the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra on Tuesday 18 April 2017. fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Photo: Alex EllinghausenThe Coalition is set to use its numbers on a powerful parliamentary committee to approve the Immigration Department’s controversial plan to spend a quarter of a billion dollars on an office upgrade.
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Despite concerns about the value of the $256 million office fit-out – believed to be the most expensive in federal government history – the Public Works Committee is poised to approve it next week.

While the committee is yet to finalise its report on the “Headquarters Project”, it is understood the five government members will recommend the proposal – backed by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton – goes ahead. However the four Labor members of the committee will take what is a rare step for a public works project and submit a dissenting report spelling out their concerns, Fairfax Media understands.

Under the proposal, the number of buildings the department inhabits in the national capital would shrink from 12 to five, with the main office located in a new state-of-the-art building next to Canberra Airport.

The price tag for the 85,700 square metre multi-building fit-out suggests the renovations will cost close to $3000 per square metre – well above the $1200 to $1800 per square metre target for such projects.

The government has budgeted $22.6 million for the fit-out, and another $20.5 million will come from the department’s operating budget. The department says the remaining $212m will come from landlord “lease incentives”.

Immigration boss Mike Pezzullo says the consolidation – which has been linked to Mr Dutton’s desire to create a supercharged Department of Homeland Security – will ultimately deliver $200 million in savings to the taxpayer over 30 years.

But members of the committee – both Liberal and Labor – have publicly criticised the complexity of the proposal and the department’s handling of it.

In Parliament in February, Labor senator Alex Gallacher said he believed taxpayers would end up paying much more through hidden costs in the lease deal.

He also pointed to the department’s “unenviable record” of poor contract management and cost blowouts.

At a subsequent public hearing, Liberal committee chair Scott Buchholz said the committee was “deeply unimpressed” with the department, accusing it of poor preparation and failing to provide vital information about the mega-proposal. He even went so far as to liken Immigration bosses to “unco-operative witnesses”.

The Public Works Committee usually comes to consensus decisions, although it did split last year over an expensive Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade proposal to upgrade its diplomatic mission in Doha.

Senator Gallacher was furious last year when the Department of Finance told the committee a lease on its new state-of-the-art offices would cost $194 million but the true cost was later revealed to be $376 million.

The Immigration fit-out is due to begin in August this year and be completed by February 2021. The upgraded buildings would accommodate 6000 staff. There will also be security upgrades worth $12 million.

The fit-out will include “a unified watch floor, situation rooms, briefing rooms, incident rooms, operation planning rooms, associated intelligence support rooms, and surge rooms”. The new building would include an armoury, conference and training facilities, evidence rooms and map rooms. The department envisions an “innovative” and “modern” new office with “large efficient floor plates to support future flexibility” and an open environment that will “promote collaboration and positive cultural renewal”.

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This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.