Thursday, 26 November 2015


I'm doing what every writer who has a metric sh*t-ton of work to do, does. I'm writing a blog post completely unrelated to what I'm meant to be doing. 

Maybe not completely unrelated - my story is that the traffic on our road, still pumping after 9pm, is what's distracting me from the work I'm trying to do. 

It's what inspired this post, actually: HouseBuying101, or, lessons we've learned since buying our nearly 100 year old house. 

  • If the house of your dreams is on a road that has traffic circles or speed bumps, or a combination of those, change your dreams. These devices are there to calm the extensive traffic on the road, traffic that is unlikely to slow down just because it is night-time, or a Sunday. 
  • Similarly, if the house of your dreams is on the same road as a shopping mall, you are also likely to encounter the traffic nightmare - especially if your shopping mall is open late one night a week, or if it home to a Sunday market. 
  • If you've ever wondered when supermarkets receive their stock - it's at 4am. Trust me, I've lost count of the Pick n Pay trucks zooming down our road at that time of the morning.
  • It's not just the traffic that makes the noise - it's the people walking the street on their way to and from work that add to the 'vibe' too. 
  • Johannesburg's older suburbs are home to many houses with oregon pine floors, which are exquisite in their welcoming warmth. When you view your potential dream home, make sure to lift any strategically placed Persian carpets to examine the condition of the wood underneath them. Move the furniture too, and consider getting an expert in to evaluate them before it's too late to toss your toys at the previous owners, who, we established too late, were aware of the problem. We did none of these, and had to re-floor the entire house after two years of living here, because the floors had been over-sanded and the groove parts of the tongue-and-grooves were splintering off. Not ideal when your firstborn is learning to crawl. Or when you don't have R50k lying around to complete the job. 
  • View the house in the day time, in the early morning, in the evening, on a weekday, and over a weekend, before you put that offer in. We were under a lot of pressure to buy due to some pretty kak circumstances (some of it self-imposed, I will admit) and looked at our house twice. At night time. 
  • Look beyond the seller's styling. The previous owners of our property are in the interior decor business, and dressed things up really well, shall we say. Refer back to the point about Persian carpets, etc. 
  • If the house you're looking at has a pool, check to see if there are any pin oak trees within a 50 mile radius. These charming beauties, owned by the council because they're on the pavement, spit off leaves all year round that clog up just about every pool cleaner on the market. And if it's not leaves that are clogging the cleaner, it's the round seed pods. And yes, I've Council several times to cut them back… to no avail. 
  • Still on the pool … if it's deep, and made of concrete, and in the shade of those bastard pin-oaks all day, it will be cold. Very cold. 
  • Still on the pool… if you can see a crack that's been repaired, walk away from the pool, and then walk away from the house. Ours has a crack that was repaired before we bought, and it opens up for a repairing every four years or so. Like now, right in the middle of the drought, when we can't empty the pool completely to fix it, because water restrictions prevent us from refilling it when repairs are done. 
  • Pressed steel ceilings are indeed works of art, with the last ones being made before WW2 (when they stopped production to use the steel for guns rather). But they do mean that you develop a completely unreasonable conscience when it comes to lighting. I would dearly love downlighting in our house, but can't bear the thought of ripping out or covering the steel ceilings with gypsum board to do that. 
  • They also mean that you can't get away with changing the configuration of your house, without it being glaringly obvious. I love that my kitchen is four rooms big. I know that my kitchen is four rooms big because I have four different ceilings in it.
  • Make sure that your living areas face north (if you live in the southern hemisphere). The only rooms that get the magnificent winter sun in our house, are the kitchen, the main bathroom and the second bedroom. 
Don't get me wrong, there are things I really do love about our home. We moved in here newly married, our boys have only ever known this property as their home, and we have made many wonderful memories here with treasured friends and family. 

But when the time comes for us to move on to something different, I'll be looking at properties through very different eyes to the ones I used over 11 years ago. 

Monday, 9 November 2015

Driving with Discovery Insure

Brett and I play the Discovery game quite well through Vitality - we're heading for Diamond status next year. A few months back I decided to see whether we would benefit from moving to Discovery Insure. Even though we were really happy with the service our broker has given for years and years, we wanted to see if we could save some money through the cash-back driving incentive. 

Our overall insurance premium is around the same as it was before, although the numbers are different - our cars both cost more, but our household and buildings premiums were less. There was also the fact that my car's policy required a tracker, which was an extra R140ish per month. I made sure that we had the same benefits as before, such as car hire in the event of our own vehicles being in for repairs after an accident, and that we were covered for the same amounts as with our previous insurer. 

The paperwork was, well, paperless - all done by email and over the phone, which was great, and Trevashin (aka Trevor) Reddy in the call centre was (and continues to be) very patient and helpful. 

Discovery sent nice men to both of us to fit their own branded trackers to our car, which are included in the price - and which means that I no longer have to pay for a tracking service. This was pretty painless, apart from the fact that my nice man arrived at my office exactly when I'd asked him not to - but, #firstworldproblems, right? 

We had to take our vehicles to Tiger Wheel and Tyre for a once-over that covers things like tyres, shocks, integrity of your windscreen etc - all the things that need checking on your car anyway, that you never get around to doing. That part turned out a little pricey for Brett, because it transpired that he needed new tyres... but rather he find that out before he has an accident on slicks. We'll have to take them for that appraisal once a year going forward too, but again, that's not a bad thing. 

The tracking devices monitor your car's 'behaviour'  and feed it to their database through a mobile phone application. We joined in the middle of their annual driver's challenge, so have a bunch of tickets in their draw for fuel. Holding thumbs we win some... 

The tracker monitors things like harsh braking, harsh acceleration, mobile phone use, speeding and impact, and then gives you a star rating for each journey. Discovery emphasizes that they don't expect you to drive like a granny - you just need to drive at the speed limit (not unreasonable) and drive defensively, rather than aggressively. Also not unreasonable. Based on your driving performance, you get money back on your fuel spend each month, as long as you buy your fuel at BP petrol stations. You also score lower if you drive late late at night, or before 5am I think. 

The link between the device and the app took a bit of setting up and working with the lovely Trevor, but once it was all done, both of our mobile phones can track our vehicles, monitoring our driving behaviour. This also means that we can find one another, if necessary. 

So. Was it worth it? 


Top of the list is that my fuel consumption has dropped by about 25%, just through driving less aggressively and sticking to the speed limit. This effectively means a 25% reduction in fuel costs - good news, whichever way you look at it. 

My time on the road is far less stressful, because I'm not always trying to get in front of the next guy because he's going too slowly (at the speed limit). It's kind of like getting on a train actually. I drive on the M2 there and back every day, which has a speed limit of 100. If the traffic is clear, I engage cruise control at 100, and pretty much just point my car in the right direction until it's time to get off the freeway. 

Not that I've ever been a speed demon (well, apart from that one time...), but I'm expecting far fewer letters with AARTO printed on the back... 

It's taken a bit of getting used to, to find BP petrol stations, because they're not as prolific as the Engens I've favoured after being conditioned by eBucks. If Discovery was smart, they would add a BP Finder into the app, that would then spit you through to a maps application and direct you to the closest BP fuel station. 

After my first run of seven five-star drives, Discovery sent me a voucher for R30 to use at a Vida e Caffe. Nice touch, but I didn't manage to use it before it expired, because there aren't any Vidas in my regular life, apart from which the number of outlets seems to be shrinking. I haven't had any more vouchers since then, although there is a document on their website that tells you how to boost your points - most of which is helpful and commons sense, really. 

The calculation of fuel spend you get back seems to take a little while - I don't know yet how much I've scored from last month's driving, and none of my achievements (ie the TWT session etc) are reflecting. 

The impact sensor was appealing because it triggers an alert in their call centre if it feels an impact, and they promised to call straight away to check and see if you need help - a good idea in an accident. I'd forgotten about that, and drove through a rather hectic pothole on the Oxford Road offramp from the M2. About 10 minutes later, I got a call from a nice man at Discovery to check I was ok, because they'd picked up an irregular movement. 

There's the slightly creepy thing that Discovery now knows wherever I go, all the time, always. But, given how long it can take for emergency services to get to you in an accident, I quite like the fact that there's someone looking out for me and my family - that if something happens to us that we can't call for help ourselves, they'll send it. 

So. Would I suggest you move to Discovery Insure? I would, but crunch your numbers properly first - although it could be argued that some of the benefits may well be worth a small added cost. As said, I'm not sure how much cash we'll get back, although a friend of ours and his wife both get around R800 back each month. But, my reduced fuel costs are already a win, and safer driving is definitely a win - and having a Big Brother checking up of you in moments of distress is also not bad. 

The money stuff: Even though Brett does some work for Discovery, this blog post, written by me, was unsolicited and unpaid for

UPDATE 18 November: Between us, Brett and I earned R850ish back, based on positive driving behaviour. I've now completed some of the assessments so hoping for even more back next month.