x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

All property buyers should have twin's eyes on the ground

On the Money Because I'm buying property overseas, I¿m finding it a little hard to get the true feeling of a house via the online real estate websites.

Gary Clement for The National
Gary Clement for The National

I have a theory about twins. I call it second-born twin syndrome. I base this theory on the fact that I was beaten to the post by my older twin brother by 15 minutes. Never has such a small amount of time had such a huge effect on my life - and, I believe, that of other second-born twins the world over.

Fated to always be the runner-up in life - some would say that there's no shame in always coming second, which is a lot better than, say, coming in last - second-born twins are relegated to the No 2 spot from the moment they are born thanks to a little brainwashing by their parents.

"Your oldest brother is in charge while we are out," my parents would say every time they headed out the door, which was often. "We're both the eldest," I'd argue back. "No you're not, sweetheart. You're 15 minutes younger, so your brother is in charge and you have to do what he says while we are out."

"But that's just a technicality!" I'd shout. "Go to your room," they'd say. "And you can come out when your brother says you can." I knew that I'd never get out of my bedroom that night.

As we grew up, and I started to slowly accept my fate, I began to learn that there were ways to turn it around and make the most of my runner-up status. My elder brother would dive into situations and crash and burn, simply, I assumed at the time, because that's what's eldest siblings do. Now that I'm an adult, I reckon it was because he was stupid, although he'll tell you differently.

Instead, I learnt to hang back, like any sensible second-born twin, and watch and learn. Then do better. And there's no better feeling in the world than that of beating your big brother, even if he is only 15 minutes older than you.

Now that I'm an adult, I've turned this strategy into a winning formula. Not long before the dotcom bubble burst in 2000, tech start-ups caught my attention. So I sat back and watched the market spiral out of control for a while. Then they crashed before I had time to invest any money in them. A close shave, but one that I attribute to being that oh-so-sensible second-born twin. Now if it was my brother, he would have lost everything. But, of course, like any older twin brother, he'd tell you differently.

I'm using this strategy again, but this time for property. After years (and years) of waiting, I'm finally ready to climb onto the property ladder. Even better, I'm paying cash. So no mortgage or that dreaded risk of falling into the world of negative equity, which means that your loan is worth more than the value of your house. Told you I was the sensible second-born twin.

But because I'm buying property overseas, I'm finding it a little hard to get the true feeling of a house via real estate websites. In fact, if the truth be told, there's a whole lot of pitfalls that come from looking for an overseas property from the comfort of your home, albeit rented, in the UAE.

Is that large dark spot on the outer wall of that gorgeous looking cottage an extremely bad case of damp wall? Or is it just the careless agent's fingerprint? What about that tree-root system that appears to be snaking its way under the house, or is it an out-of-focus, giant garden hose?

So I've done what any sensible second-born twin would do: get me my own personal house hunter in the form of my "oldest" brother, who is currently in the country in which I want to buy property.

He sends back daily dispatches of his inspections, either by e-mail, text or phone, and I send him links to the houses that I'm interested in. And it's a good thing he's there.

So far, he's saved me from buying a six-bedroom money pit that resembles a cross between a Pippy Longstocking house and one that The Addam's Family may have also lived in. At the same time. I thought it looked interesting, especially because of the turret, which would have been great for my daughter to take Rapunzel to another level during her imaginary games.

Then there is that cute little villa that he discovered is hiding a seriously bad case of damp wall. Not something you want to deal with in the middle of a European winter, more so because I will be in Abu Dhabi enjoying the cooler weather.

As it turns out, we have formed a pretty good partnership. So much so, that we are now pooling our finances and buying a property together. And he's listening to me. For once. Which is kind of putting my second-born twin theory to the test for the first time in my life.

Our parents would be proud, more so because we'll be saving money.