x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Satisfied with just paying the bills after my life as a

It was fun while it lasted but, like half of Ireland, I learnt that there's no substitute for genuine hard work and entrepreneurship.

My wife has painted our living room a deep purple, with bright gold to finish off the trimmings. It actually looks a lot better than it sounds.

Even though the colour scheme can be wince-inducing after a night out, I still find it comforting; it means we won't be selling our house anytime soon. The Michelle Obama hues are out, the Age of Aquarius is in.

You see, in what now seems a long, long time ago, we made a living by flipping houses. Aah, the innocence of those times. I would pretend I had an income, and my bank would pretend to believe me and extend a loan to buy another house. Our last property, one we listed with an estate agent even as we pulled into the drive for the first time, is the one we still live in, three years on.

Once our mortgage was secured, the house would be bought, gussied up and sold as quickly as possible. The leftover capital from a sale would be spent on useful items, such as a holiday in Paris a or new car.

Excess cash could be dumped in the stock market, which was pretty much a one-way bet. A blind monkey could have made money from it.

Then the music stopped and I was without a chair. By late 2007, I began to get a tingling feeling at the back of neck, probably like the one Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII, was briefly familiar with. The stock market, while still robust, was becoming increasingly volatile and I began to lose money.

At the same time, it became uncomfortably apparent that our latest "flip" would remain ours until the bailiffs showed up with an eviction notice. We'd gone deep into hock and bought the place with the intention of selling it as fast as possible. It had been painted and spruced; I spent three weeks spreading soil and planting shrubs to give it an instant garden.

Potential buyers, who had been dropping in by the hour, disappeared. The only looker we had in a month was a hippie who insisted on inspecting our roof trusses; he climbed into our ceiling and spent the next hour rooting about, before emerging looking mysteriously pleased with himself, and left.

The house was a model of bland middle-class taste. Autumn shades - its what decorators call beige - covered the walls. It didn't really matter that it was boring because we were not expecting to keep it. Besides, pretty much all our personal art, books and other things were still in boxes, as they had been through our two previous moves. I could not have found our family photo albums with a gun to my head.

But then everything changed. And it was a little like that childhood dream of finding myself at school without any shorts on.

If it hadn't been for the sheer luck of landing a job in Abu Dhabi, I fear we would now be living with an ageing relative. A steady job through the worst of the crisis, though, was enough to claw us out of debt and stabilise our finances.

The result is we now live in a house that is beginning to seem like a home, instead of an ATM.

Weekends are no longer spent trawling hardware stores for made-in-China fittings. Instead, we are unpacking the last of the lost boxes, finding items we had forgotten we possessed.

It was fun while it lasted but, like half of Ireland, I learnt that there's no substitute for genuine hard work and entrepreneurship. I've given up on getting rich quick, or ever, for that matter. From here on out, I think I will settle for being able to pay my bills.

 

Gavin du Venage is a business writer and entrepreneur based in South Africa. If you have any questions about this column, e-mail him at gavinduvenage@gmail.com

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