Monday, October 20, 2008

To build, or not to build?

In the midst of a global recession, the current real estate turmoil and wall street breakdown in the US, we recently came face to face with a very, very tough decision.

To build, or not to build - our first home, now, at the time of crisis - that is the question.

Perhaps it will be safer to wait. We have only been here in Australia for 10 months, after all. Perhaps we're rushing things. We could stay renting for 1 or 2 more years, like most migrants who were here before us did, before we even think about buying our first home.


I could end the story right here, and leave you all hanging with the same question that bugged us for days. Do we, or do we not proceed? Those of you who have known me for years probably know the answer already.

Yes we did. And though I have established a reputation among family members and friends as a risk-taker, this, as the way things are currently turning out to be, is a risk I'll probably look back a couple of years from now and say, "Boy, am I glad I took it". I'll tell you why later.

So, on a lovely spring day some 3 weeks ago, I went to see my agent and we pushed pen on paper. It didn't made as much as an effect until 30 minutes after, when he shook my hand and said "Congratulations". That's when it hit me. Damn. I just signed the contract of sale of my very first land.

Creek at Ridgewater Village

The land we bought is 448 square metres (not bad for a first home), and is located in Ridgewater, a new village inside the same suburb we are currently in, at Caroline Springs. It sits on top of a rolling hill overlooking plush greenery and a nearby creek (years of writing ads for real estate companies sure came in handy). It's the most picturesque place in the estate (as the brochure says) and is also walking distance to the town centre, 3 schools, 2 inddor pools, 4 tennis courts, 10 basketball courts, 2 football fields, 5 cafes (including gloria jean's), a skate park, a barbecue park, a huge gym, the medical clinic, the police HQ, a massive lake, and yes, the state-of-the-art library.

The house we've chosen to build is composed of 3 bedrooms,
2 bathrooms and an ensuite,
a study, double garage, and an outdoor living area or alfresco. Again, not bad for a first home. Building won't start until March of next year though, since the land won't be ready until then.

But then again, you might still ask, why? Why would I look back, a couple of years from now,
and say, "Boy, am I glad I took that risk?" Why is it a good time to build now, considering the world's economy is falling apart?

My wife was asking me the same question. And all I can tell her was wait. Now being a banker has some advantages, and one of these is being able to read financial trends way ahead of others. True enough, a couple of weeks after we signed the contract, home loan interest rates in Australia plunged for the first time in 3 years. Economists predict rates will hit an all-time low by the first quarter of next year (same time we're already building). Not only that, the federal government has also increased the First Homeowner's Grant (money given by the government for, well, first-time home buyers) from $14,000 to $26,000! Which is enough to offset the 7% deposit we're paying for the house and land!

Here are some photos I took of the display home. The house we're about to build will look exactly the same, except for the furniture (of course), and the oven since I've upgraded into a larger, freestanding one and a canopy range hood. The facade will also be different since we're putting some bricks on it. Pardon the excitement. But if you're 32 year old and married with kids, and spent the last 31 years of your life living with your parents or by their means, you'll know exactly why I am so thrilled.

Just click on the photos to enlarge

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Right, meet Left

I've traded my right brain for my left. You might think it's preposterous, unthinkable, unforgivable, even, but in an effort to adapt, survive, and settle in quickly, I've decided to utilize logic in lieu of creativity.

To those who have been asking me lately, my answer is simple. Yes and No. Yes, I already have a job. And no, I'm no longer working in advertising. You read it right, this copywriter is now a banker. More specifically, a Financial Advisor. After 7 years of writing taglines, jingles, and TV commercials, I am now calling people up and giving them sound financial advice about their personal loans, credit cards, home loans, bonds, stocks, and other investments. Words such as taglines, jingles, and brainstorms, were replaced by assets, liabilities and equity.

I know. What the f#@*.

I am currently employed at The Commonwealth Bank of Australia, the largest financial institution in the land down under. And before you start thinking that I sold my soul to the devil, I just want you to know that it wasn't what I really planned for. You see, finding a job here in Australia is like finding the perfect pair of shoes on Ebay. There's heaps of choices available on the internet but somehow, you can't find the one that you really, really want. Oftentimes, you'll find the style you like, but it doesn't fit. Or it may fit you, but it's not really what you're looking for. In the end, you bite your lips and say, "I'll just have to settle with this." Like I said, there's thousands and thousands of choices. Visit and see for yourself. In fact, Melbourne was voted as the 2nd country with the most online job-hunters in the world (I forgot who's first). You can spend the whole week just sending out resumes to companies and expect at least half of them to reply and set you up for an interview. As long as you're not picky, you'll get a job in no time at all.

But then of course, the first time I logged on, I typed the keywords "advertising", "copywriter", and "creative" on the search button. To my surprise, I found out that there weren't as many available as I thought there would be. To top it all, most advertising jobs are either for Art Directors or Account Executives. And almost 80% of the jobs available are located in Sydney. There were a handful copywriter positions, but most of them are for advertorials, merchandising and events-focused. I sent my resume anyway.

Long story short, my applications came back unsuccessful. At this point, I have already submitted my portfolio along with my letter of endorsement to McCann Melbourne, and, just to make sure, to Clemenger BBDO, Leo Burnett, Grey, and J. Walter Thompson. I was told that none of them have an opening. I had spent time going back and forth to McCann the most (I am a former McCannite anyway), in all fairness, they were also the one who accommodated me the most. The first time I went there they were moving office, so I had to callback a month after. The next time i called, the creative director (they have no ECDs) was on a holiday. The third (and last time), I met his secretary, who told me they just recently hired a copywriter and that the CD would like to keep my folio for future opportunities. I thanked her and left. I was heartbroken. I couldn't believe that all 7 years that I have spent, all the skills I have developed and talent I have unearthed would all go into a shed, thrown away and locked up for future reference. I knew getting into advertising was hard, (it is, even in the Philippines), but I never imagined it would be this hard especially since I already have experience. I was shattered.

Then, a relative told me about a friend who also used to work as a copywriter back in the Philippines. He told me that when he first came here, he did the same things I did, sending resumes to all the top agencies, then to lesser-known offices, until he finally landed a job --- as a graphic artist. He told me that one of the advertising agencies he applied for actually told him, that one reason why newly-arrived migrants like us have a hard time applying for copywriting jobs is because we don't have a clear grasp of Australian culture yet. We don't know what makes them laugh, frightened, sad, in love, and, most important of all, what makes them buy... yet. After hearing that, all I can say is "fair enough."

Long story short, I am now a financial planner. Don't get me wrong, I like what I'm doing. I may not love it the way I adore writing copy and conceptualizing, but I like it for 3 reasons. Security, Time, and Privileges. Security knowing that I'm a permanent, full-time employee of one of the largest and richest corporations in Australia. Time because unlike in advertising,
we don't, no, never, ever, do overtime. In fact, the moment it hits 5:30, people leave the building as if it was burning. Moreover, as soon as I get home, I'm no longer thinking about work. How often can you say that in advertising? Finally, the privileges. I get to enjoy perks and frills such as no fees and discounts on my credit card (I only get charged half the interest), substantial discounts instant approvals on personal loans and home loans, golf club and spa memberships, bonuses, and travel opportunities. And the pay? Let's just say that it's Good on Australian standards, on Philippine standards however, it's f#@*ng Great! All I can say is I now earn 4 times than what I used to earn in Manila. And I have only started.

Do I miss advertising? Of course. Will I still pursue copywriting? Maybe. I don't know. Neil French has been a copywriter, an account executive, a rent collector, a waiter, a singer, a debt collector, and many other things until he finally came back to advertising and became an Ad God, so, who knows? I myself, dreams of one day becoming a chef, a film director or a novelist, so, like I said, who knows? As I told you before, you can get anything you want in Melbourne. As long as you're not picky.

So I'm parking my writer's hat in the closet for now, and putting on my crisp plaid suit. There's a lot of things I can do to keeping my creativity intact anyway. Like writing this blog, for instance. For now, I'm trading creativity for logic.

Right, meet Left.