Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Flatmate Hunting

On the day I decided my future, my landlord asked me to move out in a month's time (see 20 February).

Talking to my landlord revealed that she wanted me (and my flatmate) to move out because she got fed up with finding a tenant for each single room in our house and wanted to rent our house as a whole. (One of our flatmates moved out recently.)

Then I suggested to her that I look for a new tenant to our house. She liked the idea. It also made sense to me because if you're on the supply side of the market, you don't need to travel around in London to view flats and houses or to make many calls to ask questions and arrange viewings. It would be less stressful and less harassing.

I was right. In five days, I managed to find a new flatmate! Plus, I learned a couple of things from this flatmate-hunting experience.

The biggest puzzle to me was why nearly all flat advertisements provide incomplete information on the specification of a room/house. Part of the reason is that the advertisement media limits the number of letters you can use in your ad. But this doesn't explain why all the advertisements at Gumtree.com (this is a nice website for Londoners though it's a bit chaotic) are also incomplete, because you can write your ad as long as possible on this website.

You want to minimize the number of viewers. You want to screen out those not really interested in your property. Otherwise your precious time will be consumed by those who won't take your room.

So in my ad at Gumtree.com, I put every piece of information on the room and the house, including photos of the room, the kitchen, and the garden.

I browsed a real estate agent's brochure to learn how to take a good picture of your rooms. A room picture can be quite tricky. It can make the room look smaller than it actually is. You can end up screening out those who are otherwise interested. I noticed one basic rule among the room pictures on the brochure: take a picture at the corner of a room and make sure that the opposite corner of the room comes at the one-third of the length of the photograph. This makes the room look spacious in a photograph (Lesson 1). See my learning outcomes: a double room and a single room.

On the Gumtree.com ad, I didn't put my phone number. One reason is to avoid receiving calls after you found a flatmate. I also wanted to control the whole process rather than being disturbed every time you get a call. Initially, my landlord kindly created an ad on the gumtree.com with my mobile number on it. Literally a few minutes later, I started receiving calls and texts including unsolicited sales pitches. I hurriedly deleted the ad once. I also didn't want to be distracted by callers who just wanted to ask questions on the room.

Instead I put an email address which is NOT my usual address. I created a Hotmail account for this purpose. This not only prevents spammers from picking up your address but also allows you to shelter your private messages from flatmate-hunting messages.

I learned that Hotmail is quite annoying (Lesson 2). I usually use Gmail (called Google Mail in UK due to the trademark issue). Gmail automatically refreshes the screen when a new message arrives. Hotmail doesn't. You need to click "Inbox" many times. Gmail cleverly screens out spams. Hotmail very often misclassifies junk mails. Finally, Gmail does not have conspicuous advertisements on the screen. Hotmail does.

In addition to the ad at Gumtree.com, I also created an original webpage for the room advertisement by using Blogger. Then selectively email those who have placed an ad at the "Room Wanted" section of Gumtree.com by mentioning the address of this webpage.

Whenever I received a message to my Hotmail account, I called up the sender to arrange a viewing. On Sunday afternoon, I scheduled five viewings. The first viewer, Caroline, didn't come on time because she got our house number wrong. She didn't look impressed by our house after viewing, telling me she would call me after she visited other places as well. The second viewer, Faisal, didn't come one hour after the scheduled time. Neither did Alex, the third viewer. I wanted to make sure if I needed to wait for them. So I called Faisal. He sounded like he overslept. We rescheduled the viewing in the evening. I then called Alex. She got lost. Alex finally came 30 minutes later. Her reaction while viewing the house was Meditteranean: "Fantastic!" But she wasn't Meditteranean when I said no to her question of whether we have the TV. She said she would call me after viewing another flat.

I learned one thing from Alex. She liked the high ceiling of the room. Which I didn't realize when I wrote an ad. Now the biggest puzzle was solved. The reason why flat advertisements tend to be incomplete is that advertisers have incomplete information on what flat-hunters are looking for (Lesson 3). People have different preferences. Unless you are an experienced flat advertiser, you certainly fail to specify important aspects of your room/house.

On Sunday evening, Faisal was supposed to come, but he texted me saying, "Sorry, I can't come. Bye." Another viewer, Eva, never came and never called or texted me. The final viewer of the day, Andrew, didn't come, either. One hour after the scheduled time, he texted me to ask if there is a living room in our house, without a single word of "Sorry" or whatsoever. I didn't reply to him as he wouldn't be a good flatmate.

Some people in London are quite nasty (Lesson 4). Well, I already knew this anyway.

On Monday morning, Caroline texted me, saying she decided to take another place. She's such a nice person. Alex, on the other hand, never contacted me again.

On Monday evening, I had two viewers. Nordine, the first viewer, said he would like to take the room, immediately after he finished viewing the house. Brett, the second viewer, said he was very interested but wanted to see another place as well before his decision. He said he would call me by lunchtime the following day.

Today, Brett didn't call me by lunchtime. I called him to learn that he was waiting for a call from another place he visited. Which suggested that he didn't like our place the most. Nordine becomes our new flatmate.

(In case you wonder, although the ad says there are two rooms available, my landlord says she's happy with just one new tenant. I just wanted to increase the probability of finding flatmates by attracting those looking for a room with a friend of theirs.)

Monday, February 26, 2007

Mankiw's Advice for New Junior Faculty

I learn that Greg Mankiw, probably the most popular economist blogger, advises new assistant professors NOT to start a blog:

Avoid activities that will distract you from research. Whatever you do, do not start a blog. That will only establish your lack of seriousness as a scholar. ("Advice For New Junior Faculty," Feb 24, 2007)

What if a new assistant professor has already started a blog?

I know, I know this is a stupid question.

So the bottom line is ...

Econoclasm's days are numbered (as my days in London are).

Friday, February 23, 2007

Education in Poor Countries

Two new pieces of development economics research on what improves education in poor countries were presented at LSE recently.

Andrabi, Das, and Khwaja (2007) focus on the supply side of education, and find that, in Pakistani districts, private schools are more likely to be set up if public secondary schools are already there. They argue that this is because public secondary schools increase the number of educated women who can become teachers. It suggests the importance of the supply of teachers to expand access to school.

Bjorkman (2007), on the other hand, looks at the demand side. She finds that gender gap in primary school enrolment in rural areas of Uganda shrinks when it rains more than usual (I think Figure 9 in the paper is a nice presentation of this finding). Ugandan farmers grow banana or coffee, both of which are rain-fed. Her finding indicates that poverty is the main driver of gender gap in school attendance, often found in developing countries.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

MUSIC@LSE Lunchtime Concert Series: Matan Porat

Now I have time to attend LSE's lunchtime concert series. This week's guest is Matan Porat, a pianist.

Bach: Partita No.1 in Bb Major

Boring. I keep thinking something else. Porat's staccato style of playing the piano doesn't sound fit for this piece of music.

Schumann: Davidsbundlertanze Op.6

Porak shows incredible subtlety during the quite part of this piece. The same motif repeats towards the end, and the way he moves on from there to the last part of extravaganza with a sensitive coda firmly grips my attention.

Bartok: "Out of Door" Suite (1926)

This is an amazing piece of contemporary music. It must have influenced progressive rock musicians in the 1970s. The piece begins with unusually intensive use of bass keys, which is a nice logical progression from the end of the previous piece played.

Porak again shows his incredible subtlety in the quiet part of the piece, but his more aggresive side gets along very well with Bartok, too. I learn that this pianist is amazing with this sort of music in which dynamism and stasis create a stark contrast.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Looking for a flat

My job search is over today. I thought now I could get relieved from all the stress.

No, I can't.

This morning a letter from my landlord arrives, asking me to move out in a month's time. I only need to stay in London for six months more (until the end of August). I will negotiate with my landlord, but chances are slim.

So I'm still too busy to update this blog. If you live in London and have a bedroom available or know someone looking for a tenant/flatmate, please let me know. This is an absolute headache as I'm rather picky: I need broadband, a rice cooker, a washing machine and a dryer, a spacious kitchen, a supermarket nearby with decent whole milk on sale, less than 40 minutes from LSE, and a nightbus from central London (to enjoy the last six months in London). Given my experience of student flat hunting a few years ago, this is a tall order. The current place has these all except for decent milk nearby.

You may want to know what my new job is. No I won't tell you. I will start a retrospective job-search blog after I move, without telling you the final outcome. So you will experience the whole uncertainty that I faced by reading it. Isn't this a good idea?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Millie's Cookies

A mental note. DO NOT BUY COFFEE AT MILLIE'S COOKIES. Their coffee is horrible. And I suffer from it twice in two weeks, first at Victoria Station and this time at Euston Station. Their coffee makes your journey away from London miserable. Beware of it.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Takacs Quartet

This is a very hilarious article written by the first violinist of the Takacs Quartet on how the Quartet copes with a member change, does rehearsing, travels by air, and prepares for a concert.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

LSE Catering Service Survey

LSE's Catering Services emailed students to ask for completing online surveys on LSE catering and eating habits.

The prize for cooperation is ...

"a free meal in The Garrick or Brunch Bowl"

I don't need that! (The Garrick and Brunch Bowl are the names of LSE student canteens.)

As I'm grumpy a lot about LSE's catering outlets (so I almost never use them in favour of other school canteens near the campus), I'm willing to participate in this survey anyway, expecting that I'm allowed to give a comment on LSE catering services in sentences.

But the survey only asks multiple choice questions, not allowing the respondent to provide any opinions freely.

I wanted to say, "Why does a bowl of salad with dressing cost nearly 2 pounds?" or "LSE canteens may be above the average in UK universities, but they are certainly below the average by non-UK standards."

So LSE Catering Services do not seriously take into consideration the views from students. No hope for much improvement in the future.

Well, it doesn't matter to me as I leave LSE this autumn. But I'm sorry for LSE students to continue suffering from LSE canteens.