May 12, 2020

Andrew Trench notes from the revolution

It's amazing how central technology is becoming to our lives and how dramatically it has advanced. If anyone thinks we're a bit backwards in South Africa read what I have to say about how I have used technology to help ease a major change in our lives and you may think otherwise.

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I'm in the process of moving my family to Cape Town where I am starting a new position as head of investigations at Media24. With 10 hours of driving time this weekend in which to think about things, I got to mulling how technology has helped me so far in this move.

Here are some examples:

  • First off, we are house-hunting which anyone who has gone down this road will know is a real pain in the ass. So first up I set up a webscraper to scrape targetted property listing websites. The scraper, created using the excellent Visual Webripper application, pulls the scraped results into a xml file and then I wrote a little batch file which my computer runs whenever it is switched on and mails me a summary of the targetted properties I'm after.
  • The results help me to refine a property to view. Thanks to this, I was able to contact an agent using a web form on IOL Property and the agent contacted me and has arranged to take me on a viewing extravaganza next Saturday.The neighbourhood I'm staying in as shown in Google Street View
  • Thanks to Google Streetview I can preview houses that I may be interested. I can rapidly get a feel for a neighbourhood and know if the house is a go or not. I've probably saved myself days of wasted time using this tool.
  • Thanks to services like PropIQ I can investigate a full history of a house and also something approaching a rationale view of what its true value might be. Thanks to this I discovered that that a property that an agent was trying to interest me in and that was on the market for R2,4m was probably more rationally valued at around R1,5m (I could also tell that the agent was , in fact, the owner of the property, which she never disclosed to me). You have to pay but when you're about to buy your biggest asset, it's worth every cent.
  • Thanks to online mortgage originators like Ooba, it took me about 10 minutes to get myself preapproved for financing which gives me another arrow in my house-shopping arsenal.

And there are plenty more examples. I'm moving down before my family to search for a house and it's really difficult to be away from my wife and 5-year-old daughter. Thanks to Skype and a webcam, I can have regular video chats with my daughter which is a million times better and more fun than a phone call every morning and evening.

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In between the millions of things I have on my to-do list was finding a place to stay as short-term accomodation as well as in Knysna when I drove down. The web sorted me out on both counts. I found a great cottage at a B&B in Pinelands, negotiated the deal and secured it - all without having to make a call. Weirdly, it turns out the owner is not only also from the Eastern Cape, but also used to work at the Dispatch which I have just left! The web had nothing to do with that, that's just pure serendipity. But online booking services for hotel groups like Protea also helped me with a hassle-free booking of a room in Knysna over this weekend. Couple of minutes, a few mouse clicks and I was done. And, of course, no piece like this would be worth anything without mentioning my old friends Twitter and Facebook. With these two social networking applications, you're never alone - even when you are. It was great on my first night away from my family to reach out to the greater community of friends and aquaintences I have and to share thoughts with them. It definitely makes a big change a little easier to manage.

So that's how I have sweated technology so far in this new mission in our lives. I'm sure by the time the mission is complete technology would have played an even bigger role.

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