Returning to our roots: The end of a long journey
After spending some 38 years overseas the writer is seen making plans to return back to India. The 47th part of a series describing the unknown triumphs and travails of doing international business
The property market is a barometer for the economic conditions prevailing in the country, because it has always a dream of every person to own a house and call it and make it his/her own home. Land prices, for instance, in Washington DC area were increasing by the hour, if and where available; as is the universal habit with building contractors, they were buying small parcels, demolishing the old houses, and building multi-storied buildings, or townhouses with most modern facilities.
The rates varied from location to location. In some areas like Woodbridge, a few miles down the road on the Richmond Highway where very large and beautiful buildings were built just a few years earlier, was now coming down in market value. The enthusiasm was now on the back-burner, as the owners were facing difficulties in travelling back and forth to their places of work. Tenants were leaving the owners in the lurch and a lot of houses were being foreclosed by banks, which had lent money for buying them.
Our own house, which was also on the Richmond Highway side road, was in demand, all because one could be in Washington DC in less than fifteen minutes by metro or by car. As our son had made up his mind to return and settle down in Bangalore, we began to seriously consider a move likewise at the best opportunity. We began a search for a good real estate broker who could advice us.
We recalled how some seven years earlier we had met Nigel Willis, whose name was recommended by a neighbour, as the realtor who would be putting up a Chimney Wood Court townhouse on sale in a week or ten days from the time we met her, and gave us his phone number. We got in touch with him and after a brief chat, Nigel gave us good guidance, recommended his own friend Robert (Bob) McEl Roy, a real estate financier who was associated with the Bank of America, and based on his advice, we made a bid, which was accepted by the owner. We had happily lived in that townhouse for some seven years, and now, we planned to sell it at the best possible price.
In the meantime, as other houses in the community were also coming up for sale, we visited and it was my wife Neela who came up with recommendation of two other realtors, Curt McArtor and Patty & Maria. So, we asked Nigel, Curt and Patty Maria team to make the bids so that we could make a comparative study and decide as to who would be our agent to handle the sale. We chose Curt, whose recommendations and ideas were more practical and within our budget, because we needed to do so upgrading before the house went on sale. We did not want to spend too much money on beautification and modernization, as it was then difficult for the new owners to make changes, should they desire to do so.
I must marvel the professional way Curt and his team went about doing the planning. We had regular discussions, repair and repainting work, and finally a virtual photo session by a specialised team, ending with a beautiful brochure printed and presented to the prospective buyers. We had planned that the whole process should take something like 120 days at best. Before the deadline we had a few buyers but it was a military couple who made the final successful and acceptable offer. Prepared by lawyers on both sides, after a few last minute minor hiccups of repairs, the entire transaction took place in less than one hour in the lawyer's office, based on a simple document like our drivers' license! Just like they said in the meeting, “the entire amount will be transferred to your account by 2pm today, when you can get the confirmation from your bankers”. When we called Jim at the bank at 2.15, he confirmed the amount has been “credited to your account” but you can access it “only tomorrow”! Doing business like this is a satisfying experience!
Meanwhile, we had located a nearby residential complex with some 500 apartments, so that we could move in when the sale was completed. Since Gregory, the new buyer had already deposited the required amount in the escrow account; we had no problem in making our commitment to move into the rented apartment until our return.
We had decided to leave Washington by second week of October 2007; based on the long use of my Visa card and the ‘miles’ earned, I decided to use the same for getting one ticket from this, and buy the other through the agents, but coordinating the departure plans, so that we could leave together. We finally made a booking to leave on 19th October.
Leaving in October meant that we had spent some 38 years abroad. We had come to the Middle East in a couple of suitcases and now we had to leave behind a lot of stuff, mostly free and for charitable institutions and for the needy, but other personal items, down to the kitchenware, etc, had to return with us. There was nothing electrical that we could take, because of the different voltage systems applicable in both the countries, and even the table-top computers were given away to needy students, along with book shelves, other wood furniture, etc. Since the new rented place was a walkable distance from our Chimney Wood Court home, by using our cars we began the shift, as we moved into the final sale and transfer deed formalities.
We planned a holiday within the US and Canada before our departure and bid goodbye to our employers. In my own case, as luck would have it, the Sheraton Suites, which was a franchised property, managed by Starwood, was bought over by TPG group, a very large conglomerate with interest in various areas including hospitality industry. Their own staff was moving in to take over our jobs, and a lot of the staff was retained, but I was one of the few who had to go; in a way, earlier than planned. I had decided to give them notice in September, so that I could train somebody before leaving in October, but still take a vacation. Well, this was not to be.
In more ways than one, this was a blessing in disguise; I was able to systematically pack our belongings, prepare and keep detail recording of every single box that was to be sent back to India in a container; stay at home, cook the food, and dispose junk collected over years and deliver all those recyclable items for charity. Who would need heavy blankets, snow jackets and other similar items for use in India? We disposed off the first car, a Nissan Sentra. It was bought in no time, as the buyer could not believe her own eyes when we said that it was one owner-driven and accident-free! The other, a Protege Mazda, is the hardy vehicle we took on our trips to Atlantic City and drove it all the way to Ottawa to see the Niagara Falls on the way and spend some time with our niece there. Our son Anand had joined us for this purpose from Dubai and after a few days drove back to Alexandria.
In New York we went took the trolley and drove around all important places and the Lady of Liberty Statue, a gift from the French more than 200 years ago.
We took a few days rest, and took off again, but this time, all the way to stop over and spend two days in San Jose to be with our extended family, after which we took our flight to visit Las Vegas to spend two days in the MGM Grand. We met thousands of one-eyed jacks (slot machines), and saw the unbelievable sight of people gambling away their fortunes in the hope of making one!
In the end, we had the excitement, enjoyment and saw some nice shows. We did not return with loads of cash, but did not lose much either, as we had planned everything to the detail and stood by our own promises!
I think a couple of weeks later the clearing agents came and collected the entire consignment, and assured us the delivery in Bangalore in four to six weeks thereafter.
For the last few days stay before our actual departure we returned back and stayed at the Sheraton Suites to be with our friends with whom I had worked for some seven years. My wife had left her job at the Fort Belvoir a couple of months earlier, and so it was a sort of forced relaxation, but anxiety kept creeping in as what we would do when we get back in India.
I sold the Protege just a few days before we left the Sheraton and took the opportunity to visit the Shiva-Vishnu and Karthik temples in Maryland before we left for India.
Our Air France flight left Washington Dulles airport on time; it would stop at the Charles De Gaulle airport at Paris for a few hours when we would change aircraft for our onward journey to arrive the next morning in the early hours, after some 17 hours of flight!
Immediately after take-off, food was served along with drinks and table wine. I had a good meal, and dozed off to sleep, with my safety belt on...
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts. From being the advisor to exporters, he took over the mantle of a trader, travelled far and wide, and switched over to setting up garment factories and then worked in the US. He can be contacted at email@example.com.)
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