Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Selling Schools and Apartments

Monday, I got a call from Farook, though I told him I'm always extremely busy Mondays, and I was, in fact, in a very important meeting when he called (and I'm not senior enough that it's OK for my mobile to ring during meetings). I told him never to call on Mondays. 'Sorry. Tuesday.'

So today he calls and says it's very important, and he'll pick me up at 9:00 a.m.

This story started about a year ago, when George wandered into Farook's office, and said he had a $400 a month rent-controlled apartment 'for sale.' Farook offered to take over payments and give George $25 a month. Mostly, George hasn't seen his $25.

Meanwhile, Ann had just been swindled out of all her money, desperately needed a cheap place to live, and saw an ad by Farook for a cheap apartment. Farook gave Ann a sublease for $800 a month. Then Farook didn't keep up the lease payments, so the landlord kept threatening Ann with eviction. The landlord didn't maintain the place, since he wanted to encourage tenants to leave so he could raise the rents. Ann has not been happy with the apartment, especially when she found out the landlord is raising the rent to $700, a huge increase for all the legitimate tenants, but a reduction for her, only she's already found another place, cheaper and better.

Ann called me to say she had been trying to contact Farook to relinquish the apartment, but Farook wouldn't answer her calls. Farook said he'd been calling Ann, but wasn't answering his calls.

When Farook was driving Ann all over Sharjah looking at apartments, he'd mentioned that he was trying to sell a school, and Ann offered to help.

So, at 9:00 a.m. this morning, Farook picked me up. Then we met Sid, who was looking for a cheap apartment. Then we went, I thought, to meet Ann. We went to a coffee shop near Ann's apartment, while Ann went to Farook's office. She called, and Farook said he couldn't meet her, so she went to work.

Farook then took Sid and me to see a school. It was abandoned in May, 2005, but the owner said it had been empty for two years. He didn't note the old calendars, turned to May, 2005, with notes on the days, providing rather convincing evidence of exactly when it was abandoned. He probably isn't the owner, but a broker.

'Why did they leave?'

'Who knows. Staffing problems. They couldn't get qualified people, and the Ministry forced them to close. Come see school.'

We saw the nursery building, the 'Alumbic' (sic) swimming pool, the Primary to High School building, the two canteens, a room with gas pipes to each work table. 'This is computer lab.' Must be for gas powered computers.

'When you open school?'

'I represent some European investors. They have to see the blueprints.'

'Why you need blueprints? You see school. You visualize how school look, where you put all classes.'

'I must have blueprints for my investors.'

'You see school. Tell them you see, school very good. You no want school, can open as hospital.'

This took two hours. 'I've seen enough, but my investors must see blueprints before we can proceed. Fax Farook your blueprints. We have to go now.'

As we left, we saw signs saying, 'We have moved,' with arrows to the new building where the school had moved. So the ministry had condemned the building, not the management.

Then we drove to Ann's apartment and waited an hour for Ann. Finally I called.

'When I called, Farook said he wouldn't be available. I'm in a meeting now, and don't know when I'll be able to get away.' So we sat another hour. Finally, Ann called. 'I can get away in ten or fifteen minutes, but then I have to drive from Dubai to Sharjah.'

'She'll be another hour, let's go to lunch.' Sid said, 'I see a cafeteria. We can go there.' Only Sid needed comfort facilities, which are non-existent in most Sharjah cafeterias. 'Let's go someplace on the main highway.' 'I can't wait.'

So Sid started wandering around to every door asking, 'Do you have a restroom?' After about half an hour, he found one and straggled back.

'Come on, Ann won't be here for another hour, let's go someplace we can get coffee.'

We ended up at a Pizza Hut. Ann called. 'I'm stuck in traffic. Are you at my apartment?' 'No, we're at Pizza Hut.' 'I'll meet you there.'

Farook ordered the Pizza Meal for 6. Ann arrived at the same time as the pizza, so we had a nice lunch (Farook paid), then we went back to Ann's apartment.

'I paid you for a full year, but your lease with the landlord expired on 31 Jan, and they said I had to leave, so you must refund three months rent.'

'I give you one month. This not hotel. I need two months to find new tenant.'

'You don't even have a lease. You didn't pay, and the apartment reverted to the landlord on 31 Jan. I told you in November I was leaving, and that's two months' notice. I demand you refund three months' rent.'

'I sorry, but you sign lease. I no have to give you anything, but I give you one month because I respect you.'

'Three months or I call the police.'

'I give you one and one-half months.'

The haggling lasted for an hour, and ended up with Farook giving Ann a post-dated cheque for two and one-half month's rent, Ann giving Farook the apartment keys, and Farook giving the keys to Sid.

I asked Ann for a ride back to Dubai, since I'd had about as much Farook as I can stand for one day. As we drove, I asked her about how she'd gotten into the school business.

'I'm not in the school business. Farook just told me he had a school for sale last May, and I said I knew some people who might be interested. I said I needed full blueprints and a contract. I'll was going to make some phone calls to Europe, and fax the blueprints. But I need a contract that says, if I do find someone, I'll definitely get a commission, or I'm not spending my money on calls to Europe and a feasibility study.'

'Farook sells school the way he sells apartments. You know he found yours for $600, then told you it was available for $800.' I tried to make Farook a bit less of a conman than he really was. 'You thought the rent to the landlord was $800, but it wasn't. The schools are the same. The owner asked $3.8 million. A Sharjah broker heard about it, and offered the school to Farook for $4.5 million. Farook then offered it "below his cost" to you or me for $6 million. Give Farook $6 million in small, unmarked bills, he gives $4.5 million to the Sharjah broker, who gives $3.8 million to the owner, and the school is yours.'

'But no one wants to buy a school, they want to lease it.'

'Then Farook and the Sharjah broker would do with the rent just what Farook did with your apartment.'

'Well, if we can talk to the actual seller of the school, I do have friends who might be interested, and maybe we can get a small commission, but I don't want to go through Farook.'

'I called the seller's niece, who speaks English, and they do have three schools to sell, but they never call back or send blueprints or anything. She always says she'll send the blueprints "tomorrow," but she never does.'

'They've all got too much money, so they don't care.'

'Well, many thanks for the ride. I hope I can see you again.'

'You're most welcome.'

And with that ended a completely wasted day. As usual. Had I come back with Farook instead of Ann, I wouldn't have gotten home before 9:00 p.m., and wouldn't have had the time to write this blog.


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