As we said in our last article, this week you'll find out the story about Damian's experience in Romania. He's the first person who said yes to our interview for the project "From Tourist to Local".
Originally educated & trained as a professional chartered Engineer, back in the days, at Aston Martin, Jaguar & Ford, now he is the owner of the White Mountain Property.
At the age of 37, he came to do a week of charity work on a working holiday here in Romania and never thought that he would fall in love with Brasov and come to live here 4 years later. Now, after living here since 2007, he built a property management & real estate business.
1. When was your first visit to Romania?
First time I came to Romania I was with some friends back in 2003 to help renovate a hospital in Constanta.
2. How was your first visit?
After a week in Constanta, we went to Bucharest for a few days, before flying home. On that trip, I decided that Bucharest is similar to my favorite city, Buenos Aeries, Argentina, but closer to home in Europe. So without any prejudices, I learned to love Bucharest, its vibrancy, the simplicity of the people & the daily struggle they have to exist with only the most basic income.
3. What made you stay in Romania? / Why Romania?
After my first contact with Romania, I decided that I wanted to come back as often as I was able to so in the next 4 years I spent my holidays here. Every year I took volunteer construction teams over to renovate various charitable institutions. In my spare time, I enjoyed the beauties of Romania. In 2004 I discovered Brasov. After a day spent in Brasov, I decided that I want to buy a studio, to come to for holidays. It was love at first sight. I even made a web page to rent a house, where I expressed my feelings towards Romania. The web site’s name was magicalromania, now is no longer available.
Despite the fact that I had a dream job in the nicest part of England, a nice but predictable life, a nice house, and a girlfriend, somehow Romania was pulling me here. Rachel, my then girlfriend sensed this on a trip here & even told me she sensed that I belong to Brasov - a place where I felt complete. She realized that she would lose me to this city. I obviously disagreed with her & tried to reassure her I only wanted to visit for holidays but she calmly said, this is a place where I belong. But how could I quit a manager job at the best car manufacturer and leave an annual salary of 70,000 euros for a country where the annual salaries are 2,000 euros & where my 24-year career would be almost useless?
But 2 years later, in 2007, I had an irresistible desire to throw in everything, all safety, all roots & come to Romania to live a life of adventure, to start again from zero throwing away 24 years of education & 3 university degrees to start in a brand new profession, Real Estate. You cannot get much further from 450bhp 6 liter v12 Engine development to 16th century Saxon property problems such as falling roof tiles. My boss at the time, Paul Kidney was open-mouthed. He said ‘no one does this. They come the other way. But to go east with nothing, not even a job? Madness’. Paul was a consummate professional at Aston Martin. He lived & breathed the brand. The hardest working man I ever met. A month after I left, he dropped dead in a restaurant from a heart attack. I don’t think it was the shock of me leaving! (British humor) But his departure made me realize more than ever that you really had to choose well in life & do what your instinct tells you.
4. Did you come alone or with someone?
I moved here alone. Well, with my 2 cats, a trailer full of car parts & construction tools. It was the biggest culture shock of my life. I sat on the terrace of my Mihai Eminescu empty studio, with crappy broken 1970’s furniture & mold on the walls, looking up at the Brasov sign in the fog, December 23rd, freezing temps. 500e in my bank & an apartment I had bought in the square in need of total renovation. This was my future. No language skills, no job, no security. Just me, my skills, & my positive attitude was all I had to depend on.
5. How was your experience in Romania so far? / Tell us about a little about your experience in Romania.
My first years were the hardest ones. I gathered a group of friends and we built a holiday house somewhere in Bran. It is the perfect getaway rental holiday home to escape the everyday pressure. The Villa boasts beautiful views of the Transylvanian Alps including Piatra Craiului, the awesome Bucegi Massive.
I worked very hard to stay in Romania. In the first 5 or 6 years of the business, I lost money, lots of money. I had income, but not enough to pay the costs of running things cleanly & professionally, in wanting to do the job well. So I spent more money than I earned, trying to keep my business fairly and legally. I don’t give up on things I believe in, so I kept on fighting.
I run a real estate business, named White Mountain Property & we even have our own office cat. Corbin. He’s my cat, black as raven's wings and he even has a Facebook page and an email address with fans around the globe. I’m proud of the business. We grew from nothing to the team we have now, in 2 offices, with 13 staff & collaborators, providing best-in-class service to our clients. We are changing the name of the real estate in Romania.
6. What made you fall in love with Romania?
I’ve always had an affinity with the Latin culture, of Latin types of culture, it was on my wishlist for some years. Many years ago, before coming to Romania, I wrote a plan of how I want to spend the rest of my days. And as a lot of people do with their time, they fall into a university education, fall into a career, you follow the career and life is usually dictated by the job. So a lot of people live their life by default and I decided to live my life in order to define my personality and became who I want to be. My plan showed me living in a Latin country & doing many of the things Romania allows me to do.
7. What is the first word that comes to mind when thinking about Romania?
The education level is high, people are smart and it’s not hard at all to find a clever person to talk with. If I knew the Romanian language better I would probably do better. I’m not very good with languages. I even failed English at school! Even though I have 2 masters degree’s & an honors degree, my skill is in technical things, not words.
8. If you’d had to leave Romania, what you would miss the most?
I like the fact that in Romania, women are women and men are men. I'm not afraid to keep the door open to a woman or kiss her hand when I see her. In England, I could get fired for this sort of thing because political correctness is insane. In 1994, I held the door open for a woman in Ford Motor co & she said ‘do I look incapable to you?’ Western people exaggerate the meaning of 'gender equality'. When it comes to the reasons that I love Romania I could say that it’s such a complex emotional relationship. I hope it won’t change too much so it won’t become appealing for lots of foreigners. If Romania would become full of foreigners, its uniqueness and identity will be lost. This is what I would miss the most, this is what makes Romania different.
9. Romania would be a better place if ...
The money would be forbidden here. I think all the problems would be solved. People would make the right decision without being influenced by money; after that, everything would go on smoothly. Sadly, money can buy almost anything in Romania, from simple peasant level all the way up to NATO levels. All is possible with money. This is a shame because as the old saying goes, `if you do not stand for something, you fall for anything`. I come from Irish stock. My forefathers were slain for standing by their opinions & it is what shaped Ireland. Look around Romania at the gold & mineral deposits, oil, forest, water, food produce, energy. Ask yourself, if you really were designing a system that suited Romania’s people best, would it look like it does now? Additionally, I think many good Romanian’s are leaving for better jobs overseas, but they often hate their surroundings & would prefer not to leave. In Romania, if you want to pay someone a salary, you pay a further 75% to the state compared to what they receive in hand. So it means your resource is costing practically double what the employee receives. And from what they receive & spend, TVA is a quarter, so your money does not go too far. So employers are forced to give lower salaries if they want to remain in business & employees can’t afford to stay, therefore, retention & company loyalty is rare. I will be interested to see if the waiters & bar staff of Romania hang around much after 2015 with the changes in tipping. I don’t see how you could live on 180 euros per month base salary & for certain, tipping will die out with the new laws. So overall, Romania loses vital taxable income as people emigrate to prosper & the single advantage is, there is less traffic on the roads!
In the UK, if I call the tax office for advice, amazingly, they give it to me. They actually want to help me build my business & to prosper because they realize a prospering business is a prospering society, with lower crime, better-educated children, better roads, better hospitals & they receive the money in many forms as the tax is applied on every transaction. No transactions, no multiple tax revenues. They don’t come around in an emergency vehicle with military uniforms & impose 10,000e fine for a genuine admin error, which I am certain every institution right up to the monarchy makes from time to time. You don’t educate or build relationships with massive punishments. What about a simple idea? Advice, recommendation, first offense being a warning? People don’t set up a business to break the law generally. They break the law because they don’t know how to follow it. Otherwise, every householder would be claiming on their house insurance every month, if people were fundamentally dishonest.
10. I think many people said to you: ”why would you go to Romania” or ”where is Romania” and so on and so forth... If someone would like to come to Romania what would you say to them?
I’d tell them to stop thinking in stereotypes. I would definitely recommend starting with Brasov when deciding to visit Romania. Brasov is a thinking man’s choice. People respect each other, the streets are cleaner than in other cities, there are few drunk people on the streets – except tourists – and there is the city where you can walk holding hands with your girlfriend any time of the day/ night without fear of something bad happening.
11. If not Romania, then where?
I’d pick Romania again, I don’t know.
12. Do you have any funny travel stories?
I have one from the first time we came to Romania, back when I was working with my friends and did charity work at Casa Mea Orphanage. We worked pretty hard 10-hour labor filled days. So, one night we thought that we deserve to go out to a club. So we wanted to enter in a club but the Bouncer said ”sorry, you’re not on the list and you can’t come in”, which was fair enough with all the access policy, but one of the girls was pretty upset because we’d been working hard all day and we deserve it. She pushed him away and said: ”We’re from Casa Mea” and the Bouncer misunderstood her thinking she was the boss’s wife. After that, he apologized and invited us all in for free!
13. What’s next? (in the future)
I plan to grow White Mountain in Bucharest and other cities to be the leading residential property management company, as it is in Brasov.