Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Poker Refugees Testimonial & Player Interview: Anton Smolyanskiy

Former pre-Black Friday 2010 WCOOP Champ and current US "poker refugee", Anton 'Antoshka' Smolyanskiy finally got back to online poker abroad in Tamarindo, Costa Rica during 2014, and he seems to be having a good time.

Anton is one of our Poker Refugees clients who arrived to CR alone at first for his poker relocation. He tried getting set up for online poker on his own, then reached out for assistance after encountering some of the typical roadblocks with documents, banking, poker sites and so on. 

We are happy to have met him and been able to help him start his journey back to online poker on PokerStars, Full Tilt and other sites from tropical Tamarindo. 

Meet Anton: 

Poker Name/types of games you play: 
Antoshka@Pokerstars, Antoshka@Fulltilt. NLHE tournaments is my main game.

Poker Refugees: How did you make the decision to move to Costa Rica versus other destinations for online poker? 
Anton:  I chose Costa Rica due to the time zone, climate, cost of living and safety concerns. I visited here before quitting my job just to see what it’s like, and I liked what I saw.

PR: At what point during the relocation did you choose to hire Poker Refugees and why? 
A: I considered Poker Refugees from the start, but upon arriving in Tamarindo decided to try to talk to local lawyers on my own. That didn’t lead anywhere, so I felt I had no credible options other than Refugees.

PR: How did you find the experience with Poker Refugees regarding getting set up in your new home of Tamarindo, with a bank account, e-wallets and back on Pokerstars versus trying things on your own? 
A: Well… one worked and one didn’t. That’s a fairly major difference right there. Also, the speed with which things happened with the local lawyer – it wasn’t to my liking. Kristin was much more prompt with communications.

PR: We can certainly attest to that! People refer to this as "Tico Time" down there. We noticed that you have been very adventurous during your downtime; it seems like every time we talk you are learning Spanish or off to an island or a turtle preserve :) What are your favorite activities in Tamarindo outside of online poker? 
A: I haven’t really been adventurous at all. Just visiting beaches, nothing interesting. Planning to get more active in 2015.

PR: Do you regret your decision to come abroad for any reason or has it been a positive life experience? 
A: Ha, no regrets at all. I looooove not working. I enjoyed my time in the Spanish school and plan to go back. I met a lot of new people. The highlight perhaps was being crammed in an old taxi with 6 other people I met the day before, sitting on top of each other, going to some unknown beach.

PR: Has living abroad changed your perspective on “home” and if so, how?
A: No, not so much. I emigrated from Russia to New York when I was 16, so this isn’t really that much of a change in that regard. Just today I realized that Costa Rica isn’t some exotic place for me anymore – it’s just a place where I happen to live for a bit. It’s not that much different – you try to find some food, a place to live, some people to talk with and activities to do. And then…you live there.

PR: Awesome! That's what we are trying to promote - that anyone can live abroad and have a normal, pleasant life. What advice would you give to a poker player who’s thinking of moving out of his or her home country? 

A: A couple of years ago I was chatting with a man at a poker table in Las Vegas, and mentioned that I was considering leaving my job and going abroad to play online poker. He said something that I believe to be true – most people overestimate the magnitude of possible “mistakes” they make in life. If a move abroad turns out to be a wrong decision for you – you most often can reverse it with little long-term harm done. I am yet to see how easily reversible my decision may be, but I think it’s something for everyone to keep in mind. 

PR: We can't agree more. When I was first presented with the ability to move abroad in 2005, I asked my friends, family and parents' friends for advice. All of my 20-something friends told me to stay and get a corporate job, while all of the elders told me to go travel.  I figured they knew more than us youngsters. 10 years later, I am still enjoying life abroad and traveling the world. You can always go back, but taking that first step is the hardest yet most rewarding part. - Poker Refugees Founder, Kristin Wilson 

Thanks for sharing your story and tips, Anton, and glgl in the land of Pura Vida!

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Condensed Version: Should you hire Poker Refugees to find your next rental property abroad?

One of the most important things that poker players worldwide need when they travel or relocate is accommodations. Short term, long term, houses, apartments, condos, roommates - this is the foundation of being able to travel and live abroad. 

Sit back & relax - We got this #Rosarito

We have helped nearly 500 poker players with this to-date. In the years pre-Black Friday, we helped thousands of Americans, Europeans and other citizens rent or purchase property in Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, Mexico etc. 

The main inquiry we receive on email is "Can you show me some rental properties?" The answer is that we can, but we charge a fee for this because we are a consulting and relocation company - not a real estate company. It's a completely different approach and different service. Instead of having a website full of properties passively sitting online, we go out and do a proactive, customized search for each player. The next question we receive is "Why should I pay Poker Refugees when a realtor will work for free?" Here is the answer: 

1. Representation & Conflict of Interest: The structure of the real estate and rental industry is completely flawed we think you'd agree. Realtors, rental agents, etc all work on commission and the owners pay commission. That means they work for the owners. It's completely illogical that these agents should also represent the person looking for a property. So the buyer/renter/tenant hires a realtor "for free" to find him a property that meets his needs. The only problem is, you get what you pay for (in this case, nothing). The realtor will only show a client properties that s/he can earn money on and direct commission on. This limits the inventory that the renter/buyer will see. For the renter to get a comprehensive view of the market, he would have to go to 10, 20, 100 realtors and also pore over classifieds and countless other online sources to get an accurate picture of what is realistically available. The current model is backwards and results in tenants always getting a limited selection of properties to choose from and puts upward pressure on prices. The more realtors involved, the higher the commission because they all want a piece. This is the only industry we can think of that is set up this way. It's utter insanity. 

Have you ever told a rental agent your budget then they showed you a ton of properties that were above it? Maybe they even said there was nothing available in your price range? That's because they want to make more money. The more expensive the property, the better, although that's not in your best interest; it's in theirs. 

How is Poker Refugees different? We don't represent owners. We don't rely on commission. We work for our clients like a Renter Agent. We represent one side of the deal. We charge our clients a fee to cover our time searching. We are able to find lower-priced properties without any commission added on top most of the time. We find good deals and fairly priced rental options that are not intentionally inflated.

2. No Licensing Requirements in Developing Countries: Anyone can decide to be a realtor or rental agent in places like Costa Rica, Mexico and pretty much any developing country. There are no restrictions or licensing requirements. Is it really safe to fork your hard earned money over to an unknown local or foreign agent and hope for the best? This is a major problem that results in: 

  • Unqualified, untrained people posing as realtors and rental agents
  • Firms that don't have any known reputation or track records in most cases
  • Rampant unethical behavior by agents and brokers (short-term mindset)
  • Unlicensed brokers, many managing international franchise chains
  • High turnover (people disappear - a lot)
  • Foreigners who decide to make extra money on the side from commissions
  • Foreigners who are partaking in this industry for the wrong reasons and have shady pasts
  • Scam artists and "comisionistas" who put up websites with fake properties
  • Zero accountability if something goes wrong
  • No accountable ethics bureau or licensing board to report complaints to
  • Little to no legal recourse whatsoever

How is Poker Refugees different? With over 10 years of experience in this market, we know who to work with and who to avoid. We became licensed voluntarily back in 2006. We also have a history and accountability with firms and individuals that foreigners wouldn't have. Many firms are black listed and we refuse to work with them due to our knowledge of their poor reputations. We know how to vet new sources and follow detailed internal procedures to drastically reduce or eliminate the possibility of scams, theft, or any negative experiences for our clients. We are also accountable to our clients and during very isolated, rare situations in the past, we have reimbursed players for any hardships they faced that were preventable by us in any way.  

If we weren't doing a good job, you would know about it because the poker industry is so small. Poker Refugees is the only global relocation company for poker players so if a client is upset for any reason, he will blog or post about it in a forum. Meanwhile, there are millions of shady realtors on the planet and there are simply too many to keep track of and publicly denounce. So they keep getting away with it. 

3. Limited Selection of Properties: This goes back to point #1 and the inherent conflict of interest. An agent may know of some perfect properties to fit your needs, but if they don't have direct access to those owners, they have to share their commission 50/50 or possibly earn no commission. Your dream home is probably out there, but you'll never see it unless the agent you went through represents it and has a commission agreement with the owner. An agent will never show you a property they can't earn money on, or they really are working for free. The only way for renters and buyers to view a large volume of properties is to manually search on their own or go to many different agents. This is extremely time consuming and unrealistic for most people. 

How is Poker Refugees different? 
  • We have a database of thousands of owners, property managers, rental agencies and other sources, all of whom we have either already worked with before and vetted or have a history and accountability with. We can reach hundreds of sources in one day, something that would take people months or years of time to accomplish. For each client we reach out en masse to our entire list for the corresponding destination. We are your direct contact, one source portal to reach a huge number of sources on your behalf. 
  • We know market prices and comps and we know when agents are lying
  • We don't care what your budget is because we don't rely on commissions - it can be $250/month or $5,000/month. Meanwhile, agents want your budget to be higher so they make more money on the rental. 
  • We have a lot of experience at this. We are efficient and effective. This level of expertise is not attainable overnight. 
  • We are neutral to the property our players rent. We don't care if a property is commissionable or not: We will not limit the search based on commissions. We search everywhere from online classifieds to vacation rental sites to Airbnb and beyond to find the perfect property for our clients. That's why so many hire us repeatedly for their property needs. 

4. Misleading Photos: Have you ever rented a property based on photos then showed up and found something totally different? If you are renting properties online, this is a very probable scenario. By the time you show up, you've already paid a non-refundable deposit at a minimum so there's very little you can do. Or - maybe you found the perfect property and price only to contact the agent and realize it was already booked? It was likely a fake property to generate inquiries so they can rent you something else. The proverbial carrot on a stick/fish on the line. 

How is Poker Refugees different? We know many agents and even more properties so we've probably already vetted a property by the time we show it to you, but if there is ever a question, we will send one of our reps to view the property on your behalf and make sure it's legit. Because we spend all day every day searching for properties, we even know which ads are fake, recognize photos or can tell simply from the listing content or from talking to the owner or rep. Our clients have never been exposed to this risk because we protect them from it. 

5. Stolen Rent Funds & Security Deposits: If you've ever had a security deposit stolen, you know this is a costly situation. The deposit is usually equivalent to 1 month's rent, which can be a pretty hefty loss. Deposits are stolen all the time for a variety of reasons, but usually because you are dealing with unethical people, realtors who don't care or because the proper precautions weren't taken in advance. Other times, rent deposits are stolen from fraudulent property reps or listings. 

See below for tips on how to get your security deposit back.*

How is Poker Refugees different? Agents usually don't try to steal our clients' deposits without just cause because they know us. Also, we take all the steps possible before you move in to ensure that you can get your deposit back, hassle-free. We also thoroughly check out properties, owners and reps before our clients send money to ensure their funds are never stolen or misplaced. 

6. Inflated Prices: If you've read this far you definitely get it by now - agents are systemically motivated to inflate rent prices because they make more money that way. They don't genuinely want to negotiate the rate down much for you because it takes money out of their own pocket. 

How is Poker Refugees different? Same story - we work on a different model. If you hire us to find a a studio for you in Rosarito for $200/month, we will do it. If you hire us to find a poker mansion for you and 10 of your friends in Playa del Carmen, we can do it. A downtown loft in Vancouver? We got this. If you hire us to find a roommate for you or a room in someone else's poker house, we can also do it. We can find a sublets, flat shares and more that agents can't do because they can't make a living that way. They will gladly find a penthouse or mansion for you but they won't help you source a shared property or anything under $1,000/mo for the most part. 

So there you have it - the most common issues finding a decent rental property, how to overcome them, and why Poker Refugees = saving massive time, money and headaches. 

These situations may be less exaggerated in 1st world countries such as Canada or the UK, but overall the letting and industry structures are still the same, just with more regulation and accountability. 

Our clients can attest that it's +EV to hire Poker Refugees for your search so you get peace of mind and a good outcome every time, while saving yourself a ton of time. 

Want help finding a rental property? Contact

*Security deposit tips:

  • Be informed about local laws. Know how much your landlord is allowed to charge as a security deposit. It may be less than you think. 
  • Be proactive. Discuss the terms for retaining and paying back the deposit before you move in. Agents will jump as high as you need and bend over backwards for you (before you pay any money) to make sure you will rent their property over others. Once they are paid, you're probably on your own, but make them work for it in advance. 
  • Have an independent party or your own lawyer review the rental agreement. Specifically check for language regarding the security deposit and make sure you're in agreement with the terms.
  • Make sure you know who is responsible for the bills and what the timeline is to return your deposit upon check-out and the method in which it is being returned (should be returned in the same way you paid it: cash for cash, transfer for transfer, same currency, etc) 
  • Do an inspection of the property upon check-in and take photos of anything that is broken, dirty or damaged. 
  • Fill out an inventory upon check-in and keep this for the first few days while you adjust to the house, then email a copy of this and any photos to the rep and landlord with all pre-existing damages documented. Make sure the rep or owner also signs and acknowledges this! 
  • Abide by all the clauses in the contract, especially notifying if you are extending or when you are moving out accordingly (usually there is a 30- or 60-day clause about this). Make sure that the owner and rep know when you are moving out and that they are there for check out and to facilitate return of your deposit. 
  • Make sure all bills are paid and up to date (if you are responsible for them) so these won't be deducted from the deposit and provide receipts to avoid delays in returning your deposit. 
  • Return the property in the same condition it was provided to you in - hopefully clean. Don't give them an obvious reason to charge you for any damage