Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Mind the Africans...

"Hi, thanks for coming," said the agent. "There's a large African family living here, so...uh..."
Give or take a pause or two, that was roughly how the home open began. Actually, it began with my partner eyeing the house the way she eyes the cats' litter tray when they're feeling a bit squitty. She retreated to the safety of the car, leaving me to chat with the rather harried looking agent myself.
He wasn't kidding. Most of Mozambique appeared to be occupying the lounge. They seemed largely oblivious to the (tiny) handful of people who turned up, and it added something of a festive air to proceedings. Which was nice, because I like to think about the biggest investment of my life while listening to Yossou N'Dour at ninety decibels and weaving my way through a crowd of garishly dressed strangers. Not everyone ignored me though; on opening the door to one bedroom, I was confronted by a young lad holding a battered-looking acoustic guitar, standing beside another lad holding an equally battered-looking machete. Not sure if it was acoustic. Still, seen one machete-filled bedroom, seen 'em all, so I didn't feel the need to inspect the BIRs.
The third bedroom was less confrontationally occupied; the girl therein managed a smile as I entered. Would have introduced myself ("Hi, I'm Mick, I'll be evicting you 30 days after settlement,") but she was chatting on an iPhone worth more than the house. I'd seen more than enough by then, so I grabbed a brochure, took a quick look at the kitchen (mostly out of morbid curiosity) and got the hell out of there.

Buying a house, I've decided, is a Pain In The Arse. I want pants? I go to a pants shop. Shoes? Ditto. What I do NOT do is wait around until someone's selling a pair of shoes in a place I want to buy them, in a size that'll fit me, and at a price that'll let me sell the shoes to someone else when I outgrow them. Maybe after I've rented them out for a while, or extended them, with council permission.
I started looking October 2009, so it's been close to a year now. Have to take off a month or so at the start when I thought I was misreading the prices (seriously, how the hell can a house get MORE valuable the longer you live in it? Am I paying for your dust bunny collection, the half-hundredweight of leaves in the gutters?), then another month or so while I got used to real estate agent jargon which, I quickly discovered, is a language unto itself. For the uninitiated, here are a few of the trickier terms I had to learn in short order:

"Lived-in": thrashed
"Needs some TLC": completely thrashed
"Renovator's dream": anyone else's nightmare
"Sure to hold its value": overpriced
"Investor's delight": you wouldn't live here yourself
"Loads of potential": not redecorated since the 70s.

It was almost a relief to see the House Of Many Africans. The agent made no secret of the fact it needed knocking down, and the sooner the better. Although by the look of some of the walls I could have done it myself with a huff and a puff, If I had the slightest inclination to deal with the twin hells of real estate agents and builders, I might have thought about it too.
I've reached the point now where, after inspecting close to a hundred houses, I've decided there's something wrong with every house out there. EVERY house. If it's cheap, it's damp and dark. If it's in a good street, it's too small. If it's big and airy and well-located and comes with a spa, sauna and nine hole golf course, I'll need to sell both kidneys just to scratch up a deposit.
And that's just fine. When you buy a house, I think you need to decide what flaw you're willing to tolerate. That's how people end up buying on busy main roads: they find the right place and decide they can learn to love the sound of road train exhaust brakes at 2am. And that's why we end up in shoebox-sized townhouses on 'estates' with fifty other glassy-eyed broken-spirited homebuyers whose Australian Dream has been reduced to 150 square metres and a concrete balcony overlooking the car park.

Or, we can keep looking. Sure, the place I'm looking at now is on a main road, but there's a park beyond it. And yes, the grease on the kitchen cupboards is thick enough to support my weight, but mops are cheap, and my time is free. I'm lucky enough to have somewhere to live, and nobody relying on me to put a roof over their heads. My own Australian Dream is alive and well and just one more home open away.
A warning though: when you come round for the housewarming, there may be a large African family living there, so...uh...

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