Two weeks of silence… but with good reason – the all-consuming process of flat hunting. It’s been in equal parts frustrating, exhausting and stressful, but I think has eventually has come to a good conclusion! I haven’t looked for a rental place in seven years and knew it wouldn’t be fun, but I wasn’t really prepared for the emotional rollercoaster.
The first step was deciding where to look, because all of Sydney, or all of Sydney within a sensible commute of work, was really too large an area to be able to cover! A classic place for British people to live is Bondi, but it just didn’t appeal. It might have done had I been 5 or 10 years younger. I’m currently temporarily in Darlinghurst, just south of the CBD. It’s great for many reasons, mostly it being walking distance from work and the fantastic bar and coffee scene, but it’s also a bit noisy (especially on a Saturday night!) and rather expensive – and I decided for the same money I’d rather have more space than trendiness on the doorstep! With family and family friends north and north west of the city, and the appeal of a harbour view every morning on the way to work, I settled on the north shore, a short bus or train ride across the harbour from the office. I spent a few days and evenings pottering about a few suburbs to narrow it down, deciding I liked Crows Nest best, especially the feel of the high street which was off rather than along the main highway, with lots of cafes, restaurant, bars and local shops. One of my biggest mistakes was not settling on that once and for all; instead trying to view across a wider area across to and including Neutral Bay, a couple of miles further east.
Working out what I can afford and was willing to spend wasn’t easy either. I know what the tax bands are and had been advised by friends about relative costs of utilities and so on (and experienced first-hand what seem like astronomical supermarket food prices!), but I haven’t had a pay packet yet, or even a month of normal expenditure, so there’s definitely some guesswork going into the “what can I afford?” question. I set out with an ambition of two bedrooms, to mirror my London arrangement of having a guest room/study, and realised pretty quickly that to achieve that in Crows Nest or anywhere else decent within a half-hour commute, I had to be prepared to part with at least $600 (350 pounds) per week. Suffice to say that’s a lot more than my London mortgage payments! But that was my starting point, but I wanted to see what that much or less could get me on a one-bed.
I’m told I’ve chosen the worst time of year to house hunt, and my experience is certainly that it’s a seller’s (landlord’s) market right now. Quite the opposite of how I found it in South London before Christmas when trying to let my flat out – another painful process with an eventual successful resolution! Back home, private viewings are the norm – the prospective renter usually arranges a time with the agent and is shown around on their own, and the existing tenants have to suck up potentially many viewings. Here, unless a property is vacant, and even in some cases when it is, it’s an open home approach with a very narrow window. A 15-minute time slot, usually on a Saturday morning but sometimes during the week, is advertised, and in that short time you can expect 10 or more other people or couples to be there with you and the agent. And then you scuttle off to the next one, and unless you take detailed notes, by the end of the day all the flats blend into one.
My Saturday viewing experience, a week ago, was deeply frustrating. It didn’t help that I was still holding out a little bit of hope for an utterly perfect place I had seen three days earlier (along with about 30 other people), offered well above asking price and not heard anything since. I tried to see too many properties over too wide a geographical area, taking three cabs between Crows Nest and Neutral Bay and missing a couple of viewing windows while waiting around and in transit. Turns out, if you’re 5 minutes late for a slot then no can do. Those I did see didn’t quite hit the mark, though some were close. All those under $600/week, whether one-bed or two, were in awkward locations or simply not very nice, but I came close to offering on one of a couple with a slightly higher price tag. Both were very new and ticked all the boxes in theory; one of them only had one bedroom, but in return I would have got a huge living room and balcony. One of them also had an incredible view over Sydney. But neither felt right; after my sometimes troublesome but beautifully characterful Victorian terrace conversion in London, I found the uber-modern very open-plan square box style quite soulless. And there wasn’t nearly enough kitchen surface space, which might have driven me spare.
It was an anxious couple of days that followed, as I berated myself for being so fussy, wondered whether I should crack and apply for one of them and got a bit stressy about what I’d do when I got kicked out of current place on the 10th. But glad I held out, because (via another viewing, application and rejection on Tuesday), I secured a Wednesday morning viewing on a flat I’d just failed to spot before Saturday and, by some miracle, wasn’t taken after the weekend’s viewings. It took me all of about 30 seconds to think “yes, this is it.” Larger and cheaper than both of the two I’d ummed and ahhed about over the weekend, and than the latest place that didn’t want me, older (which I prefer, and will suit my furniture better) but with a modern kitchen and bathroom, and in a block of only four. I was desperate not to let this become rejection number three.
Statistically, I should have expected to get turned down at least a couple of times, given the number of people at almost all the viewings. And not having an Australian rental history or any form of landlord reference may have put me in the “too complicated” bracket in the eyes of a landlord faced with his or her pick of professional applicants. But the lack of feedback really cheesed me off. I work in a business where we have to bid competitively for most of our work, it takes a lot of time and effort, but at least if you’re not successful you at least get some indication of why not. Applying for a flat – no way. I tried, and was given nothing: “We had several applications and the landlord had to choose one of them. There was nothing wrong with yours.” Gah!
One good thing about the Aussie system, or the Sydney one at least, is that applications with most agents are done via the same online form which you can store your details and scanned ID copies on. Hence, a little scarred by the rejections and having seen about 15 other people at this latest viewing, I did my application on the bus back to work, and texted the agent (with whom I’d already done the full charm offensive) to say if I needed to offer more money then I’d be happy to consider it. 24 hours later, I was told it was mine at asking price, if I paid a week’s rent within another 24 hours. Phew.
So, I move in on the 17th (via a week of sofa surfing with friends and family) and my stuff shipped from the UK will arrive on the 19th. It’s all falling into place.