Sunday, February 14, 2010

taking care of business

Yesterday was Saturday. Yesterday my friend Melissa and I saw six properties before 1 pm. This shows you not so much the depth of our friendship, but more that she had bribed me with a free lunch.

I do not do mornings, particularly Saturday mornings, on moral and philosophical grounds. There are, you see, people who prefer mornings. They like sunrises and quiet and stillness and tranquility. I, however, have never been much associated with any of these concepts and thus I very generously leave mornings in peace for those who love them. It strikes me as the least I can do.

However, occasionally duty calls and I attempt to tiptoe delicately through a morning. Such an occasion arose yesterday as Melissa, jet-lagged, sick and caught in the rain, was otherwise going to be flat hunting alone as her fiancee (the other future occupant of said flat) had to work. What sort of person leaves a friend in a situation like that, really? Clearly one who hadn't been bribed.

Flat hunting somehow sounds quite romantic. Flat hunting in Sydney, flat hunting in London -- both have a certain mildly exotic and wildly Wilde ring to them. They feel a bit bohemian, and I think it's all in the word "flat." Apartment hunting in, say, Detroit loses the feel entirely.

Unfortunately, flat hunting and apartment hunting boil down to exactly the same thing: miserable hecticness compounded with stress, worry, disappointment and emotional turmoil. Happy Valentine's Day to you, too.

What made flat hunting particularly problematic for us was not having a car. I'm not sure anyone in America has ever attempted to look for a new residence without a car, and Melissa and I, might I just point out, are Americans. Public transportation is not in our blood. And yet, do recall we saw six properties before 1 pm. I think we should be given a medal, though the Purple Heart and Pulitzer are the only two springing to mind right now and I'm not even sure the Pulitzer comes with a medal. Something, though, surely.

Melissa actually looked at the first place before I arrived. (She had, bless her cotton socks, not even told me there was an 8:30 showing to go to. Presumably she did not want to anger the morning people any further than necessary with my unnecessary presence.) It was, however, a total wreck of a place and, as she did not feel spare cracks or crack in the walls were entirely mandatory attributes, she'd crossed it off the list before I'd gotten off the train.

The second place was doable. It was a nice little flat in a nice complex in a nice neighborhood with a more than nice walk to the train station. It seemed like a potential fall back option, but we wanted to see what else was out there.

Out there, it turned out, was not far at all. No sooner had we stepped out of the nice complex than we saw two nice relators putting up a sign about another showing the same complex. We decided to hang out ten minutes until theirs opened and check it out too.

And so, ten minutes later, in we went. This flat was much nicer than the nice one. It was a split level, with a bit of a balcony and an upper bedroom that looked artsily over onto to the living room. It was decorated elegantly and came with a lovely kitchen and dryer (a dryer quite understandably being Melissa's primary requirement in a flat). We asked the nice relator how much it was.

"$495," he said crisply.

"$495 a week?" I asked.

He blinked and scrunched up his eyebrow slightly.

"Four hundred ninety-five thousand dollars," he said.

"Ah," I said. "This one's not to rent, hey?"

He turned to the female relator.

"Why don't we just cross this name off the list now?" he said. She already had.

After that, we stepped out into the drizzle and made our way towards what we hoped was New Caledonia Road. We stopped to ask two ladies sitting outdoors at a cafe if they could help.

"Just keep walking down this way, dear," said one. "When this road Ts, that's New Caledonia. Which part of it do you want?"

We gave the number. They frowned a bit.

"It's a long road," said the other.

We knew, but figured we were hardy young things and headed promptly off. We found the T easily enough and turned to follow the numbers in the proper direction. We clipped along for awhile, though we knew we still had quite aways to go. It was here Melissa started to get worried, though.

Unlike the States, you see, where open houses are frequent affairs and generally last from, say, 2 to 5 pm on a Sunday afternoon, Australian open houses are fifteen to thirty minutes long and are almost exclusively confined to Saturday mornings. How this works is quite beyond me, but it seems that it is really how things are done in Australia. Everyone knows it, everyone hates it, everyone puts up with it. If you want to find a place to live, you must run around all Saturday morning, spend four minutes in various places before darting off to the next, and, should you wish to actually acquire any, arrive first with your application filled out and a cash deposit on hand. Otherwise, forget it.

And that was why Melissa had started to worry. Trekking it might I remind you without a car in the rain, we decided to catch a bus. Unfortunately the bus stop indicated that its bus came only Mondays through Fridays. Never mind, then, we trekked onward.

A bit of civilization eventually emerged (it had been mostly quite leafily residential) and we finally managed to catch a bus that actually ran on weekends. We carefully watched all the house numbers, but suddenly they'd gone a bit haywire and the bus turned off our road. Time was ticking and we didn't have a clue how to get where we needed to go, so we decided to give it five minutes: if a cab came, we'd take it; if not, we'd cut our losses and head for the next spot on the list. Four minutes fifty-five seconds later a cab pulled up. We jumped inside and the driver backtracked us to the point where we'd first encountered civilization a mile or so back, at which point he took a 90 degree turn to the right. Yes, New Caledonia Road, it seems, turns perpendicular to itself at a light. Aren't those Australian roads creative?

After a bit of haggling over the street numbers ("Surely 869 will be after these saying 751 and 863," -- "No, it's that way!" -- "Err, actually, we're quite sure we must keep going a bit. That's 863 there and we need to go up." -- "Oh, is that an 8? Could have sworn it was a 6. Right you are then.") we ended up in front of the the fourth flat of the day.

The fourth flat was gorgeous. It was a split level as well, modern in the kitchen facilities and had an amazing view of Sydney stretching even as far as the bridge. The price was indulgent, but not excessive. I was ready for Melissa to sign on the dotted line so I could come visit, but she decided to ask the relator one rather hairy question.

"Can we have pets here?" she asked.

"Er, no, no, you can't have pets here," he said. "STRATA won't allow it."

I was crestfallen. Melissa, you see, has a puppy. An adorable puppy, a beautiful puppy, but a puppy that will nonetheless turn into a dog and be Not Allowed in many places. Our relator, however, was unfazed. Picking up immediately on the situation, he had quickly formed a new plan.

"You need a place you can have pets?" he asked. "I know just the one. I'm going there next, actually, if you want to come along. It's similar to this -- two bedrooms, a bathroom -- the bedrooms are much bigger than these, actually, and the kitchen's very new, too. And the owners are dog lovers, they've got one in fact. If you'd like to come along, I can take you in my car -- it's a company car," he added hastily.

Melissa and I looked at each other. Why not? A free ride was sounding pretty good, and the place was potentially promising. We waited till the others had left, then let Andy, our new curly haired friend, open doors for us all the way into his (company) car. It did say Greer and Greer on the side, so we figured it was pretty legitimate.

We chatted on the way and I got to ask the question that had been nagging at me since he'd mentioned it, and it wasn't about the company car.

"What exactly is STRATA?" I asked.

He was only too pleased to be asked a question he had a prepared five minute answer to (I suspect there were actually many questions that would have fallen into this category) and launched into a detailed description that was actually quite informative. STRATA, it turns out, is the organization in each apartment complex that governs all the common areas -- the gardens, the pools, the hallways, etc. I could go on, but I'll spare you.

By the time we'd had STRATA properly explained, we'd arrived at the dog loving property which happened to be just above a bottle shop. Melissa was starting to feel slightly woozy again, and though we agreed the proximity to amenities and buses was excellent, the proximity to 4 am hard liquor was not as essential as it could be. We looked through the place, though.

It was quite big, in a long and narrow style set-up, and fairly well maintained except for a little present from the currently loved dog who was showing us around as well. Andy didn't seem to notice, but he did take great pride in showing us how the soundproofing curtain came down over the bedroom window so the sound was almost entirely cut out. So was all the light, but I suppose you take what you can get.

From there we had a short walk to the train station to take us to our last property on the list. The trains, however, were not particularly mindful of our time frame, and saw fit to come somewhat later than we'd have preferred. We waited, though, and ended up in Strathfield just barely after our fifteen minute window was to end. We studied the station map carefully and were given disjointed directions from station workers who were trying rather unsuccessfully to be helpful, then set out. We knew we didn't have far to go, but succeed primarily in walking around the block before we figured we needed another squiz at the map. Before we hit station again, though, we realized we were right outside LJ Hooker, which is, oddly enough, a prominent real estate chain, and, more importantly, the one sponsoring the flat we wanted to see. We popped in and said hello.

The woman at the desk had business headphones on and clearly did not wish to be interrupted. She managed to say hello, though.

"We were just wondering how to get to this flat," we said, pointing at the picture on her leaflet.

She looked at her watch.

"That showing is over," she said.

"Er, yeah, we thought it might go on just a couple minutes later maybe?" we asked hopefully.

"Of course it won't," she said. "The real estate agents will be at their next property already."

"Oh," we said. I had a thought.

"Would that property allow dogs?" I asked.

She looked as if I'd asked if Tasmania were the capital of Australia.

"Of course not," she said. "No where does. STRATA would never allow it."

Then she promptly went back to her headphone conversation.

"Er, bye," we said.

We exited and regrouped.

"At least you know it wouldn't have worked," I pointed out, in what I hoped was a helpful sounding voice.

"Yeah," she said. "Oh well. Do you want some lunch now?"

I smiled. "I thought you'd never ask."

1 comment:

Laetitia :-) said...

Strata is also known as Body Corporate. Strata is short for strata title. All unit owners have the right to be on their property's body corporate to make decisions about the common areas as they all pay annual fees that are used by the BC for maintenance and improvements.