Moving house. Oh the joy.
I rent. There is a school of thought that says I should have bought a house or something ages ago (1997 would have been a good time); that I should be well on my way to owning it and doing all sorts of things with the capital inherent therein. But then there are also Nobel Prize winning economists who think renting rather than owning is just fine. That is, of course, an easy position to take when you’re a Nobel Prize winning economist: you’re probably not worried about where you’re going to live when you’re 70. Nonetheless, they will offer various arguments about why tying up too much of your own or a nation’s capital in property is a bad idea. Unspoken, mostly, is the idea that if you own a home, you have a strong incentive to stay in a given area, find work nearby, put your kids in a local school, ignore that splendid job opportunity somewhere else and generally fail to be a perfectly portable and interchangeable little economic unit.
I rent because I never really had that great clanging gong in my head, banging on about security and stability so go and buy a house dammit. A curse which seems to afflict some people very young. The best reasons I can think of to buy a place is floor-to-ceiling bookcases and putting picture hooks where I want them – but it has never been a high enough priority for me to work out a budget, start saving for a deposit, have serious conversations with banks …
Although truth be told, part of the reason I still rent is because I can’t afford to buy property anywhere I’d like to live – certainly not on my own – and I’m adamant about not living anywhere that would require me to buy a car to stay sane. Not even to get on the property ladder, own an asset, look nice for the bank and get some runs on the big scoreboard*.
In my experience, renting in Australia means behaving like a supplicant when you’re looking and like one of God’s fortunate souls when you’re in. Australian real estate agents seem to be unable to grasp the basic idea that you, as a tenant, are paying them for a service – the attitude is rather that they are doing you a favour. And that they’d rather not. I suspect this may be a common problem in other places.
What this means, of course, is living with the worry that you might get turfed out because the agents think they could get more rent from someone else, or because you ask just a little bit too much of them, or that you set fire to the carpet, or because they just don’t like you. Renting leaves you particularly vulnerable when you’re a student – so many agents and owners just won’t rent to students (I suspect this is another widespread problem) – or, heaven forbid, when you’re unemployed.
However … there are always exceptions. When I (happily) moved back to Canberra from Sydney in 2006 I found a nice place fairly quickly and easily – surprisingly so; competition for rental properties in Canberra is usually fierce any time of year – and ended up staying there almost eight years. The agents were great to deal with, especially in extremis (I got flooded. Nine floors up. Long story.). The owner was nice. The flat itself was comfortable roomy, and had great views – although it was rather exposed to the weather.
I’d be there still, but for the owner deciding to sell. History suggests selling property in Canberra now is a good idea. History also suggests it’s a good time for me to think about buying … meh.
When I got the word I started looking and had immediate confirmation of what several people had told me: unusually, spectacularly, it’s a renters’ market in Canberra at the moment – mainly because of the economic and socially chilling effects of the relatively new government, but also because of some changes to the tax arrangements around investment properties, put in place by the previous government and likely to be overturned by the blue-bloods in the current one. Between this and a spate of apartment-building across Canberra, there are a lot of places available.
In the past, looking for rental properties in Canberra has meant queues, frustration, being treated like crap and occasionally missing out on a place because someone else outbid you on the rent (illegal, but it happens). Now it means a handful of people, being able to be picky, property managers being very pleasant and all rents being negotiable. As a result, I found somewhere nice, nearby, more than comparable to where I was, and cheaper. I’m back on the ground after more than a decade, and if I don’t have panoramic views I’m more than compensated by two lovely courtyards which will be a blessing when the weather warms up.
The actual move … okay, it was smooth, as these things go (mostly), but it is never easy. And it was very expensive: I moved about 200m, laterally – around two corners – but the process still cost $1600 because of the volume of stuff and ‘restricted access’ (an elevator) at the old place. Add bond, rent in advance, professional end-of-lease and carpet cleaners (compulsory) and the charges attached to switching over various services and the exercise becomes really expensive. More than $5000 out the door in a very short space of time.
I will keep that number in mind (or maybe something higher, imagining a partner and a couple of kids) the next time I hear some sage going on about workplace ‘flexibility’ reducing costs, removing conditions like relocation allowances, and how people should be prepared to just move where the jobs are …
In eight years the previous flat I accumulated furniture, books, DVDs, kitchenware, and various other kinds of crap. A spare room and lots of cupboards meant not a lot got thrown out – without a car it isn’t easy to pop down to the local bulk refuse or recycling centre.
A bedroom’s worth of books, packed
Experience has taught me that when moving house it’s useful to hire a car for a few days to ferry fragile stuff around and to get rid of various things. SO I managed a trip to the recycling centre – and dropped off three modems, a dead iBook, a functional G3 cube (dear lord, heavy!), stray cables, compact fluoros, an electric razor, a PS1, a PS2, games for both and an Apple Color StyleWriter2500 printer that was hiding in the box for the vacuum cleaner. I put two pairs of jeans, four pairs of shoes, a suitcase and various other things in the charity bins. And without any internal debate I disposed of relics of various girlfriends, including a 25+ year old wooden chopping board, still in use until last month (altogether: eewww). I have a lovely new one, from the local craft market.
I had to throw out, alas for lack of alternative, way too many plastic bags. My favourite clothing store has its critics, but at least it uses paper bags.
I managed to leave a few things behind, unintentionally: half the contents of the bathroom cabinet, everything under the kitchen sink, a few other odds and ends and sundry loose bits of Lego. All of this was recovered, but in the process of doing so I discovered a few other things had been left behind. By the movers. In the elevator.
This prompted a hasty and stern call to the company, after which I had to sit for two hours and watch my stuff – lamps, ironing board, bed for the spare room, outdoor furniture and my bike, dammit! – because the building was not secure (ironically because the building security was being upgraded). The movers came back, many apologies, emptied the elevator, more apologies, dropped off the stuff, more apologies (all the while I’m thinking ‘I tipped you guys!’).
I wrote to the company. I sent them the picture above. I said that nothing says sorry like a small refund. I was promised … something. I’m still waiting.
That little hiccup threw out my schedule for the afternoon, but for the first time in my working life I had access to moving house leave, two days of it, so I was able to go back to the old flat the following day and take care of a few stray things. And come back to the new one to do my famous impersonation of an exhausted heap.
And then – as mentioned – there were the cleaners, and the carpet cleaners, and the final inspection, and a wee embarrassment – for someone else, not me – over being charged for rent after I’d vacated. Hastily sorted out.
It’s all done now. I’ve moved. I’m in. I’m nowhere near fully unpacked but the kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and laundry all work; I’m reconnected to the internet at the TV is back out of its box. Everything else can wait until the mood takes me …
Almost all the books, and a lot of the Lego
It would be nice not to have to do that again for another eight years. I don’t know how likely that is …
* This is how I think of it. An erstwhile colleague – who, at 22, was absolutely fixated on owning a home as soon as possible, to the exclusion of pursuits like travel, further education or developing a personality – was shocked to discover that at 40 (this was a while ago) I did not own a house, a car or a mobile phone (the last has changed). She asked me if I felt like a failure. I laughed.
Some people really do seem to treat life as if there’s a great big scoreboard toting up your assets, and the number at the bottom is all that matters.