Be very quiet, I’m hunting houses

There was a time where I had a funny way of making my own fun.

When I say ‘there was a time’, I mean recently, and when I say ‘a funny way’, I mean extremely odd.

I was living in Kalgoorlie and wasn’t exactly making a fortune working in radio.

Let me rephrase; I was throwing all my money behind the bar at the York Hotel (OK, and Paddy’s, and Debernales, and Judds, and the front bar at the Exchange).

I needed something new to do. Something free.

I started a ‘magazine club’, which was meant to work like a book club but for those that were slightly more non-committal with their reading material. It lasted one meeting, mainly with members just sitting around reading the latest NW (I’m pretty sure that there was at least one Guns & Ammo) mag. I ended up with close to 200 magazines after everyone went home.

And for those that understand an addiction to magazines… I felt pretty clever about my acquisition, but as it ended up, so were a couple of the local doctor surgeries.

The magazine club may have been short-lived, but I plan to revamp it as soon as The Mister and I get a place that is bigger than the elevator-sized one in which we currently dwell.

The other thing that I used to do that didn’t cost anything started with another  magazine that was an insert in the Saturday edition of the local paper, The Kalgoorlie Miner.

It wasn’t just a property classified, this magazine made sure each house had a colour picture and a complete rundown of all the bells and whistles – even if it was just a shed (a shed with room for 9 cars!).

Brief flickings through this insert became a highlight of my Saturday morning (sad but true), where I would meet up with my regular breakfast buddies, order poached eggs, do the quiz from the paper and then drown myself in coffee and the For Sale section.

Flicking turned to reading, which turned to making notes, which turned into casing out these properties I would never buy.

I guess when you boil it down, what I was essentially doing is filling in my weekends checking out how other people lived, and I loved it.

I realised I had a problem when the real estate agents started to recognise me as a bit of a regular. Luckily by this time I was already en route to another big country city. Somewhere new. Somewhere where people didn’t know me.

Also at this time I was in a fresh relationship with a man known as The Mister. He kind of caught my disease of looking at houses. But by now the interest had taken a strange turn.

The Display Village.

OK, so. I am not a huge fan of the dreams that Dale Alcock is made of. To me, they’re too new, too thought-out, too clean, too packaged.

However when we drove past a display village, whether it was in Dalyellup or Dunsborough, we had to check it out.

It was like visiting a suburb where everyone that lived there had just ducked out to get something before guests arrived . All the houses are open, lights are on, table is set, but no cars in garages.

There were also bunches of tasteful magazines on the coffee tables. No Zoo Weekly here, which is interesting as it was clearly the target audience.

It also looked like everyone who ‘lived’ there had recently spent their FIFO pay packets at Freedom Furniture.

So what the hell were we weirdos doing?

I didn’t realise this at the time, but it ended up being a soft way of talking about our future together.

‘Ugh’, I would say to The Mister

‘Seriously, I wouldn’t have a Media Room, I would convert this to a disco dancing room’. He would sagely agree.

Or I would say how we could have super amazing dinner parties that would end up in sing-alongs near where the fire pit was – next to the pristine decking, the galvanised outdoor kitchen and, in one display house, a 4-hole putting green that snaked around the entire back of the house.

The master bedroom had to have two sinks and preferably a double-headed shower, so we could both chill out, get clean, talk and have a beer at the same time – without someone (me) constantly shouting to the person ‘What? Huh? I can’t hear you out there!’, over the rushing water.

I was always excited about walk-in robes and that open spot in the living room where the joke children (one of which was called ‘Skittles’) could have the computer – not in the ‘kids homework nook’ down the west wing of The Palladio display house – ya know, to keep them from online predators.

The front door had to be one you could slam shut when you were cross while you headed to the car to angrily drive away to cool off.  You know the one, where you try to do a little skid as you leave but just end up awkwardly revving the engine instead.

If you’re a renter, don’t EVER feel bad for not ‘getting in the property game’. I’ve been a renter heaps of times and sometimes it’s a complete relief not having to stump-up the cash immediately for that busted hot water system (like I’m living through now – two months and counting… and the weather ain’t that warm anymore). Property owners need renters. Simple as that.

So right now, we’re back in the market and I have the fever back, the heart-stopping urge to get my notebook out and get cracking on the real estate section.

Except now, I don’t have to wait until the Saturday papers. My reignited passion for bricks and mortar can be accessed more readily, it’s like getting your news fix, or catching up on Home and Away (notice how just about every TV channel has a dedicated ‘catch up’ option online?) or accessing porn. Real estate is also open all hours.

My right eyelid is twitching.

It’s not hard to get hooked. I find I’m tapping the domain app on my phone just as much as the Facebook app. And don’t get me started on seeing that little red dot appear on the App Store, telling me that my real estate apps are waiting to be updated with new info. Awwww yeah. Come at me.

Then the terror sets in.

This is where, dear friends, the shit gets real.

You discover that your perfect house is having a home open.

Oh yeah, it’s on like Donkey Kong.

Suddenly your weekend revolves not around catching up with family or friends. It’s about walking through a stranger’s home and fantisising on whether or not you could see yourself living in that space for at least 4 or 5 years.

Sometimes the military operation that is plotting your home open map can happen organically. Loads of times I yell ‘stop the car!’ and I’ll run in the direction of the little sandwich board that says a place is open for inspection.

A word of warning: do follow the direction of the sign. This lesson was learned when I was about 8 years old. Mum did exactly this – stopped the car and said ‘I’ll be right back, I just want to check this place out’.

When she got back, seconds later, she pushed a little harder than usual on the accelerator. She told me how great the house was at the start.

When the agent asked if she could help her, she said no, that she was fine just ‘having a stickybeak’.

The agent wasn’t an agent.

It was the owner of the home.

A home that was not for sale, let alone open.

Mum had walked into the wrong house.

Homes (that are actually for sale) are usually open for around 45 minutes.  As soon as that sign is out, you’re in. Also, the agent will probably ask you for your details, like name or an email address.  If you’re a serious buyer, don’t treat that contact sheet like meeting a loser and give a fake name and email address.  The agent (at least every single agent I’ve ever come across) shouldn’t hassle you at all. What they may do is make a follow-up call which is handy for the genuine buyer if you later think of something you wanted to ask – even if it’s how many people went through the property etc.

If you’re just having a stickybeak, just say so! You don’t have to fill in any personal details if you don’t want to. If in doubt, ask the agent what he or she will do with your information. It’ll probably be added to a database, but they’re all different on how they use the information.

If I don’t want to leave details, such as if I’m just scoping out a truly ugly and/or hilarious house, I’ll just casually say I’m a neighbour. Happens all the time.

However, since The Mister has been taking the reins with this with more gusto than I anticipated (either that or the agents have made an assumption about The Mister being the classic ‘man of the house’. Ha ha…), I’ve been able to take a bit more notice of what’s really going on.

There are benefits to being early and being late for a viewing. Being early means you can suss out the current owners (granted, they could be just tenants) as they’re leaving. I give them a good eye-balling and check out the car they drive. Alternatively, arriving with 3 minutes to go before the viewing closes can mean that the agent probably won’t smalltalk you around the house, they’re usually packing up for the next home open.

You know someone is probably a real estate agent when they have a Statesman vehicle and sport a signet ring on their little finger. The cool ones now have iPads as paper is for chumps.

Agents also have this uncanny ability to appear out of thin air. After The Mister and I walked in to a peach-and-brown-tiled bathroom and casually smacked each other on the back while having a laugh, making some joke about being on the set of Maude, when there the agent was… like Voldermort. Jokes on us, we nearly bought the place in the end.

When you’re judging someone’s CD or book collection, do it on the down-low. In fact, ‘using’ a tape measure as an excuse to get a closer look at the ‘space’ is an appropriate prop.

Measuring tape is also highly psychological. Do make sure you have some (even if it’s the paper one from Ikea) hanging from your back pocket. Don’t have it hanging around your neck, people will think you’re there to mend the curtains.

I noticed a baby boomer-type couple using a tape measure the other week when looking at a property in Maylands. I was immediately threatened as they totally looked like they meant business. Seriously, this is the best prop ever to ruffle some feathers.

I like to check out the types of people that are looking at the same property as me. Again, it’s a psychological game. Don’t strike up conversations, but if you really like what you see, I usually say stuff like ‘look, I think it’s overpriced’ under my breath. Never say how much you love it. Accentuate the negative.

Do think about your own situation. Write down exactly what you want in your property.

Right now, we absolutely want a property that has…

  • Storage
  • Proximity to bike paths
  • At least 2 bedrooms
  • Not been fully renovated
  • Not been sub-divided

These are our non-negotiables, yours might be that you want a pool, a media room and a powered shed that could take 4 cars. Whatever.

What I’m trying to say is that, like entering a supermarket and forgetting everything you came in for, it’s easy to be blinded by a ripper property.

I wanted to put an offer in on a place that was totally gorgeous. Three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and ticked all the other boxes. Or so it seemed.

I stood in the master bedroom thinking ‘OK, if this was my room, where would I keep my clothes?’

A very simple question.

I searched this whole house trying to find this person’s clothes. I eventually found them shoved in a closet in the baby’s room.

So while I was disappointed, I couldn’t kid myself. This place wasn’t for me.

I mean, I already store most of my clothes in my car. My days of making do with milk crates and sarongs are over. I need a house that’s properly fit out.

Tonight, in bed, after the lights go out, guaranteed I’ll have the glow of my iPad on my face, looking for my next hit.

And hopefully on Saturday, I’ll be looking the other hunters up and down, trying to work out exactly which financial ballpark they’re in and what kind of offer they might throw in the ring.

So while it may be one of the most expensive things you can get involved in… this bit? The looking, the researching and the euphoria?

That’s totally free.


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