For any visitor to Sydney the search for a place to live is a rough one. The number of options laid out to you online may seem plentiful, but on closer inspection each ad comes with its own unique layout and an unbelievable level of exaggeration.
‘YOUR OWN ROOM – AMAZING APARTMENT, BRONTE’ or…Small, dark, cardboard box. Includes mouldy curtains and questionably smelling sofa. Good luck with the complimentary mattress and frame (bed bugs also complimentary).
‘HUGE BRAND NEW STUDIO BONDI BEACH – SLEEPS 3’ or…Narrow bunk beds and a single bed have all been squeezed into the, already small, one bedroom for your utmost sleepover convenience – hope you like your friends.
‘LOCATED IN THE HEART OF BONDI, NO LAUNDRY FACILITIES, WIFI EXTRA, STOVE TOP COOKING, UNFURNISHED, NO PARKING $750’ – For the ultimate positive thinker. This place has very little going for it, your neighbours can probably see into your bathroom too just to add to the overall experience.
It’s important to note that these costs are for weekly payments, usually in cash so that the landlord can really dodge the taxman. $650 is the equivalent to £414+ given the current economical climate. £1656/month, more expensive than some flats in the centre of London that are currently available online – and those at least come complete with cat swinging capacity.
It’s difficult to manage your expectations when you’re being blinded by terminology and some photography skills that rival the staff at National Geographic. After a couple of hours doing online research even the worst places seem appealing. The estate agents have the ability to turn a 3m x 4m room into an expansive abyss, streaming with natural light and endless possibilities. On arrival, however, it’s not all that it seemed.
For example, 8:25am arrival for an 8:30am open inspection and there are already 15 people outside in the winter cold, the estate agent meanders towards the listed address giving everyone a clue as to where exactly we should be headed. She wedges the door open with some broken paving slabs (a clue as to how well kept the underground parking area is), and we all awkwardly head upstairs one after another, looking around at each other to suss out the potential competition. Wondering, will they want it more than us? How desperate do they look for somewhere to live? How quickly could they fill out an application form? The corridor is quite dark, musky and complete with dusty trimmings on every stairwell leading up to the appropriate level. Ominous so far.
We creep inside trying to take everything in, not sure of which room to check out first. Then you realise you are standing in the only room and are 5 paces away from the bathroom at one end and 5 paces away from the ‘living room’ at the other. In an attempt to professionally scope out the area we pace around, looking both skeptical and impressed at the same time, trying to throw the competition off the mark. Running my hand along the wall, I decide, that’s a good wall. Adam flicks a light switch, yep the light works. You need to know these things. We check for the number of plug sockets – Australia seem to by-pass plug sockets as a necessary requirement and put 1, maybe 2 if you’re lucky, in each room leading to a spaghetti junction of extension cords.
I leave Adam’s side for 2 minutes, and return to find him fiddling with a window sill that looks suspiciously delicate. Before we know it, the loudest noise erupts and Adam has the entire window sill sliding off the corners edge. Managing to catch the strategically placed (and required) fragrance defuser on its way down, we awkwardly look around to see if anyone noticed the commotion, all eye-balls were on us. Cue the estate agent running over in horror and prising the wooden bracket from Adam’s hands as he apologised profusely. This debacle did highlight that the previous tenant was a smoker, as the stale butts still sat proudly on the outside edge of the window where he’d annoyingly been too lazy to go outside. Stepping away from all walls, doors and window sills, we positioned ourselves in the centre of the ‘industrial chic art-deco’ unit that just an hour earlier we had envisioned would be our new home. Now that we were standing inside, however, I noticed that it was already inhabited.
Catching Adam’s eye I try to communicate to him what I could see sitting at the edge of the skirting board. He’s looking back at me with raised eyebrows – an overly strong signal that everyone in the room will see if he continues. I try to discourage him, which only confuses the situation and the once raised eyebrows become furrowed and accompanied by a loudly not-so-whispered ‘What’? Now the jig is up and I’m forced to out our 6 legged friend. ‘Is there a problem with cockroaches in here?’ I asked the estate agent who was mortified at my outrageous and public suggestion. Shutting the conversation down with a resounding ‘NO’ I was left feeling somewhat bewildered at the obvious cockroach on the floor, who was still happily sat there doing his best to remain the only tenant. Taking into account their lack of tolerance for the cold and distain for day light, the fact that this guy is so confidently on show on a winters morning is concerning. We scurried over to the ‘bedroom’ to further our secret communication via blank faces, raised eyebrows and hand gestures – registering key areas to note for later discussion.
Armed with our token blank application as a reward of attendance, our departure was met by what seemed to be the King of all cockroaches on the door handle of the exit. We marched down the stairs sharing uncomfortable smiles with the next batch of potential tenants who were lost in the corridors of this dark tower of terror, being sure to show them the pathway of doom to the correct apartment as we went by. We went in search for the shared laundry, as advertised as a ‘feature…’. Tucked away around the back of the underground parking area was a dark cubby hole that had 4 machines locked away. The room itself had good potential, but the assault course of rodent droppings in the lead up to washing our delicates were the main ‘feature’ of this property.
It is, of course, important to be aware that it’s rare to have all your expectations met when looking for a new place to call home. I do feel the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney leave a lot to be desired when it comes to balancing the cost of ‘luxury’ beach living and actually having the place habitable for humans.
Here’s a quick list of tips to bear in mind when searching for your dream beach pad:
- The photos online do not represent the actual apartments or unit that you are registering your interest in, in fact they particularly enjoy posting ‘lifestyle shot’ photos that are of what you would want, but won’t get.
- The estate agent will be viewing the place for the first time at the same time as you and has no further knowledge than you about the fixtures and fittings on show.
- You quickly learn your place in society by the calibre of guests also at the open inspection.
- Bugs are bad – in any capacity. Crawling on your hand on entry or exit is worse, but even sitting peacefully under an appliance is not a good sign. Abort all plans to move in.
- ‘Internal laundry’ could mean any of the following; a) washing machine installed inside your apartment b) capacity and possibly some plumbing set up for you to buy and install your own washing machine c) there is a washing machine somewhere near your apartment but you may have to join a rat race to reach it.
- If you Google the address you’re considering it will pop up at a selling price upwards of $2,000,000. Don’t let this insight affect your judgement, it won’t look or feel a million bucks, let alone 2.
- You will spend hours looking at places and consequently considering entirely inappropriate apartments because you are desperately scraping the barrel.
- The term ‘Studio’ means you can make a cup of tea, whilst on the toilet, within reaching distance of your pillow (we have been living in a studio for 10 months).
- It’s important to remember that the role of an estate agent is to advertise any and all apartments on their books, for as much as they can, think of their commission. They do not care that you’re living in an infested cupboard under the stairs, they probably live next door to Russell Crowe, you’re the last thing on their conscience.
- Always remember, you may not be able to polish a turd, but you can certainly roll it in glitter.