Wednesday, December 31, 2008

No Longer Homeless

Our application was accepted for the penthouse in the trendy South Yarra building. We figured out the total annual rent and I want to curl up in a ball and cry.

You cannot write off mortgage interest on your taxes in Australia. Also, we're told it will continue to be even more of a buyers' market in the next year, so it is better to wait to buy another house. In the mean time, we'll enjoy our sky rise view and swimming pool sized hot tub.
We were concerned that rentals are very competitive, though look at us here only 5 days and all squared away - how fortunate!

It was a "be careful what you wish for day" however. We went to an inspection (that means open house) for a beautiful townhouse this afternoon and I remember blurting "I like this TWICE as much as the (sky rise apartment)". We came home and made a spreadsheet. The scores for all the variables were almost the same and meanwhile, phone calls are coming through from the utilities companies ready to set us up for the first place. Gracious. Tom told them to call back, that we hadn't decided, which they did. There are services here that handle all your utilities for you at once. I can't imagine why they don't have in the US.

It came down to the fact that we could buy a regular old townhouse one day, but we probably won't buy a penthouse in a giant skyscraper ever. Hello, property value of stick built vs. adding association fees?!!! So this home will be our eccentric splurge and it is an amazing (conspicuous consumptiony?) view after all. I wonder if they give you a Louis Vuitton purse with a small dog in it when you move in or if I'll be the only girl without acrylic fingernails?

The last tenant was evicted and we agreed to do all the cleaning if they would let us move in early.


Melbourne is apparently in its umpteenth year of drought. They have watering restrictions... You can water two days a week, the days depend on if your street address is even or odd.

We walk by the above house which has 3 large external tanks that collect rainwater. Beth also has a bucket system that takes shower water and clothes washing rinse out to the garden. When you're carrying it by hand, it really hammers home just how little a shower uses and just how much is a bath. I like it, it's quite meditative. Tom

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Looking for apartments, money and lime salted chips

The last several days have been almost nothing but looking for apartments. Its been tough with the holidays, most agents are gone until January 5th at least, but there's a handful that have been around to show us places. is the main place we've been looking but we found another really neat site That second site is a "mashup" where someone has combined the functions of several other websites in one place while at the same time allowing you to search all the different real estate sites at once.

All in all though, it's been a mammoth experiment in information/paper management. Drive around to learn the neighborhoods, look at hundreds of listings, go visit a few places on the inside, narrow down your hunt, look at more places, etc etc. It seems easier to rule out all the "obvious no"s than it is to find that "obvious yes" (like wives I suppose). Today we saw one place that had that 1970s wavy amber glass all over and kitchen backsplash tiles with drawings of mushrooms on them, heavy curtains and peanut butter colored carpet. One word- "Intercom". Really truly, someone thought all that was a good idea at some point? I'll see if I can dig up some pictures... but if you could only see some of the architectural horrors we've witnessed in the last few days. *shudder*

We've been going through several systems, making lots of mistakes, but finding our way eventually. Like it's not enough to take in the car a map of a lot of dots of properties, you really need addresses and/or pictures, prices and so on. You can print out a lot, but then it's a version control issue, sheaf upon sheaf of paper with random notes. What worked for us is to divide up the neighborhoods between Christine and I, each does an exhaustive search of the area and make a hot list of properties to consider. Then use google maps to plot our hotlist like below (red is stuff we saw but didn't like, blue is stuff we would consider an inside visit after driving by).

View Larger Map

Probably the hardest part of it all is keeping stuff *off* the hotlist after it's been removed, especially if you have two people editing the list. It's so easy to fall in love with the same property again and again, always forgetting that the small print says that it's not available for another two weeks.

Anyhow, we may have found a place we like (more details later). Christine was at least a 9 out of 10 on it and the realtor said that rarely is anyone a 9 out of 10 when looking at rental properties. Me, I'm never a 10 out of 10 on anything, just because I was a forecaster for a living and know that nothing is ever 100% (case in point, when I used to do forecast evaluation I heard that the Tucson, AZ weather office has forecasted 100% chance of rain on only a handful of occasions when it wasn't already raining and it's never rained when they've done that).

One worry has been trying to get money over through the foreign currency exchange. I was using Oz Forex Foreign Exchange but it's been a terrible struggle to get Etrade to wire my funds to someone else. Add onto it that my address has changed, spending patterns are all different, I'm sure this must look suspicious to them. But it's dumb and I won't bore you, but basically we've had to resort to taking as much money as we can out of ATMs (the rate is really quite good actually). So that's our life now, tramping around the streets in suits looking at apartments with baseball sized wads of cash in our pockets.

Personally the highlight for today for me came near sunset. We were walking back from another apartment opening (at the Love and Lewis building) and Christine went to have her feet worked on ("grinding down her hooves" were her words) and I went ahead to get dinner. The burger place was closed so I went and got some calamari rings and chips at the we-fry-everything place like yesterday. I walked home and sat out in the back porch under the grape vines watching the clouds while eating dinner.

80% of the way through I noticed there was a lime. I thought, well that's a great suggestion, lets see how this works out. The result was like a gustatory out of body experience. I've had salt and lime and before, sure, and was like "thank you nabisco, for designing this flavor combination, it seems to satisfy my flavor palette". But putting it all together in person, the fresh salty fries, the lime, it was the difference between eating strawberry "flavor" and trying a real strawberry for the first time. I know you're thinking "meh... so what" but maybe you had to be there I guess?

Well, tomorrow I think we're going to look at a handful more apartments, maybe try and get a phone... thinking of taking some time to just relax and enjoy ourselves for a while, lately it's sometimes felt like tumbling end over end in the surf with so much to do.


Getting to The Place to Be

If you asked me to tick the boxes for what's true in my life on New Year's Eve, age 39, I'm temporarily homeless, unemployed and living in Melbourne, Australia. I have pink striped hair, emerald painted toenails, a sore neck, sunburned shoulders and a purple ankle that's recovering from a sting ray/sailboat collision. My hysterical, brilliant, thoughtful, adorable husband and I perform ritual dances with peacock feathers at major turning points in life.

Today we found an apartment with peacock feather murals in the lobby and a view of what feels like the whole world. The building does not, in fact, have a hot tub, but a swimming pool that's kept at a hot tub-esque temperature. Most days, after, say, my second cup of coffee and before too many sugary snacks, I feel extremely grateful that I get to be me. Other days, we have to call the international money transfer people for the umpteenth time and it's all I can do not to throw my shoes.

How did I get here? Literally, the state of Victoria (or as their license plates read "The Place to Be"), but more rhetorically, what were the choices involved in my current "being"? In looking for a video clip of 'The Peacock Feather Dance' we borrowed from the movie Darjeeling Limited, I found this (somewhat long) piece that speaks to our journey a little bit. The symbolism at the end is tragically overt - I love it.


Hey, this is a test post... The first about our move from the US to Melbourne Australia. Below is a copy of an email sent to friends and family 2 days after arriving.

Hi everyone,

Been a busy couple of days, mixed in with bits of relaxation. Got into town ok and spent a day and a half with someone who works at the Bureau of Meteorology (Beth Ebert). She has just about the coolest home and family that I know of, ex-Californians who moved here 20-something years ago and raised two children. They did extensive remodeling over the years and their house has that certain architectural je ne sais quoi that I've imagined my California dream home would have when I grew up. We dined al fresco under the trestled grape vines. We also walked with our shopping buggy to the prahran market ( where there were dozens of organic/local/gourmet food vendors. Still trying to get our heads around aussie dollars per kilo versus us dollars per pound though. We've also been pretending that all the prices are in us dollars (1.4 aud ~ 1 usd), which has helped us cut back on shopping ($6 for cake? crikey!). Beth's son is crazy about board games so he taught us how to play Puerto Rico, which was fun. They then left on vacation and we're house sitting.

We've been doing a lot of research on rental places and we've been oscillating between living downtown, living near Beth, in the far suburb where I'll work or an even further suburb where the beach is. Beth lives in Northern St Kilda and I suspect we'll end up a little east of here. But it's been hard though with the holidays getting a hold of people to actually look on the insides of appts. We did have one appointment downtown today although ironically it was not for the place that we thought we were going to (we thought it was a 2bd/2br, and instead it was a dingy studio). We dressed up in suits and everything so I think the landlord was more impressed with us than we were with his place. The good part about some of these places though is that they're furnished and have a 2 month lease, so we can have an opportunity to live in one part of town for a while while waiting for our furniture to be shipped. While downtown we saw the arcade and the post office and a lot of the other classic places that tourists seem to go. We went to an open air rooftop place that overlooks the city and also shows movies on a wall at night

Since we were also considering just living out at a place on the beach for two months, we took the train all the way out to my work (a half hour from downtown) and then continued on out to the beach (another 20 minutes or so). I was terribly overdressed but we walked around there
for a bit and had some fish and chips (wrapped and wrapped in paper to the size of a basketball) on the sand by the ocean. Then came the black flies and we had to run away.

So hard to generalize, but I suppose we've noticed three things so far. First, we've been floored by everyone's generosity, even strangers on the street helping us out. Second, the fashions here are probably 10-15 years ago (Christine's remark was "Did we get on a plane or a time machine?"). Those strappy "Gladiator" sandals seem to be all the rage here. Third, what we've seen so far is really not that different from the US, in particular consumable goods. It's quite americanized (or is it "multi-nationalized"?)... Coke, Pepsi, American Apparel, we stopped by the Columbia Sportswear store today. Everything's been about 90% the same 10% different, the majority of which seems better... Like, why don't we have these dual flush toilets in the US? Seems like a no-brainer. Not everything's better though. Christine cried (not in a good way) when her plate arrived the first time she ordered a side of bacon.

Anyhow, still working on getting settled in, don't have a phone yet or anything, will try and keep in touch,

Tom and Christine