A Place To Call Home

One of the first big challenges in any new city is trying to find a place to live. Not only do you have to choose a neighbourhood with little to no knowledge about the available choices, but every city seems to have different “rules” about apartment hunting, rental applications, rent payments, etc.

Because we relocated for work, we were able to use the services of a local agent who specialises in helping relocating people with all of the above challenges and more. During one of the first conversations we had with her via Skype while we still lived in California, she asked us to describe the type of place we would be looking for in Sydney. We said that something like what we had in San Jose would be perfect – a three bedroom single-level house (we used the third bedroom as an office), with a small back yard, great kitchen, and lots of character (our house in SJ was a 100-year old craftsman – so cute); close to the office and downtown (7 minute drive, 15 minute bike ride or 40 minute walk). Hardwood floors, stone master bathroom with a huge tub and glass shower, basement and shed for extra storage. A hot tub in the backyard would be a bonus, but we wanted to be realistic. Oh, but since we were in Sydney, we wanted to be close to a beach.

She…totally…laughed at us.

Now that we have a little more experience, we know that a place like that would cost an astronomical amount, and in fact probably doesn’t even exist in Sydney. We had no idea at the time how incredibly 1) tiny and 2) expensive the typical rental is in Sydney. Apparently, owning a home or condo is part of Australian core values, so there are very, very few “nice” places for rent. The type of rental available in San Jose and Ottawa that we would call an executive rental or executive apartment, with nice finishings, good location, and decent size – doesn’t seem to exist in Sydney (or if it does, you’re paying out the nose).

As some examples of executive apartments in Sydney…

  • Here is one on the harbour, considered an executive apartment, $1500 per week (yes, per week) but still has carpet and an absolutely tiny kitchen.
  • Here’s another in a similar location, but this one is $1,800 per week, and only one bedroom. Looks like tile floor instead of carpet throughout.
  • This one, appears to be right on the water. 2 beds, 1 bath, $1000 per week, but no photos of the apartment itself, so you will just have to go and see it during the 15 minute viewing time from 5:15pm to 5:30pm on Wednesday.

So, you can see even a small apartment in the city is quite pricy…and these aren’t even close to a beach, they would require about a 40 minute ferry north to Manly or a 40 minute bus ride north to Balmoral or east to Bondi. We gave up pretty quickly on finding a 3 bedroom house near the city and near a beach.

I mentioned above also the viewing times. Apartments are generally only available for 15 to 30 minute “open house” style viewings, once or twice a week (usually Wednesdays and Saturdays). There is a small possibility that you could arrange with the agent to see it privately without anyone else there, but this would be rare in today’s market, which is very much a landlord’s market.

You generally also must decide during that 15-30 minute window if you want the apartment, as there will be others there who will fill out an application on the spot and hand it in. We saw this on a few occasions – in one case three people were busily filling out applications, each trying to fill theirs out the fastest, since the first person to hand in an application is generally accepted as the tenant unless there is some sort of credit problem, as there are strict anti-discrimination laws here.

Nick and I spent a few weeks looking at apartment listings during weeknights after work and making schedules and lists of places to visit during the weekend. It was honestly quite soul-destroying because even if a place looked nice in the photos, they could be old photos, or perhaps it’s a great place in a not-great neighborhood, or the bedroom was too small for our king-sized bed, etc etc, and all of these things  we wouldn’t discover until actually visiting the apartment, which meant we had prioritised it over other apartments and spent the time to commute there and agh!!!

You know us though…we did still have fun along the way, exploring all of the different neighbourhoods – checking out pubs and cafes and shops and parks. Sydney is an amazing city with a wide variety of all of the above.

And of course, the story has a happy ending… we did finally find a place that was spacious and in a great neighborhood. It ticks almost all of our boxes:

  • Three bedroom – yes, one of the few we saw with three decent sized bedrooms (in most places, the third bedroom was a closet). Three bedrooms are very important to us, as Nick works from home a lot, so needs a home office; and we also want our visitors to be able to stay with us, eliminating the “hotel cost” barrier and allowing LOTS of friends and loved ones to visit 🙂
  • Backyard – kind of. We have a split-level brick patio. Eventually I’ll have (unkillable) plants out there, but for now, at least we have a bit of outdoor space that’s all our own.
  • Great kitchen – well, it’s large, but certainly can’t compare to the cook’s kitchen we had in San Jose.
  • Lots of character – it is completely missing character of its own. Since we’re part of a modern apartment block, we have beige walls, beige carpet, beige tile, stark white bathrooms, and beige blinds. We’ll add character ourselves through decorating, but it certainly doesn’t have its own inherent flair in the same way that a 100 year old craftsman would have. I will however add, that our neighbourhood, Pyrmont, has character coming out of its eyeballs – far more than downtown San Jose could even dream of having.
  • Close to the office & downtown – yep! This we have in spades. My walk to work is a beautiful 20 minute walk through a leafy walking path, through streets lined with shops and cafes, and over Darling Harbour via a gorgeous pedestrian bridge. Downtown is a mere 10 minutes walk from there. Although, I’m also quite happy with our suburb’s downtown area and don’t even really feel the need to go into the city for bars, restaurants, etc – we have a great selection here in Pyrmont.
  • Close to the beach….ehhh…we are about a 10 minute walk away from a park on the water, where there are steps down into the water and where you can sunbathe on the grass and swim in the harbour if you like. But, not exactly a beach. And, I’ve heard sharks are much more plentiful in the harbour than on the beaches 🙂
No character...but lots of cardboard, on our move-in weekend.
No character…but lots of cardboard, on our move-in weekend.
My walking commute over the Pyrmont Bridge every day
My walking commute over the Pyrmont Bridge every day
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2 thoughts on “A Place To Call Home

  1. We can totally relate to the stress of apartment hunting, having just moved from state side ourselves to Sydney. We started off with a checklist too: waterfront views, ferry ride to work… In the end, the place we found doesn’t really have either; there us a marina just five minutes away.

    Good luck settling in!

  2. Oh man! So excited to visit you guys now (I was a little behind on your blog. I blame the baby). Any chance you’re still running? I was on a treadmill in San Diego that had a virtual run you could do and I ran right by those flags! I’ll be right in the middle of my 10K training if you guys are up for a run or two while we’re there (and I won’t be sad if you all want to ditch me early and head to a pub. Just order me something big and beery!).

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