I bought an apartment. Just a handful of square meters of floorspace hovering mid-air. It's here in Melbourne, in the CBD, in a building a little more discreet than the massive towers of 30 or 40 stories that contain hundreds of slivers of bedrooms and bathrooms, but big enough that I won't know all of my neighbours.
I can finally start to tell people about the purchase more widely now that the scary mortgage has been approved. Getting to this point has been emotional and stressful, not least of all last Friday as I counted down the hours until the finance approval deadline. Well, it didn't happen (thanks to the bank for that delay) so I was granted an extension so that it could happen today – the other option, I had hysterically decided, was bankruptcy so I'm glad it didn't come to that. Hopefully now it's just reams of paperwork, lots of signatures and preparation ahead of the settlement and exchange of keys in under 3 weeks time.
The process of finding this apartment took about two months of apartment hopping every Saturday, disappointing inspections, calling and leaving messages on agents' phones and then avoiding calls from the same agents a few days later. I must have inspected close to 20 apartments across the city and looked at countless listings online. Now I like to dazzle/bore with the facts I can rattle off about many of the buildings in the city ("that one has only two per floor!", "nice art deco lifts!" and "smells like death!").
Apartment inspections became routine. Unenthusiastic agents spending their Saturdays standing in a tiny kitchen for an hour. Even better are the helper agents who have to stand down on the street just letting people in all while texting their friends about what they're going to do that night. Many of the apartments I looked at were modern, awkward shards of a floor with one window at the end, often looking another window or building wall. Cheap fit outs, hallway kitchens and uncleaned showers were common sights. One or two were so depressing and claustrophobic that I cut the inspection short just to leave and get some air outside (and they weren't bargains). Some of these were even labelled as "gourmet" apartments. Many an agent sweatily told me about stone bench tops and video intercoms when all I cared about was "how much are the outgoings" and "do the windows open".
I don't want to complain too loudly as I know I'm in a priviliged situation. Good fortune (plus some hard work, but mostly good fortune) has meant that I was in a situation where I could work towards buying my own place. I originally started looking into it a year or two ago and realised I had to make a few changes as a self-employed/freelancer to be in a good position for the loan application.
I received a lot of advice when I mentioned that I was thinking about buying a place. One of the common ones was to buy for investment and continue renting. Sure, it can work out better financially, but I was done with renting. The regular inspections, the threat of rent increases and not being able to make any changes all bother me. One of my recent rental agents conducted an inspection of my apartment and then later condescendingly texted me to say "Well done, Tyson. You did a good job today" as if they'd set a test for me and I'd passed. I fumed for a while and then decided I wouldn't bother vacuuming before the next inspection. The only person I wanted running their white glove over my sills was Joan Crawford.
After failing to buy a cute studio apartment very soon into the process and then finding nothing suitable week after week, I started to become disheartened. I got better at finding the flaws. The price is good on this one... but the body corporate fees would make me poor. Oh, that one's nice... but a 36 floor tower is about to built just outside the window. Eventually I gave up on the idea that I'd find the perfect apartment that was everything I wanted with cheap outgoings in a great location, and somehow everyone else would not notice it. I did have a few rules though; I wanted good light, a window in the bedroom and enough room to comfortably fit my desk and piano, along with the couch. I eventually found a place place that had been on the market for a while, had stopped having inspections and the owner was just starting to consider budging on price. It was no looker, but has potential and I thought I could give it a go.
The negotiation process wasn't particularly smooth or easy. Unlike the first apartment I attempted to buy, now I was the only interested party so it was just a duel between myself and the owner. Negotiations broke down when we both reached our best offers and there was still a gap between them. Counter to my natural inclinations, I decided to play cool. One of the best pieces of advice I received was "be prepared to walk away from every place." And I did. I thought that was the end of it. About a week later the agent called again with a cryptic message saying that he thought the owner might be willing to move a little more if I could do the same and invited me to put in a written offer. After a few days of obtaining missing documentation as advised the conveyancer, I submitted a written offer at the same amount as my last offer. Another plea for more money followed though I stood my ground and again said "No." The delays had worked in my favour as I had emotionally cooled off and adjusted to the idea I wouldn't be living there. Just when I thought it had broken down again, I received an email with the owner's signature on my offer whilst watching of an episode of Bob's Burgers.
The psychology of property sales is exhausting. Everyone is playing everyone else, telling lies, and trying to calling their opponent's bluff. Everyone pays very close attention to the timing of every move to exploit emotion and exhaustion.
Buying property is terrifying. I'm paying more money than I can conceive on the place that I will spent a lot of time in, yet I've only seen it for about 10 minutes a few weeks back (yet I remind myself that it was the same scenario for the last three apartments I've lived in – in fact I never even stepped into my second apartment until I was moving in). The best you can do is a some research and then make the dive. From a financial point of view it's an investment that could go either way, but I'm trying not to focus on that and instead on the fact that I can paint the walls and no one will send me a letter saying they'll be using their set of keys to let themselves into my apartment while I'm not home.
Getting to this point has been a long game, and I'm very excited to be here. Everyone has looked at this man-child and decided to let me have a slice of sky and concrete. Today it felt real for the first time, and not terribly scary. It's just four days after turning 30 and it feels right, not daunting. I can't wait to get in there and take the good with the bad and slowly make it great.