By Paul McSherry
“It’s too small,” she said and she was right. It was far too small. It didn’t suit the mother of my children or me. “It leaks everywhere, there’s nowhere to put anything and it’s always full of crap.”
But was she describing:
a) my appendage
b) the bathroom cabinet, or
c) the house?
Well, the house of course. A run down, single-fronted Victorian house that had its charms 18 years ago when we bought it cheaply in the (then) undesirable suburb of Seddon. Back then we didn’t notice the angle of the floor, the leaks in the kitchen and the fact that some of the windows would fall out of the structure if you opened them. What we saw was a house that we could turn into a home, a back garden big enough to add three sheds, somewhere to raise three children and a series of dogs. Once converted into offices, those sheds would enable Sarah and I to make films, videos, music and even complete a PhD.
However, we had finally outgrown the house with the kids needing their own rooms. The three girls aged 18, 15 and 13 were sharing a room no bigger than a jail cell. Some days we would go in there and despair at the state of the world as we waded through the clothes, discarded wrappers, loom bands, old toys and technology strewn everywhere. The time had come to look for a new house. Should we move out of the suburb? Maybe that was the answer.
Sarah kept finding houses in nearby Williamstown that looked incredible. Each weekend we’d traipse through houses near the sea. Sadly though, they were either too small, felt too small or were lifeless shells that had no soul. We did find one that would’ve suited us at Newport but it was as if it had been lifted into the street by a gigantic crane and placed on the property sideways. It was fine once you were inside but from the outside, it just wasn’t right.
So what could we do? We loved our street and we loved our neighbours. We’d gotten to know everyone well from performing in plays together and discussing everything from politics to the footy. We’d even had a street party, blocking off the entire street and having a ball. Let’s face it, you simply can’t buy a community. Renovation, we thought. We’ll have to renovate.
So we tentatively started talking to people and eventually found a friend of a friend who drew up some plans that wouldn’t break the bank. We resigned ourselves to fixing up the rickety old boat that we lived in. Unfortunately, we forgot to add a second bathroom to the design. We had some English relatives and a Spanish girl staying with us at that time and it got to the point where you practically had to make a booking to go to the bathroom. The girls would call out as they entered the house, “Does anyone want to use the bathroom? I’m going to have a bath.” It sent a shudder down my spine every time. Oh well, the lemon tree will get some brilliant watering, I thought. Then I remembered we didn’t have a lemon tree.
Just as it looked like we were about to enter the Guinness Book of Records for bathroom use over a short period, a whisper went up and down the street. They were painting number 25 across the street with a chance the owners were putting it up for sale!! The house was a glorious double fronted Edwardian house, double f…king fronted, double f…king fronted. Sarah and I started to drool.
A week later it was confirmed. All the renovation plans went out the window and the focus was number 25. We went to the ‘Open Day’ and were happy to see it was not renovated. It could be our blank canvas but how on earth would we survive the auction?
We’d do it like eBay and pay twice the price. Sarah had form in this area. At the kindergarten Art Auction for the kid’s work she had gotten carried away and paid over 200 dollars for a piece that was entirely for sentimental values, painted by a four year old.
Fortunately, a friend had an idea to get a buyer’s advocate. They do it for a living so they don’t run on emotions. You just need to set a limit and they’ll get it for you. There we met Hugh who’d worked in real estate for years. He had seen an opportunity to establish a business that did the hard yards for people and it had been very successful.
Hugh explained strategies: you don’t know me and I don’t know you; if you see me there at inspection day don’t acknowledge me; I’ll check how many contracts have gone out; who’s your lawyer? I can do that for you; I can intimidate buyers; each auction is different; sometimes I arrive in a flashy car, however I always wear a suit.
As the day approached, it was as if we were removed from the angst and worry. “Looking forward to the weekend?” one of our close friends asked.
“Not really. Why, what have you got on?” I replied.
“The auction,” she said. “The auction, oh yeah, I’d forgotten all about it.” And I had.
The great day had arrived, while being occupied with friend and family, we were in text contact with Hugh. “I’ll arrive 15 minutes before” he said and we held our breath as a Mercedes pulled up a few doors away. He stepped out looking like a developer in his swish grey suit. Sarah and I stayed inside our house and threw open our bedroom window so we could witness the proceedings from across the street.
The auctioneer is doing the spiel; “Ladies and gentlemen what we have on offer today is a splendid example of Edwardian, blah blah blah”. Our man is standing off to the right of the auctioneer and every time anyone makes a bid he immediately counters stepping forward each time he makes the bid. It goes past 1.1 million and I started to relax as it goes to 10 thousand increments. It’s within our range (and the bank’s) and it slows at 1.16 million, then limps to 1.185 million and it’s with our man.
Everyone in the street had came out for the event but only our closest friends were aware that we had a bidder working for us. When the hammer came down it was ours, we were dumbfounded, somehow we’d done it.
We walked across the street and the word had spread like wildfire that we had bought the house. In a show of triumph, Sarah and I cross the road while holding hands in the air as if we’d just won the 100 meters at the Olympics or snatched a Grand Final Victory or hit a ton at the MCG. Wouldn’t you know it, everyone burst into applause, probably as a sense of relief that someone from our own community had bought the house.
You can buy a house but you can’t buy a community!
In a beautiful final touch we got a message from one of our friend with her daughters screaming out in the background as Sarah was having a phone conversation with her mother. “Welcome to Yarraville, you’re coming up in the world” as I’m reminded that our street is the boundary between Seddon and Yarraville. We’re actually moving from Seddon to Yarraville, just by moving across the street.
When I relay this same story to another friend’s wife at a rehearsal later in the day, she tells me I’m a little out of date.
“Seddon’s the place to be now” she says, which I replied “you have it got it right, Seddon’s the new Yarraville”. “Yep” she says “that’s about it”.
I don’t give a crap about any of that, all I’m looking for is a second bathroom. So I’m happy, at least for a day or so until Sarah says to me “Now we need to get an architect”.
Here we go again.