Only a daydream away


Getting your manicured hands on a lease in inner Sydney “ the most densely populated area in Australia “ is a difficult enterprise. They say public housing waiting lists out West are long: but just you try pinning down a two bedroom flat in Woollahra.

It takes strategy, determination, and many a Saturday morning that would have been more enjoyably spent over a long macchiato and the Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy.

With high hopes and a hangover you pore over the real estate pages, assembling a plan of attack, to hit the fifteen-minute window of viewing opportunity of each potential dwelling.

You arrive early at the first showing, and join the group of would-be tenants assembled on the kerb. They glare at you. You can tell by the way they stand, and glare, that they are stably employed, meticulously referenced, and dual-incomed.

You will see them at the next ten properties that you visit today: don’t think that this makes you buddies. You are all competing for the same elusive prize, and they are leaving you for dead.

The real estate agent breezes in right on time, with her clipboard and winning smile. She points out the advantages of the location as she’s opening the door: so close to transport. Such a vibrant neighbourhood. Oh, no, she hasn’t heard of a mugging in this area for weeks.

Step inside. As you’ve only just started looking, and because your budget isn’t somewhat larger than that of a small pacific nation, your expectations need some downward adjustment.

The agent helps to cushion the blow. When your eye is caught by the mouldering carpet, she says: ‘such wonderfully high ceilings’, and takes down your phone number. When you open what you thought was the linen closet, she appears at your shoulder, saying: ‘oh, yes, very versatile: an extra bedroom, or a study …’

Cracked lino and crazy combinations of seventies tiles start to take on a certain charm, compared to all those renovated-for-rental bathrooms, all sterile white tiles and cheap chrome fittings, plus another $200 on the rent.

Newcomers to this market are often astounded by the sheer audacity of the prices asked for rental properties in inner Sydney. It’s not breaking news that it costs more, on average, to rent here than anywhere else in Australia. But when you’re actually standing in that kitchen hardly big enough to swing the rat you just saw scuttle under the stove, listening to the roar of traffic through a broken window pane, and discovering that the rent they want you to pay is half your weekly income “ well, it’s almost enough to make you move to Adelaide.

That’s if you’re lucky enough to get approved as the tenant. The more dedicated, and desperate, rent-seekers arrive at the viewing with application forms already completed. They smile smugly as you stare forlornly at the paper on which your debonair, unconventional, globe-trotting lifestyle will go down in black and white as common vagrancy. You wonder if your mum can be trusted to give you a rental reference, now that she’s remarried and changed her name. Would she tell them you never cleaned your room? Will they work it out? And if they do, will you end up on some secret rental blacklist?

Perhaps this is a good time to start counting your blessings.

Thank your lucky tarot cards that you’re not looking to rent in Stockholm, where you can wait 12 to 18 years in the official queue for a first-hand lease in the state-run system.

Or in Warsaw, where the concept of quiet enjoyment of a rental property is not widespread: one man who rented on the black market to side-step the red tape of the Polish bureaucracy came home one day to find his landlord taking a bath. Another woman took a lease on a furnished flat, and rearranged the furniture: she came home to find everything back in place, and the irate landlord asking why she didn’t like his paintings.

And you’re not renting in Paris, or London, or New York, where a liveable one-bedroom apartment at $1000 a week is a good find.

So stop whingeing, start walking: your toehold in the heart of the world’s most beautiful city is only a daydream away.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.