As we’ve been looking for a house to buy, we have a list of what we need, and what we want. It is a similar list to the one we had for finding a rental, but we are more picky on what we are willing to move from the ‘need’ category to the ‘want’ category to the ‘settle for’ category. We have, in this rental house, all the we need but not all that we want. For a permanent residence, the ‘essentials’ list is longer.
Ducted heating and cooling: One of our priorities for a rental, and even moreso for a purchase, was central heat and air conditioning. We have seen a lot of houses that don’t have central heat – they instead have ‘gas bayonets’ – gas outlets that you hook a portable heater to and move from room to room as needed. Or wall-mounted heaters in each (or just some) room. Sure it doesn’t get really cold here, but already, based on the mediocre heat in our offices, the slight chill, when it doesn’t go away, can get annoying… Other houses have a/c in just some rooms. We want the whole house to be warm or cool as needed. In Canadian terms, “Central Air” – important in a hot climate! Then there is the issue of what kind of system. Most houses seem to have one unit that does both heating and cooling, and while the heating is similar for all, there are two kinds of air conditioning: evaporative cooling and reverse cycle/refrigerated. Our rental has evaporative. It is some wacky Aussie system that blows a chilled mist into the house, and supposedly is very good for the dry Wagga climate. But, as people have pointed out to us constantly, Wagga has become a bit more humid over the past few years and this method just adds to the moisture level in your house. We have a little humidity gauge…a leftover from our life in dry Edmonton…and one day when it was both hot and humid, with the cooling system running, it was up around 95%. Everything just felt damp, and it was a bit uncomfortable. And we also wonder what that does to our art (we don’t even want to think about that 😦 ) And with evaporative cooling, you don’t set a temperature you want – you just turn it on and it cools things down, and the best you can hope for is about 10 degrees difference, which is what we were getting this year: on a 36 day, inside would be about 26. Not bad. But if it gets up to 42 some day, we will want something that will cool the house to lower than 32. So, priority #1: ducted heating and reverse cycle cooling.
Bathrooms: In Canada, a ‘bathroom’ or ‘washroom’ was generally one room with a sink, a toilet, and a bathtub or shower. Here (as in Europe), most houses will have these separated into two or even three rooms, with any number of doors… The main bathroom in the rental, for example, has the sink in an open area off a hall, the toilet behind a door from that, and the shower and tub in another area shared with a bedroom. This type of confusing layout is common. We even looked at one house where the toilet was so far away from a sink that it was probably 40 steps (including two corners) from where you did “your business” to where wash your hands… But the bigger issue has been that we need two ‘bathroom’ areas in general…we want guests to have their own bathroom. And more important, for the majority of the time when we don’t have guests, mornings are much better when we each have our own shower. And that is a bit of a challenge: how often, when looking at Canadian real estate listings, would you see a house with 4 bedrooms and one bathroom? NEVER! In Wagga…that is probably the most common listing. There are even 5 bedroom houses with one bathroom…how much time do these people spend negotiating who gets to shit and shower at what time? For us, 2 bathrooms is as important as heating and cooling, so Priority 1a: 2 bathrooms.
There is also an issue of bathroom fixtures, as it seems that there was a point in Wagga building history when all the builders cashed in on a huge oversupply of cheap fixtures. The toilets (and more important, the toilet seats) in the rental are pretty crappy (that’s a Beavis and Butthead line if there ever was one!)… and we want something better. Maybe not a priority, because they can be replaced easily and relatively inexpensively, but a ‘want’.
Dishwasher: in the rental there is one, but it is small. So small, in fact, that we can’t put most of our plates in it. They are too big. Not a problem really, because we generally use the smaller ones but sometimes if we have guests, or are eating something bulky like corn on the cob, we use the larger ones. Even worse, before our ship arrived last August, we were using plates we had purchased here, and they didn’t fit (well, there was a creative way to get 2 in…). We have enough dishes that in Edmonton we ran the dishwasher twice each week, and it was jammed full. Here, jammed full every two days, plus lots of hand washing of things that are too big. Priority when we move: bigger, better dishwasher, preferably a 2-drawer model. First thing Lisa does in an open house is head to the kitchen to see the dishwasher (that’s her kitchen role – Dan cooks, Lisa has a machine to clean the dishes…). At least she hasn’t ever actually taken a plate with her to an open house to see if it fit – she has threatened, but not done it. Priority #2: a good dishwasher. (Dan edit: I might call this #3, with the one below as #2, but I’m willing to settle for an electric stove if Lisa is willing to take care of the dirty dishes.)
Cooktop and oven: At most open houses, Dan has been right behind Lisa as she rushed to look at the dishwasher. But he was looking at the cooking facilities. We’ve been living with a bizarre electric cooktop that doesn’t have a lot of (any?) temperature control. Two of the four burners just seem to be on high all the time, and the other two, well, they can be controlled a bit, but not a lot of accuracy. This is OK if you just want to saute something quickly, but is a problem when making risotto, that has to be at a simmer for a long time. Or really cooking anything that you don’t want to burn. Sometimes, we actually need to lift the pot off the stove and let it cool down. The oven is fine, but a bit small. The standard here is to have a separate cooktop (on the bench…what we Canadians call the countertop) and oven (wall mounted), rather than a single unit. And that is fine with us – the oven is actually elevated a bit…who wants to have to bend down to take food out? And you can get a gas cooktop and an electric oven, which is probably the way to go. Priority #3: gas cooktop, and an oven that works well. We would settle for an electric cooktop that works…because it would mean that we could upgrade to induction at some point! Gas is better than normal electric, but induction…the wave of the future….
Flooring: Not a highlight of the rental. Cheap carpet and no underpad! Basically a thin layer of cheap rug on concrete, because houses in Wagga are usually one story (some, the ones built on a hillside might be two, but there is never a subterranean basement). The floor is therefore the cement pad the house is built on, not a suspended wooden floor with a bit of ‘give’ as in Canada. So here in the rental, there is no cushioning, no ‘bounce’ … This isn’t a deal breaker – we might even be happy with a nice house that had all hardwood floors. But if we are going to have carpet anywhere, we want it done properly. So, Priority #4: floors that our cats will like…they have a closer relationship with them than we do!
Patio: Australia is a summery place (yes, even in winter) and we try to spend lots of time outdoors. Our rental has a huge patio area, which includes the furniture we had in the back patio and the front porch areas of our house in Canada, along with a smaller bistro set we purchased here when we had no other furniture. Having a nice patio area, for ourselves and for entertaining, is important. Happily, most houses come with an al fresco area — but some that we’ve seen are pretty tired; overgrown vines, broken concrete, uneven patio stones, etc. Others have outdoor kitchens (!) with built-in BBQs, fridges, sinks, etc. One of Lisa’s ‘wants’ is a ceiling high enough to use the patio heater we brought from Canada. It will be perfect for Aussie winters, but is currently in the shed, because it’s too tall to use on the patio at the rental. Priority # 5: an awesome outdoor room.
OK, we’ve made the rental house sound horrible but it actually isn’t that bad! It is just a typical bungalow that needs a bit of updating, and the type of place we could easily buy…we’ve seen a lot of similar houses. We just haven’t made offers on any of the numerous cookie-cutter houses that we have walked into and politely walked out of…