Willy Trolove and partner are really hunting for a little patch of New Zealand to call their own. Since starting their quest to get onto the property ladder, they have gone from naïve and full of hope to…something else. Nice to discover that you have an unusual talent for living in other people’s homes.
14 August 2005
This might not be a good time to buy a first home. House prices are at ludicrous levels, the word on the street is that the housing market is shaky, and The Economist recently declared the global residential property boom is the largest financial bubble in the history of the world.
Add to that our slowing economy and the uncertainty of a close election – where the honourable member for Tauranga is likely to pick the next government – and it’s a wonder that anybody is buying houses at all.
At least, it’s a wonder to us. My fiancee and I have been looking for our first home and, after several months, we have come to the inconvenient conclusion that right now might not be the best time to buy.
We are worn out from traipsing through open homes with their coffee percolators percolating and their bread-makers bread-making.
We are sick of the ads that describe houses as ‘minutes from the central city’ when this means 30 minutes or more, that wax on about the ‘brilliant indoor/outdoor flow’ when this turns out to be a door that opens on to a bit of a porch, and that talk about ‘innovative gardening opportunities’ referring to a backyard that’s on a landslide.
We have grown tired of seeing a nice little house which has most of the things on our list, only to be told that the vendors want several squidzillion dollars more than they paid for it 18 months ago.
And we have had enough of the real estate agents breathlessly ringing us up to tell us they have found the home of our dreams ‘in a very safe neighbourhood’ (it’s next to a prison), ‘with excellent television reception’ (there’s a transmission tower in the garden), and ‘handy to multiple transport options’ (it backs on to a railway marshalling yard).
So we have given up. For now. And in our hiatus from house-hunting, we have become house-sitters.
House-sitting is a noble endeavour.
You put the word out among your friends, place ads in the paper, and get vague acquaintances drunk at parties.
Before you know it, you are house-sitting a palatial spread while the homeowners jet off for several weeks in Marrakesh, Mumbai or Mosgiel, leaving you in charge of all their worldly possessions and their deaf poodle named Raymond.
You get free board, a nice big house and, if you’re lucky, unlimited use of a therapeutic spa bath. They get the peace of mind and security that comes with knowing that complete strangers are living in their home.
Living in someone else’s home is an unusual but rewarding experience. You get an intimate glimpse of different lives, you see the world through fresh eyes, and you spend hours of quality time looking for things in the kitchen.
Just yesterday, for example, I needed to open a can of peaches. In your own home this is a straightforward exercise. You go to the appropriate drawer, extract the can opener, and swear silently to yourself several times while trying to encourage it to grip the rim of the can.
But in someone else’s home this can be a Herculean task.
You have to figure out where the can opener might live, rummage through the drawers of miscellaneous utensils beneath the cutlery drawer, search the cupboards, empty the jars on the bench, check the dishwasher, rummage through the utensil drawers again, look in the fridge, peer under the oven, inspect the pantry, rummage through the cutlery drawer a third time, question the fundamental assumptions upon which your reality is based, and reach the absurd conclusion that the homeowners either don’t have a can opener (they just keep cans in the pantry for aesthetic effect), have hidden it from their house-sitters (for safety’s sake) or have taken it with them (because they can’t bear to leave it behind).
It’s no good asking Raymond where it might be. He’s deaf.
And so the only thing you can do is curse, stare daggers at the can of peaches for half an hour and, when your fiancee arrives home, tell her your long, frustrating and seemingly endless story about the missing can opener, after which, almost straightaway, she opens the cutlery drawer and finds it.
Yes. Living in someone else’s home is an unusual and rewarding experience, and we seem to be good at it.
The homeowners return from their holidays abroad and are always slightly startled that their house is still in one piece, that Raymond is still alive, and that the can opener isn’t quite where they left it.
They tell their friends about their marvellous house-sitters, and before long, we are booked out months in advance.
If we can keep this up, who knows, maybe we’ll never have to buy our first home.
copyright NZ Herald