Freestyle swimming in red tape Part 2: Did Grant get a home of his own?

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By Grant J Everett

It’s been three months since the first part of this article, and a lot has changed. In fact, I’ve discovered first-hand that just a handful of hours can flip your life upside down. In this case, I’m talking about my wedding day. Obviously this was all about my fiancé becoming my wife, but my wedding day was also the exact point I’d set for when I needed to be out of share house accommodation and in my own place. It goes without saying that there was no way I’d have the gall to think my wife would want to start our marriage by living with four bachelors! Thankfully, by the time my wedding day arrived, I’d already been in my own place for weeks and weeks.

If you read the first part of this story in the June issue, you may remember that my attempts at getting subsided housing (a private flat for a fraction of private rates) from community housing providers had been officially knocked back due to my work situation. Of course, subsidised housing is still worth pursuing, and I’d definitely recommend it if you’re on a low income (check out the HASI numbers at the end of this article). So although the subsidised housing path was out of the question for me, I’d also applied for a housing commission property around the same time. Housing commission is by far the most affordable option (costing between 25% and 30% of your income) and it turned out that I was actually eligible for it. However, this particular plan fell through for a different reason: I didn’t want it. Housing commission had offered me a few places within a couple of months, but they were all situated ages away from where I wanted to be and they simply weren’t what I wanted. Call me a snob if you want, but keep in mind that I grew up in housing commission from a very young age, and I really, really didn’t want to go back if I could avoid it.

Thankfully, my fiancé and I both work (and she receives a part pension, too), which means that private rent was an option. So after all that mucking about with subsidised housing and reams of forms, we ended up taking the easier (if more expensive) route, and got a private flat in the area we wanted.

The process

Rewind a few weeks…

One of the most important people in this whole process was my mate Col. Col had recently helped his newlywed son, Ben, get his own place, so he had a lot of practical wisdom to share. First off, we created a list about what I (and Linda) wanted in a home. Next, we drove around my suburb of choice to decide what streets would be ideal (as well as places I’d accept if things got desperate). I then researched a few places on the Domain website, but there are plenty of other sites out there that do the exact same thing (RealEstate and Gumtree, for instance). Domain’s site allowed us to ask questions and arrange inspection times without having to move an inch. Best of all, these services cost nothing.

Soon, my fiancé and I were ready to check out some places that were within our price range. Unfortunately, we found that the cheapest flats were cheap for a reason: they were dirty, tiny, old and run down. However, we ended up finding a big, well-kept three bedroom place situated directly above the local shops, down the street from Westmead station, and just a few doors away from the bus stop. As neither of us have a license (yet), having access to public transport was important. Yes, there was no car space, but that wasn’t an issue for now.

Linda and I assumed that we’d be competing with a tonne of other potential tenants, so we knew there was no time to waste. We filled in the paperwork, sent it off by post, and the very next day I was contacted by the real estate people. I went into their office that afternoon, paid a holding fee, got all the necessary paperwork prepared, then went back a week later to sign a 12 month lease and pick up my keys.

Done! I had a home of my own!

Centrelink Online Estimator

Would you like to quickly and easily find out how your Centrelink benefits might change if some factor in your life got shifted? This link allows you to find out exactly what to expect.

www.humanservices.gov.au/customer/enablers/online-estimators

The catch

A big chunk of my rental history has been in share house accommodation and other supported places. I really wanted to avoid talking about my mental health history with the real estate people (after all, it’s irrelevant), but in order to get my foot in the door I needed to provide some good references and official paperwork that proved I could pay my rent. After consulting my social worker, I was able to arrange a letter from the Trust office (the department in Cumberland hospital that deals with rent and other money-related issues). This letter confirmed that I’d been paying rent to Western Sydney Area Health Service for the last six years, as well as stating the maximum amount I’d paid in that period.

To take the focus further away from hospitals, I was sure to include lots of positive facts from other parts of my life: how I was currently working two jobs, the state of my savings, and I also provided glowing character references from two of my bosses (one from each job). I also mentioned that my wife-to-be would be moving in with me at some point after the big day. Thankfully, the issue of mental health and hospitals didn’t come up even once, which was a great relief.

Pluses & Minuses

There are some major advantages to private rent that can help justify the high price. The biggest one is CHOICE. For instance, if you see it as important to have close proximity to public transport, your doctor, local schools, your place of employment or something else, that’s something you can specify. Also, unlike housing commission, you can see as many places as you like without any detriment (note that knocking back two offers from housing commission will either move you back down to the bottom of the list, or get you kicked off it altogether).

On the downside, expect your bond to be $1,500 or more, and you need to cough this up before you can sign the lease. Your bond will generally cost the same as 4 weeks of rent, and you don’t get this money back until you move out. If you trash the place or don’t pay the real estate people as specified, your bond may be gone for good.

I also had a lot of other costs to consider before taking the plunge and signing the lease, such as electricity, gas, water and other things like that. As this isn’t the 1990s, I didn’t feel the need to get a landline phone connection. I also decided against getting Foxtel, as I’d probably never leave the lounge again.

Hic!

There was a bit of a hiccup with this process, and that hiccup was me. See, funnily enough, the idea of choosing to pay eight times as much rent was almost a physically painful decision to make. It would mean parting with tens of thousands of dollars every year, and that kinda sucked a lot of the fun out of the search.

However, if this was just a money issue then I would have gone with houso. But getting my own place was about more than numbers: it was about grabbing hold of that final rung of independence, of reaching that level of freedom that had been hovering out of my grasp until now. Seeing as though I’d completely ditched the pension some time ago (expect an article on the subject), this would be the point when I was officially free of government assistance altogether.

And hey, rent is MEANT to be expensive.

Move it, move it

Col strikes again! Once he got back from long service leave, Col helped me move my stuff from the share house to my new flat. It took half a dozen trips thanks to the ridiculous amount of useless things I’ve gathered over the years. For the most part, though, it was just a matter of dragging around boxes and bags.

We encountered a couple of problems, along the way, though: some of my existing furniture was too big to get through my new front door, and it was too heavy for two of us to drag up the stairs, anyway. Thankfully, we figured this out before bothering to get it out of the group home.

If you don’t have too much stuff, then it might be a good idea to get your friends to help you with this part of the transition, as a professional moving crew will set you back hundreds (or more). Honestly? I felt slack for getting Col involved in such a massive ordeal, even though he was happy to help. Cheers, Col!

Furniture

I’ve saved some money over the years for the specific purpose of furnishing my future home. Sure, Fantastic Furniture was the cheapest option, but I could afford to go a little better: Super Amart.

Surprisingly, not only was I able to stay within my budget, but I spent less than half of what I’d expected, and only a third of what I was prepared to part with. Success!

Better yet, delivery was a flat $90, even if you buy half the store. The items all arrived in good condition, as promised, and the delivery guys even placed all the boxes where I wanted. Besides the seven hours of wall-kicking frustration it took to assemble everything, my experience with Super Amart was a good one.

Adjusting

When it was all over and I’d formally moved in, I only had one more obstacle to overcome. You see, for the last fifteen years I’ve had heaps of people within a matter of metres. I was never alone. So I have to admit that the first few nights were a bit difficult. Thankfully, my mates were only a phone call away, so it’s not like I was living in an igloo in the Arctic. Plus, my wedding was getting really close by this point.

It took well over a week to get everything unpacked and arranged and sorted, and over that time I’d gotten used to the solitude. It’s not like I was starved for human contact: I work five days a week with a bunch of people who I like, and I’m involved with numerous community groups. So although living alone took some time to accept, it wasn’t insurmountable. Now, three months in, it’s just business as usual.

Many options

Although I wasn’t able to qualify for it, it’s definitely worth applying for subsidised housing before you go the private route. Flourish Australia is one such housing provider. If you have any further questions about HASI and getting your own home for below private rental rates (in addition to other forms of support), please contact the HASI team at:

Nepean: (02) 9393 9350

Queanbeyan: (02) 9393 9213

Newcastle: (02) 9393 9745

Dubbo: (02) 9393 9555

Tamworth: (02) 9393 9433

www.housing.nsw.gov.au/social-housing/partnerships/housing-and-mental-health/housing-and-accommodation-support-initiative

 

Hey, you!

Do you have a story about applying for housing, moving house or something else along those lines? We’d love to hear your story, so contact us today!

grant.everett@flourishaustralia.org.au

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