Tuesday, April 27, 2010

My Dream House is For Sale

I first saw my dream house almost 4 years ago. I now drive past it maybe three or four times a year (double that if you count the return trip). The dream has never been realistic. It fails according to several different practical criteria.
But it’s hasn’t hurt to admire the place.

The house is on the gentle slope of a hill with rows and rows of vines between it and the road. The combination of house and vines is postcard material.

["Body Double" vineyard used to protect the integrity and identity of MY dream property]

Yesterday I drove by again and saw that the place is for sale. I wasn’t prepared for such an emotional reaction. The house was available! But at the same time I knew it was unattainable.
I could never afford such a place, it is too far out of town and it would be far too much work for someone with no experience in the year-long tending of acres of vines. What a tragedy it would be to let me loose in that place, putting the vines at my mercy!

Hopefully the right people will buy the place, maintaining its appeal, continuing the pleasure it gives on those few times of year when I’m able to fuel my unrealistic dreams.

According to the real estate information on the sign outside the house, it dates back to the 1870s. There are 7 acres (not sure how many devoted to grapes). It has 4 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms and a collection of outbuildings, one of which would be suitable for a wine-tasting room. Being on a main road it could easily attract passing trade to a cellar door. The interior of the house seems to be very tastefully renovated and decorated.
Where can you find more details?
I’m not saying – just in case those Lotto balls fall in the right order.*

* And assuming someone also buys me a ticket considering I don’t buy them myself.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Imperfections of a Perfect House

Country Change part 3

After a few weeks and a lot of money spent on legal fees, we backed out of the purchase of the perfect house. Several unrelated concerns all came together to make the process of buying the place too stressful.
I’m not sure where it started, but living so far away without the chance of checking the place again didn’t help. Imagination helped to inflate a few minor concerns into potentially major problems. The legalities were taking longer than expected. Building inspections revealed a few minor problems – which as per above became imagined major problems; and the few cosmetic inadequacies started to be perceived as daunting renovation projects.

We planned to rent the place out for a couple of years until we were ready to move. It already had tenants and their lease still had a few months to run. But we hadn’t done our homework on things like landlord’s insurance and when the real estate agent started sending us brochures and forms, trying to sell us their recommended product, my ignorance of the matter started to scare me. At the same time I had been reading some real estate statistics and found that the median house price in the town was 2/3 of the amount we had agreed to pay – had we agreed to an inflated purchase price?

Then the house’s few deficiencies started to become an issue. It had no garage and the car port roof was bent. The doors on the built in wardrobes and linen cupboards weren’t fitted correctly. There was a water leak in the laundry. The access to the front door from the path didn’t have a proper step. The evaporative air-conditioning unit on the roof seemed to be too close to the chimney of the log fire. All of these were concerns that could have been easily cleared up if we had been able to see the place again.

In the end the worries took over, we dropped our plans to buy and my peace of mind was restored.

Did we do the right thing? It’s hard to say. At times it seems like we made a big mistake. The house itself was exactly what we wanted, but the block of land was probably too small. It also had the wrong aspect, facing to the west with the back garden on the east side of the house. It was a sloping block on the low side of the road, and because of the slope, the back garden would be in the shade of the house for most of the afternoon and would get full sun only in the morning. The backyard was also the smaller part of the garden with the house being built closer to the back of the block than the front. This didn’t really suit the hopes I had for the garden I was planning
We now drive past the house quite frequently and it it is easy to wonder what could have been – but in doing so we are aware that the house is further from the town than the house we eventually bought, and since Gloria doesn’t drive that could have been a problem.

For quite a while I felt a little guilty for letting the vendor down, but several months later I found out that after the failed sale, the price of the house was increased by $30,000 and sold immediately. And that was an indication of the next problem we faced – the start of a booming market.

House Hunting

Country Change part 2

How do you shop for a house in a town 400km from where you live?

At first our attempts were limited to the couple of times per year that we passed through the town on our way to visit Gloria’s family. We would take a break from our journey (which we used to complete in one day) by taking a short detour to our chosen town where we would stay overnight. This gave a few hours to check the real estate situation.
Clearly this wasn’t ideal. It would take a lot of luck to be in town at just the right time when that perfect house came onto the market. It would also give us only one chance to see a house before we had to make a decision on whether it was the right place for us.

To help our search we made a list of the things we wanted in a house. There were the essentials, and there were the desirables. After living in a small two bedroom flat for over ten years we each wanted a little space for ourselves to pursue our different interests. Gloria wanted a room for her crafts, where she could leave things out until her project was finished instead of packing everything away each day. I wanted a study/library where my books could be brought out of storage and where I’d have a suitable environment to write. We also wanted enough land to suit my ambitious gardening plans.
Other requirements were more cosmetic and not considered essential, things that would give the place a bit of character such as polished floorboards.
Overall we had a lengthy list. We were planning a major upheaval and we wanted to do it right and leave no room for regrets.

When we were looking around for a suitable town, one of the key factors was the cost of housing. We spent a lot of time looking in the windows of real estate agents, to see what kinds of properties were available and for what price. The town we eventually chose had several four bedroom houses advertised, on a few acres of land for less than a quarter of the price of a run down house in Ryde where we were then living. Our dream seemed very attainable.

When we moved on from window-shopping to actually inspecting houses, we were given a sudden reality check. Most of the houses didn’t come up to expectations. There may have been four bedrooms mentioned in the advertising, but some were so small I’m not sure how a bed would fit into them, not that we were going to use them as bedrooms, but we still needed them to be a reasonable size.
No matter how many houses we saw, there was always something lacking, nowhere had that feeling of “home” and we were becoming a little discouraged.

Then we were taken to a house that had everything. The floor plan was perfect. The house had more than we had hoped for. Some of the cosmetic requirements were missing but the layout of the house itself was exactly what we wanted. It had four very good sized bedrooms, a workable kitchen and dining room with plenty of storage and workbenches. There was a formal lounge room AND a separate, less formal family room. At the back of the house with access from the family room and the dining room was a covered veranda with views of the countryside. There were also additional rooms under the house providing a potential fifth bedroom or private guest retreat with en-suite.
We made arrangements for another viewing the next day and decided to buy it. The first significant part of our dream was becoming a reality.
Or so it seemed...

Friday, April 16, 2010

"C" - Change

Country change part 1

I can’t remember exactly when we made the decision to move from Sydney to the country, but it took many years for that decision became a reality.

We were living in a small flat and at that time we were surrounded by disruptive neighbours. What a joy it would be to live in a house with a space between us and next door instead of an inadequate common wall separating us from loud music, noisy parties and late night toilet flushing. (Not to mention the amorous nights of the couple upstairs!)

And while our security block of units had some advantages in keeping out most unsolicited visitors (sales reps, JWs etc.), it was not such an advantage when next door’s late night visitors forgot which unit they were visiting and buzzed our intercom instead, long after we had gone to bed.

There would be many advantages to living in a house. Not only would there be more privacy, we could have a garden and grow some of our own food. We could sit outside and not overlook a neighbour’s balcony only metres away. We would have more room inside and my sizable library could be brought out of boxes and put onto book shelves.

Unfortunately the cost of houses in our local area made them ridiculously out of reach. The cheaper places were being snatched up, knocked down and replaced by concrete monstrosities that barely left enough room outside for a clothesline. Even if we could have afforded somewhere, it was not the environment we wanted. The only option was to look away from the city, so we headed out west.
Due to family considerations we restricted our search for a suitable country home to a distance of four hours from the coast and we visited towns from Parkes in the north to Junee in the south. Each town had its unique attractive features but each had some disadvantages, but it didn’t take long to find the place that ticked the most boxes. Fortunately it fell almost exactly halfway between my parents on the coast and Gloria’s parents further west making occasional weekend visits possible.

Finding the right town was the easy part and our choice seemed to be perfect. It had all the necessary services and unlike other country towns, the main street was not lined with deserted shops. So with the location chosen, all we needed to find was the right house.
Note: While moves to country areas away from the coast are usually referred to as a “Tree Change”, I came across the term “C” Change a while ago, in which the “C” stands for “country” and I decided I prefered it to the more commonly used label.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Lopping, Shopping, Birthdays and Bargains.

Our local council announced it would be conducting a pickup of green waste over the next week. It is the perfect opportunity to deal with some of those bigger pruning jobs and dispose of the waste unsuitable for the compost bin.
The announcement seems to have mobilised most of the town into gardening mode. I’ve never seen so many people in their gardens with secateurs, loppers and pruning saws, and roadsides are piled with prunings. In our street it looks like someone has been planting mature kerbside shrubs and gives an idea of what it could be like if the grass nature strips were replaced with verge-side plantings like those created by Josh Byrne on Gardening Australia.

To take advantage of the council pick up we decided to deal with a few things we’ve been putting off for a while. Between our place and next door we’ve had some kind of native tree with a collection of long skinny trunks topped with fine foliage and occasional creamy coloured brush-like flowers. There were two significant problems with the tree. Firstly it was planted on top of the water and gas pipes supplying the house. Secondly, parts of it were leaning over the neighbour’s place. The latter problem has been the reason it was left alone for so long. I didn’t want to hack away at it and have it fall through their roof.

After work on Friday I made a token attempt to cut some of it back, tackling some of the lower, untidy branches leaning over my neighbour’s property. On Saturday we went out for the day and on our return found that our neighbour had continued what I had started and had removed those parts hanging precariously over his house, leaving the remaining tree looking very untidy. Sunday therefore turned into a day of tree lopping and armed with a handsaw I spent a couple of hours cutting the tree back until I was left with five, two and a half metre high stumps. It took me 45 minutes to cut the first one down as low as I could and every muscle and joint was aching. I wasn’t looking forward to the other four stumps.
At that point the neighbour across the road started up a chain saw to attack his own garden and offered to come over and finish my job. Two minutes later and it was all done and all that remained was a stump barely 30 centimetres high.

All of this was much more work than we had intended to do, but at least a major job has been completed with a lot less effort than I’d expected.

Our day out on Saturday that allowed next door to make an assault on our tree was a trip to Canberra. We did a circuit of antiques shops and galleries hoping to find a bargain or two, and since it was Gloria’s birthday we had lunch in a café at Beaver Galleries opposite the Australian Mint. We’ve been to the gallery before to look at the art glass on display but we’d never been to the café.
We both ordered Vegetable Lasagne and were amazed at how good it was. At first the serving seemed a bit stingy, with a solitary rectangle of lasagne in the middle of the plate, but the value was in the tasting and the serving size was more than adequate to satisfy our appetite (which unfortunately led us to miss following up with a serving of one of the tempting cakes on offer).
Each layer of the lasagne contained a different type of veggie; with eggplant, yellow and red capsicum and zucchini being accompanied by a subtle but tasty tomato sauce. Additional flavour was provided by a spoon of green pesto on top. It was the kind of meal that makes you want to take your time and enjoy the different flavours in every mouthful.

Our shopping trip wasn’t quite as successful as the lunch, but for the second time we unexpectedly stumbled across a piece of Helmut Hiebl glass. Until recently Hiebl was a renowned and respected glassmaker with some of his work being held in Royal Collections. I have heard that poor health has caused him to stop practising his craft. The two pieces of his work we have found recently would probably be classed as paperweights. The first shaped like an apple was purchased without realising it was his work. It was signed but we didn’t recognise the signature until we got home and compared it to a piece we already owned. On Saturday we found another signed paperweight in the form of a mushroom, however this time I recognised the signature as soon as I saw it.
In the last couple of months we’ve had quite a bit of luck with finds of art glass. Gloria found a signed piece by Peter Crisp for a few dollars in a local antique shop; we found the two signed Helmut Heibl paperweights and also, the find that most excited me was an early signed piece by Setsuko Ogishi, made in 1984 while working at the Jam Factory Craft Centre in Adelaide prior to the 1987 opening of her own Hunter valley studio and gallery.
Awareness of an artist’s work and recognition of their signatures has allowed us to find pieces priced well below their real value, although (while appreciating the lower price) the real joy is in finding and recognising the piece in the first place.


1) roadside prunings
2) the remains of our heavily pruned tree.
3) the Palette Cafe
4) Maureen Williams glass from her exhibition at Beaver Galleries.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Roses are Red – according to the promo material.

My imagined perfect Rose garden didn’t translate as desired from my mind to the garden, but I can’t deny that occasionally we get a stunning display of roses. Usually this is for a couple of weeks in spring – until the first unseasonable heatwave scorches the flowers, or they are battered by wind and rain. Considering the damage that steady rain can do to roses, I wonder how they can do well in places like England where they have been adopted as the national flower.

We also get some decent flowers in autumn, and in preparation for this year I gave mine a hard pruning in February. Maybe they haven’t flowered any better than previous autumns, but the pruning has done them no harm.

In the back garden I have a selection of David Austins. These are old-fashioned looking roses, many of which have a very pleasing fragrance. They have a reputation for having a long abundant flowering period in contrast to those genuinely older style roses that they resemble.

In my small collection I have a variety of shades of pink and two different types of white. Some of the darker pinks were supposed to be a deep red, but they didn’t live up to the advertised descriptions. Those pictured are the pale pink “Heritage” and the white is “Winchester Cathedral”.

I also have a “New William Shakespeare”. This is supposed to be a deep red but isn’t. It is also supposed to be quite resistant to problems but a little earlier today I noticed it has a terrible case of blackspot.
Others in the collection are “Hero” which has refused to flower for the last two years; “Othello” – a lovely dark pink with a very sweet fragrance like lemonade; “Mary Rose", with a VERY pink flower and “Glamis Castle”, a prolifically blooming white.

While these roses can flower profusely, I have found that the flowers are extremely delicate and drop petals very easily. Successful deadheading needs a very light touch, otherwise the scale of the task is increased; as one spent head is removed the displacement of petals leaves more heads to be dealt with.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Books of Interest

On my book blog I have reviews of two books that may be of interest.

Chocolate and Zucchini

Foxeys Hangout