You know, when you finally pluck up the courage to ask out the best looking girl in your class at school (the really hot one with the legs), and she turns out to be rather dull, but with a rabid interest in White Supremacist politics.
Such was my experience recently. A potential client called to ask me to complete a rental appraisal on a city house which he described as “a scruffy student flat at the lower end of the market”. Using the word “lower” as a descriptive implies that there’s possibly still a little way to go to get to the bottom of the scale.
The address of the property led me into thinking this would be a pretty good addition to our rent roll. After all, it was an inner city house in a quiet and desirable street, walking distance to the city, and had three bedrooms and a garden. What could possibly be wrong with that?
Thus I found myself standing in front of a classic city homestead which the local historical society had seen fit to slap a preservation order on, preventing the owner for several years from doing what he wanted to do – skittle the building and develop two townhouses on this slice of prime central real estate.
“Can tell us how much rent we could get for this?” said my client.
I’m not sure if it was the tall tufts of grass sprouting from the buckshot-riddled spouting, or the front porch walkway leaning at a jaunty 30 degree angle, patched with springy chipboard and full of holes, that gave me the first indications all was not well.
A cursory glance through the (opaque with grime) windows forced me to re-evaluate. “Oh’” I thought. “Oh, oh dear, oh dearie me….”
Closer inspection brought the full terror of reality hurtling towards me. Scrim walls with waves a Raglan surfie would salivate at were rippling in every room. Tired, chipped and stained paintwork on every surface, a carpet that looked like the Melbourne Cup race had cantered across it, and a livingroom with what I can only describe as a ‘fire-hole’ rather than a fireplace.
The wooden floor in the livingroom wasn’t polished, waxed or sealed – someone had just one day decided to rip up the carpet, and left it at that. For about 50 years.
The kitchen had a Victorian air to it, and I don’t mean Victoria, Australia. There was a two ring electric stove cowering in one corner that really should have been in a Te Papa exhibit a long time ago, and the whole area was covered in a thin but tactile film of dust-covered cooking fat. The only thing on the menu from this kitchen must have been pork chops and deep fried whale blubber.
“And where is the toilet?” I innocently asked.
“Oh, it’s an outside toilet. Just go out the back door…”
So I advised. It probably wasn’t what he wanted to hear really, but he listened anyway. Drawing on my years of experience in the property arena, I considered all the options, asked a few pointed questions to grasp an understanding of his plans and intentions, and following some deliberation I delivered an option that I felt was the only suitable course for him to consider.
“Stick of dynamite, mate. Blow the thing up.”
His blank stare could have been interpreted as disbelief at what I’d just said, but deep in his facial expression there was something else. A hint of something flashed in his eyes, and it took a while to figure it out. I really thought I’d stepped over the line, and insulted my client, but after a second or two his expression changed.
He was relieved. His whole demeanour changed, and he started to become quite animated.
“I knew it!” he exclaimed. “I tried to tell everyone, but they wouldn’t listen” he exalted.
Now it was my turn to be confused. But as he spoke, the story unfolded. This property was in the centre of a family dispute, with one faction wanting to sell, one faction wanting to keep the status quo, and one faction wanting to develop the site.
They’d been constrained by the preservation order, unable for years to do something about a property which I’m sure the neighbours already had plans to burn down quietly one night. It was an eyesore, a blight on the genteel landscape of this enclave of prime inner city real estate.
And now they had a demolition consent, and the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle was being told they couldn’t rent it out in this state. The best course of action was to drive a digger through the middle of it, erasing this carbuncle from the face of the city, and begin to make the land work for them as an investment.
So what did I learn from this? Well I certainly discovered that some people have pretty low standards that they’re prepared to inflict on someone else and expect to get paid for it. And I learned that, at some point, common sense has to kick in and open your eyes to what’s staring you in the face.
But I think the big learn for me was to expect the unexpected, and I thank Douglas Adams for that.