• Ian Rose never suspected home ownership would lead to the depths of renovation hell. Wannabe first-time buyers should be careful what they wish for, he writes. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Owning a home isn’t the meadow full of song-birds and flowers first-time buyers might imagine. Especially not when it leads to renovation hell, writes Ian Rose.
By
Ian Rose

28 Mar 2017 - 12:05 PM  UPDATED 28 Mar 2017 - 12:24 PM

House prices hit the headlines again last week, to a collective ho-hum. Melbourne could reach its million dollar median as early as the end of next year, yelped Domain chief economist, Andrew Wilson.

Meanwhile, wannabe first-time buyers lament a game that’s rigged to favour fatcat investors, and keep fingers crossed that the market crashes, the government makes nice on affordability policy or their lottery numbers come in. Anything that might help them get a toe-hold on that slippery old property ladder.

And I can’t help thinking: be careful what you wish for.

Because this home “ownership” scene might seem a hot ticket from the outside, but life on the inside sure can suck, and leave you feeling like the sucker.

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I resisted it for years, getting a home-loan. I became a dad at 40 and bought a house with my partner about nine months later, in belated, double-whammy concessions to being a proper grown-up.

If you look at the prices for our area around the turn of last decade, you’ll see that they went through a spell in the doldrums, but that, during the spring of 2009, there was a brief but spectacular spike. Just at the apex of that spike, that tippy-top peak that came just before it plummeted again, right there - that’s when we bought our house. Money and me have never been easy companions.

But it’s not enslavement to home-loan repayments that grills my current beef with “ownership”. It’s not even the fact that owning your own house means having to fix the bits that fall off and break, rather than just give the landlord a call, undignified and dispiriting though all that stuff is (and don’t get me started on paying rates).

What’s got me regretful of ever having stepped inside an open-for-inspection, ever having let those smirking real-estate agents glad-hand me, is Renovation Hell. Renovation Hell is where you’ll end up, sooner or later, once you “own” a home, and it’s where I’ve been living for five, long weeks.

Because this home “ownership” scene might seem a hot ticket from the outside, but life on the inside sure can suck, and leave you feeling like the sucker.

When it comes to home improvements, I’ve never been what you’d call an enthusiast. Changing a light-bulb is about the extent of my skill-set, handyperson-wise, and even that can be touch-and-go.

The wall between the front room and the kitchen never bothered me, and neither did the cabinets or the in-built wooden pantry in the corner. My partner, on the other hand, has always found those things an affront to her sensibilities, and when she came into a small pay-out from her last job, and then had a serendipitous encounter with a handsome workman engaged on some odd-jobs next door, her project fell into place. Who was I to stand in its way, to kill her vibe with my lack of vision and all-round uselessness?

My negative gripes were briskly pooh-poohed. Can-do man from next door, with his muscles, gleaming smile and hazy credentials, got the gig and, to be fair, he did seem very cheap.

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Uh-huh. Turns out there was a good reason for that. Oh, and he wasn’t that cheap, after all. And more of a can’t do man, really.

Four weeks, a hole in the wall, a bunch of mismatched cabinets of risible quality, several buggered floorboards and three-and-a-half grand later, can’t-do-man has been persuaded to sling his hook, and we’re going to have to shell out for someone who knows what they’re doing to finish the job.

It’s amazing how much space the contents of a kitchen can take up, once released. It’s a kind of anti-TARDIS effect. For over a month now, the fridge has been in the middle of our living room, surrounded by bags and boxes of food, my workspace has been covered with teetering piles of crockery and a visit to the toilet presents an obstacle course of drawers filled with cutlery, tea towels and food-wrap. I wander around the place with battered shins, in hopeless search of the salt, and my sanity.

Even if the government does something meaningful about housing affordability in the budget, or those lottery numbers come in, don’t be too hasty in entering the ownership fray.

(De facto) marital relations are strained, every conversation crackling with unspoken “I told you so”s and “well if it was down to you we’d never do a thing to the place, would we, eh?”s. I’ve even started smoking again.

Wannabe first-time home buyers, take my smoky, saltless, sorry state of dejection as a warning. Even if the government does something meaningful about housing affordability in the budget, or those lottery numbers come in, don’t be too hasty in entering the ownership fray.

Be wary of chief economists spruiking a market which is due for correction. Part of me hopes it comes, that savage correction, that the whole house of cards which is Australia’s grossly inflated and unjust housing market comes tumbling down. But then there’s the other part of me, my frail and selfish heart, the one that beats in fear of negative equity.

No, I don’t want house prices to crash. We’ve got too much to lose.

Though to look at the kitchen, you’d think we want to destroy it ourselves.

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