Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Apartment Search (Part 1)

People thought I was crazy moving to another country without having an apartment lined up. This, out of all of the other stresses with moving onto the other side of a planet, was the least of my worries. Growing up, I moved a lot. Each of my parents moved several times and between multiple states. Every year I would spend the summer and every other holiday with my Dad. And at least once a year I would visit family in West Virginia and Illinois. I have grown to be extremely adaptive to new environments and sudden change. 

I didn't go into this move completely blind. I spent the last few months before leaving America looking online at apartments in the Melbourne area. While many looked amazing, it seemed best to wait and see them all in person before agreeing to anything. I had no idea what Melbourne was like, let alone it's individual suburbs. Pictures can be beautiful, with artfully written descriptions, but until you go to that place, there is no way to know if it is all true.  

When I arrived in Melbourne, I went straight to my hotel in St. Kilda. Three days were originally booked at the hotel. Between wandering around the town I searched for apartments. After a day or two of searching, I decided that I was looking in the wrong places. There had to be more apartments available than what i was finding. So, as I left the hotel one afternoon, I asked the brunette Australian lady where she would look if she were trying to find a local apartment; she gave me a website address. While walking down the street that same afternoon, I went into a local real estate agency. The woman working there gave me a pamphlet of their listings as well as two websites that are commonly used by agencies to advertise in the area. 

I went back to the hotel to search through the information from the real estate agent, but the only apartments I could find with weekend showings (or Inspection Times, as they say here) were ones that required 12 month leases. I don't plan on staying in Melbourne my entire time abroad, so that wouldn't work. Next, I looked at the website the hotel lady gave me. This website is called Gumtree. It seems to be the Australia equivalent of how we use Craigslist in America. You can find free items, great apartments, and a good hitman all in one place! (Half sarcasm on that last one.) I began emailing every person with a decent place that I could find. Out of dozens of emails, a handful wrote back, and out of those, a few matched my guidelines.

Morgan's Apartment Guidelines
1- I must be confident that I will not be murdered or in physical danger by a sketchy location or people.
2- There must be good public transportation nearby. (At least until I can get look the correct way when I cross the road. Then I might be able to pursue driving here.)
3- I must be able for afford at least three months of rent without question. (Will be working in addition.)
4- The apartment must have wifi internet. Otherwise, I wouldn't be able to post this charming blog!
5- It must have a maximum lease of 6 months.

Even with these apartments lined up, I still needed to add one additional day to my hotel stay. The first place I visited was owned by a mid-twenties Australian couple, Annie and Jess. Their house sat in the middle of West Melbourne, an industial town. Despite the overall lack-luster of the town, the house was very close to a railway station and only a few blocks walk to all the essentials. Annie and Jess rented out two bedrooms, one upstairs near theirs and one downstairs by the kitchen. The upstairs room was occupied by a 25 year old Dutch girl with a name something like Nina. The house was older and a bit run down, but keep it tidy. The oven didn't work and the knob for the bath was the same knob for the sink, as they lost a knob a few years previously. They rented out their rooms for 1-4 weeks for travellers mostly. It was an expensive room, but not overpriced based on similar options, and definitely cheaper than a hotel. Like most apartments in the area, you pay for one week at a time, at the beginning of each week. They were very nice and we made friendly small talk about ourselves as they showed me through their house. I informed them that I had a few other apartments to see that day, but would call them in the evening to let them know what I decided. 

The next apartment was in St. Kilda, approximately five miles from my hotel. I took the train from West Melbourne to St. Kilda and then a bus to the address. As I walked up to the house, it was obvious the front door was not the main entrance. It was overgrown with plants and there werent any pathways leading up to it. I walked down the driveway, and found a side door to the house wide open. Just by peering in from outside I could see two rooms lined with bunkbeds. I leaned in and knocked. After 0.001 seconds I decided nobody was home and turned to leave. To my disappointment, a young-twenties guy popped his head out of the door and asked if I was Morgan. I said that I was, but I didn't think I was interested in the house after seeing it. He explained that he was from France and wasn't thrilled about the house either. It was always messy and dirty and loud. But it was cheap and in a decent area of town. Plus nearly everyone in the house were backpackers from various places, like himself. I glanced around the house. It was filled with people. I asked how many people lived there. He replied that he wasn't quite sure. "At least fifteen, but only one girl." He tried to make up for that fact by informing me that the girls get their own room, and it's big since there are so few girls to share the space. I thanked him for showing me around and being so honest about the place, but that I was still not interested. 

Upon leaving the second house and arriving at the bus stop, I realized something important. I had no idea how to get back into town. Should I use the same bus that I came on, or would that just take me away from where I needed to go? Should I take a different bus? How would I know which bus to get on? Even though it was a five mile walk back, I was pretty positive I could find my way without trouble, so that's what I did. With the exception of saying "Hello" to some chickens, the walk back was uneventful. 

After seeing the second place, which did not fit into my guidelines, I was a little hesitant to see the third. The guy that owned the third house was only available to show me around at 9:00pm at night. The town it was in was Abbotsford. I asked around and it seemed like a pretty okay area. I tried calling family for a second opinion on if I should even look at this apartment. That is when I learned that Australia evening is America middle of the night. Sorry family! I decided I would go see the place, but if if the area looked sketchy at all, I would hop right back on the next returning train and not worry about it. When I got there it was brightly lit with a decent crowd of perfectly sober people walking around. The house was very close to the train station and, boy was it a nice house! I rang the doorbell and a tall, awkward tewnty-something answered. He seemed to be European, but his English was broken. He did understand, however, that I was there to see Frank, the property owner. He ran upstairs and came back with an Asian Australian twenty-something following. Frank shook my hand and welcomed me inside. The house was huge and beautiful. Like the second house, people shared rooms. Unlike the other place, each person had thier own bunk bed with a desk and drawers underneath. All rooms were coed, and everything was clean and orderly. In the kitchen an Indian guy was cooking a large dinner to share, in a bedroom a British guy was listening to music on his laptop, and upstairs an Italian girl was organizing some paperwork. The price was a great deal, and I decided that I wanted a bed there. It was at this time that Frank informed me that the last available bed was just taken. He assured me that I would be next in line and should be able to get a bed within only a couple days. If the guy ahead of me didn't put in his security depost (or "bond") within 24 hours, it would go to me. Frank also let me know that he had one tenant planning on moving out within the week as well. Regardless he would call me in the morning with an update.

To get back all I had to do was take a train and then a tram and I would be at my hotel. While this had been my first day ever using public transportation, it had gone rather smooth. I did not take into consideration my sleepy brain when deciding to see the last house. That was a mistake. The train ride went well. It was the very last tram ride of the night that threw me off. I should have been back at the hotel no later than 9:45pm. Instead, I got back at midnight. What went wrong? Well, the same number trams go in two different directions. I took the wrong direction. When I figured this out, I decided to get off the tram and grab a different one. Did I take time out to make sure I was getting off at a stop that had the correct tram? No, of course not. So, once I was off the tram and it had left, I realized that the only other tram coming to that stop didn't go anywhere near where I needed to go. But I had no other choice, so I took it. My plan was to watch carefully and get off at a stop that I could catch a correct tram from. This opportunity never came. The tram just kept getting farther away. Finally, with some reasonable about of shame, I walked over to the driver to ask for advice. He informed me that we were quite far away from St. Kilda and that I was on the wrong tram. I acted as if this fact wasn't blatantly obvious from the beginning. Thankfully, he said he would turn the tram around and direct me where to go. He very kindly even got out of the tram and showed me what number and direction tram I needed to take me straight back. I did exactly as directed and walked into the hotel dog tired and starving, after not eating since brunch. (Never had bad jet lag with sleep, but meal times are still all over the place.) The Australian man working at the hotel offered to make me some "chips n' wedges." Once he explained that those are what we Americans call French fries, I politely refused, and ordered a pizza from Dominos instead. 

The next morning I woke up at 10:00am freaking out. My check out time was at 11:00am and I still didn't have a definite place to go to. I called Frank. He said that the first guy had put in his bond, so that bed was taken, and the second guy decided to not move out for another month. So I called Annie. She said that a few other people had wanted the room and she thought Jess might have already rented it out. She'd give me a call back. I showered and organized my things as i waited. Annie called me back and said that the room was all mine, but only for a week. I could come over immediately. I checked out of the hotel and lugged all of my things by tram and train to the room. 

Since I was in such a rush to leave the hotel, I didn't have time to stop my the bank to get my rent. Annie directed me to Errol Street (Which sounds like arrow) to find an ATM. The ATM I found was in a grocery store. That was perfect! I could buy groceries, get the money, and head back. But the ATM rejected the same card I had just purchased food with. There was a bank nearby, so I went in to see if they could help. They did all they could to get the money from my account, but said it was a problem on my bank's side. After a long time waiting and a few dropped calls, I discovered what happened. My American bank knows that I'm in Australia, but they don't take into account exchange rates when money is withdrawn. So, when I take out an even amount of cash in Australian dollars, it looks like I took a random amount out in American dollars. Due to the odd amounts I was withdrawing, they decided to be extra thorough by disabling and deactivating my account. I had to talk to two different departments to get my account and card working again. After all this, I was finally able to get money and pay rent. 

1 comment:

  1. Well, you wanted an adventure. I'd say you're off to a fantastic start. Hopefully, having this bed for a week will give you time to find something more permanent. Best of luck.