Sunday, June 6, 2010

Rent Money is Dead Money

This story appears in today's 88th edition of Shift Miner Magazine. You can read the current issue, and a number of back issues, here.

I haven't had any hate-mail yet; but I'll keep you all informed.

Matt was happy to live in a rented house. He didn't plan to spend his whole working life in the mines, and there was less financial risk than buying. Matt was happy renting, but Jo, his wife, wasn't. "Rent money is dead money," she'd say.

After a few months of persuasion, Matt wasn't so happy to rent any more either. They'd been saving more money than he'd thought, and if the mining boom kept up they might even make a tidy non-taxable capital gain. They talked about what they wanted in a house, and started looking. Jo found a place on Maraboon Street that she liked the look of, and booked an inspection with Dawn, the real estate agent. Matt got off work early to come along.

Dawn was a plump, middle-aged lady in a slightly too small black skirt. She had a bubbly personality, and wore too much jewellery, perfume and make-up. She was too much all round, Matt thought; but he smiled, shook her hand, and got in the back seat of her car beside Jo.

In a few minutes they were outside the Maraboon Street place. "Can we go in now?" asked Jo, unlocking her seatbelt.

"No, this house is occupied. We need to give the tenants a few days notice first."

Jo said nothing. Matt was confused, and asked her, "Didn't you make this appointment last week, so we could look inside that house?"

Jo nodded and shrugged. Matt shook his head.

Dawn perked up. "I've got a great home I can show you around that I think is really undervalued. No tenants. I've got the keys here." She took them to a house near the river.

Matt looked suspiciously up an down the street. He'd seen the peak river levels in this area during the 2008 flood. "We're not interested in areas that were affected by the flood," he said.

Dawn said, "You can still get flood insurance for this property."

"Our flood insurance will be to buy a house that wasn't half filled with water."

She didn't seem to like that, but wasn't easily put off. She jostled out toward the house to open it up.

Jo shrugged again. "We may as well look inside while we're here."

There were a lot of things that Matt felt like saying, but he held them all in, and was almost immediately glad that he had. He let Jo lead him by the hand into the house.

Dawn showed them around. The place had two bedrooms and a two-way bathroom. They wanted three bedrooms and an en suite.

"I should tell you, said Dawn, "that there was termite damage found during the repairs after the flood."

Matt snorted, and got two dirty looks. He commented that it didn't look like a very big block. "How many square metres is it?"

"I'm not exactly sure," said Dawn.


"I've got all that in the car," she said. "I'll look it up for you. It has a lovely gourmet kitchen."

Matt thought his head was going to explode. "Hold it right there," he said, raising his hands in the air. "I really need to clear some things up."

Dawn looked at him expectantly; plastic smile in place.

"We may not have been clear enough. We are interested only in three bedroom houses, with an en suite, on at least a 700 square metre block, in areas not affected by the 2008 flood. Do you have any houses meeting those criteria?"

Jo looked either embarrassed or about to laugh. Matt could see Dawn's mask slipping.

"Yes," she said after a moment. "The home on Maraboon Street."

"Great. And when Jo called you last week, did she say that we wanted to inspect that property during this appointment today?"

"She was certainly interested, but they really are asking too much for that place. Especially for a lovely young couple like yourselves, buying your first place. This home here is really affordable, and I think, quite undervalued."

Matt realised that his prejudice against estate agents had just became a genuine loathing. He took a deep breath in, and then out. "I think we're done here," he said at last, and walked out of the house towards the car.

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