Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The Aussie Class System

Naturally clean

I think it is safe to say we chose badly.
I am referring to our choice of a rental house to move into while our home is being extended. In retrospect, and even though we only received the keys to this new residence of ours just a few days ago, it is obvious the place has some severe issues. We will learn to live with these issues; it’s not like we moved to a dump. Regardless, I do consider the analysis of the reasons that drove us to this failure to offer some interesting insight.
Here goes.

Failure #1 – decision making under pressure:
Upon entering our new place immediately after signing its lease contract, it immediately became clear to us the place is too small for our needs. It will do, but we will have to be creative with our storage solutions – too creative for comfort. Why did the place that looked so attractive to us when we inspected it seem unsuitable to us at present?
In my opinion the answer is to do with human psychology. The place we ended up renting happens to be one of the very first we inspected; by the end of this process, which saw us looking at around twenty properties, our observations skills were much sharper. It seems as if the mental comparison we were making between those first places we looked at and the latter wasn’t as good as we thought it to be; in retrospect, it was clearly biased. Since we there was no motivation for us to cheat ourselves here, the experience seems to shed some non complimentary light on our perceived ability, as humans, for rational decision making.
Any human limitations we might have are fully exploited by the professionals – my much beloved real estate agents – as they sell prospective renters a place. Starting with the restriction of property inspections to 15 minute long sessions, some of which are fairly crowded, various basic Selling 101 techniques are applied on the customer in order to prevent rational decision making and push for the rash one. Who cares if, after you’ve made the financial commitments, you find your new place to be not as rosy as you thought it to be? Certainly not the real estate agent.

Failure #2 – the new house factor:
We should have thought of it before (but we obviously didn’t). There is a price to be paid when moving into a brand new house, and that is the unavoidable encounter with various teething problems that only the first tenant will ever have to deal with.
By far the most striking of these teething problems is the way in which the washing room seems to have been designed so as to avoid the accommodation of a washing machine. There is a compartment one is meant to place the washing machine at, but that compartment is blocked from above (leave your top loaders behind!) and no drainage facilities are provided. Who was the idiot that came up with this design?
In typical fashion, the real estate agent started telling us how people don’t use top loaders anymore due to water inefficiencies and how people "she knows" turned very creative with masking tapes when it came to the running of washing machines at their rental properties. They’re good at talking, aren’t they, the agents? They aren’t good at doing, though, because as I type we are still unable to run a washing machine (and unable to solve the problem ourselves as we are not allowed to touch a rental’s hardware).
Plumbing problems are not limited to the washing room. It appears a special talent was hired to do the plumbing on this house of ours: yesterday the bathroom tap started leaking; by night time it was running freely. You don’t need to manually operate the tap at our place – it’s automatic! Then there is the kitchen tap, which feels more like the gear stick on an old Fiat.
Dumb design issues are not limited to the washing room, though. The shower is fitted with a screen that has a fashionable gap in the middle, allowing one to spray fashionable water all over the place while showering. Winning the “dumbest design feature of all” competition, though, are the trees planted along the very narrow and lengthy driveway leading to this rear unit house of ours: trees, in case you didn’t notice, have branches that like to expand. Who cares if they will grow to render the driveway unusable?
There is a recurring theme with all these problems: there is no way one can be expected to pick on them during a 15 minute inspection.

Failure #3 – greed:
Greed has its stamp anywhere you look at our new house. It is imprinted on the washing room, a room built using leftover kitchen furniture instead of being designed the way a washing room should be. It is in the look and feel of every little item, designed to look flashy and fashionable but falling apart the second you touch it (did I mention the toilet lever?). It is in the thin walls and windows that reflect the weather outside quite accurately, albeit with a somewhat less windy presentation.
Greed is reflected in the way the house has been described to us by the real estate agent: not as a brand new house built at the edge of an existing house (as Google Maps and Bing photos clearly show), but as a recently refurbished house. Greed is reflected in the house not having a phone socket installed, the agents signing forms saying it does, and then us having to do all the chasing around (eventually earning the right to install one socket!).
Greed is reflected in the house being offered for rent without it even having a mailbox of its own. Greed is reflected in the house’s tiny rooms, meant to make the place sound appealing when looked at on an Internet page but not when actually trying to store stuff inside.
The story is clear. Our new house is a classic investment property, built with short term thinking to maximize the revenues of its owner before they rid themselves of it when house prices rise again. We were not knocked off our feet in surprise when the agent told us our landlord is a developer; it’s the classic Australian real estate story of the rich buying old houses to erect new ones with the least possible effort so they can take full benefit of Australia’s twisted taxing system, a system where the ownership of a house becomes, in effect, a very low risk money printing scheme.

It is now clear to me there is a three tier class system in Australia:
  1. Those that own their own house as well as investment properties (tax benefits make the mortgage issue meaningless).
  2. Those that only own their own house.
  3. Those that can’t afford ownership and have to rent.
We won the privilege of feeling this class system in the flesh by virtue of sampling third class from the heights of the second. We sampled greed, and we sampled the greed motivated process to drive lowly renters into financial commitments they would rather not make if they were able to think through rationally. And like a well crafted Ponzi scheme the wheels keep on turning, grinding the meat of most Australians as it rolls along a delusionary endless downhill spiral.

Image by dhammza, Creative Commons license

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