Today we continue the journey with Karen and Gene on their move to Tasmania.
The Home Search continues
By the end of the first week we wondered if we would find a new home as easily as we’d hoped. We approached the landlady about extending our stay by a month after the fortnight ran out, but she had other tenants coming in. Luckily she had a friend with another cottage, just around the corner, so we settled in there comfortably. Looking back, it might have been more sensible to find a holiday let closer to the area we had decided we’d like to settle in. It would have saved two hours or more of commuting every day—but on the other hand, driving around is a good way to get to know a place, and even when you get lost, you discover something.
One of the things I wanted was a good view of something nice. We’d spent 22 years on a dead-end street with views of a scrub forest, and I wanted something more expansive. My husband wasn’t all that fussy, as long as the view didn’t include close neighbours or their dogs or roosters. Since a view of something nice is almost a given anywhere in Tasmania, this was a criteria easy to fulfil.
We viewed a house way up a long, windy, scary drive north of Orford. The views were of rolling hills, the house was adequate, there was a lot of land, and some handsome chickens came with the property. The drawback here was the workshop was cramped and needed a lot of work, the house was passable but didn’t have any ‘wow factor’, and the owner was newly widowed and seemed of two minds about moving. On balance we decided this probably wasn’t the new home for us.
We looked at a large old farm house that needed a lot of work. The upside of that was the price was modest and would have allowed for hiring in subcontractors to do some of the heavy lifting. There was both a large, solid apple shed suitable for a workshop and a big open shed for cars, wood and other raw material. There was one neighbour a bit too close, and some of the fabric of the house was damp-damaged and may have been much worse than it appeared if it had been closely inspected. On balance, the amount of work required seemed a bit daunting—had we been ten years younger, no problem.
We looked at another old farmhouse that also needed a lot of work. It had a shearing shed that would make a fantastic workshop for Gene, but would need steam cleaning, gutting, insulating and re-flooring. It was a hilltop property on a dirt road, with views for miles—but it also had a water supply partly dependent on a nearby farm.
We looked at, fell in love with, and planned to make an offer on a mud brick house way out in the country, miles from anywhere at the bottom of the Channel peninsula. It had a babbling brook that supplied drinking water; it had a separate, large, studio suitable for all sorts of things including holiday rental, and it had a small workshop well back from the road. It needed work, including replacing the break-neck ship’s ladder stairs with a better arrangement, and re-doing the barely adequate kitchen, but it was relatively cheap. The grounds were magic: huge trees, a big open paddock, the brook, a tiny stone bridge, and a miniscule summer house that would just fit me, a cat, my laptop, and a pitcher of Sangria. The ground was rather damp; in fact quite boggy in spots, but it was green and healthy-looking.
The drawback was that the property’s water supply had been disconnected and the house was owned by three people in the same family, one of whom wasn’t keen on selling. Several previous sales had fallen through, we understood. This was a recipe for frustration, and reluctantly we told the agent not to submit our offer.
We’d have to keep looking.
Hint for prospective immigrants : When considering buying a fixer-upper, you need to assess just what you are committing to. It’s not just the money, it’s the time as well. How long will it take to make the house what you want it to be? Do you have small children who may be in danger from holes in walls and floors? Can you get a particular tradesman to do the particular job in the right order of things—no point in having the plasterer come in before the sparky has run all the new electric wires and outlets.
Tasmania is not like a big city where there may be 20 or 30 plumbers at the end of a mobile phone. You may have to wait for a service. And you may not like the inconvenience of living with a torn-up kitchen, or a non-functioning heating system, or other major problem.
The Home Search ends…
By now we were getting nervous: would we ever find a house we could afford, that met at least 80% of our criteria, and whose owners were able to move before October 19th, the last day of our rental?
I booked a viewing of a house which had a spectacular brochure, which made it seem grand but at the same time warm and welcoming. It had a number of outbuildings, suitable for all sorts of purposes. I wasn’t sure where it was, exactly, but it didn’t look too far from the mudbrick house we had liked.
We drove down the eastern side of the Channel Highway to see the house. We drove, and drove and drove. Just as I assumed we must have gone past it, there it was. By day it did not look as grand as the brochure, mostly of evening pictures, had made it seem. However, we were here and we might as well view it. Going up three steps to the big deck, we could see the d’Entrecasteaux Channel just across the street. It was intensely blue with tiny whitecaps; across the way Bruny Island basked like a giant sea mammal in the sun; swallows swooped and twittered around our heads, and a wisteria vine was just coming into flower on the patio. The wisteria twined around my heart at once: the house we’d sold had had a 40 year old huge wisteria which was my joy every spring. Story-book bumblebees buzzed in the wisteria, furry insects I had not seen since childhood. (They are accidental imports to Tasmania but don’t seem to have become a problem.) The house had a big open front deck and two covered side decks that were porches or verandahs, as you please. I could see us sipping gin and tonics and watching the play of light on the Channel every evening after a hard day’s work in the garden.
The house was made of weatherboards, like the house I grew up in. It had huge multi-paned front windows, as had the house in one of my favourite childhood books. By day it wasn’t as grand as the brochure suggested—in fact, it was a large seaside cottage if one had to categorise it. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) The friendly young real estate agent showed us in the front door. I noticed she’d taken off her shoes, but she said we shouldn’t bother. Indoors was a huge living room, divided by a long step in the middle, which in effect gave you two large rooms, a front lower one and a back higher one. Two large bedrooms opened off each level of the living room. At once I thought, “I could put the matched bookcases either side on the step and use them as a semi-room divider.” The total area was nearly 50 square meters—we could have fantastic parties in this room, once we met enough people to have a party.
Well, you can see what’s coming. Once you start placing your furniture in a house you view, you’ve just about sold it to yourself. The young lass from the real estate had very little work to do other than answer a few questions about the taxes, acreage and so forth.
We toured the kitchen, which was the size of half a tennis court. On the back wall hunkered a six-burner stove with an oven suitable for roasting a whole goat—which you’d need if you invited enough people to fill that huge living room. A very efficient looking hood and extractor fan hung above it. The floor was made of grey-green large tiles, and there was a cute little hutch painted to match the capacious kitchen cabinets which went with the house, the agent said.
A huge bathroom housed both a tub and a double-size shower. One of my pet peeves is tiny shower stalls with clammy, grasping curtains. This one was all glass walls and door, and moulded fibreglass back with built-in soap and shampoo holder, and a giant shower head on a flex. There was a large pantry, and a laundry room with an extra toilet. Another box ticked!
In the back of the house was a large sunny room at ground level, giving onto a concrete apron beyond which was a trench and then a steep bank which was covered with flowers and rosebushes. Off the sun room was a small room suitable for an office and a third bedroom.
Gene said, “In case of fire, no problem getting out—I’ve counted six external doors.” At the time I thought this was great, not considering that that meant six places for an absent-minded old cat to go and cry for entry or exit.
We went out one of the many doors and toured the yard. It was a glorious sunny day, you could see for miles and miles. You could see the acres and acres of green meadow that went with the house, and the further acres of tall mountain ash trees, also the large orchard with a dozen or more apple, pear, plum and mulberry trees. A fenced garden showed burgeoning growth: silver beet, carrots, potatoes, currants, blackberries and more.
There was some basic workshop space with room for improvement; plus a double chicken coop and netted run, a goat shed, and a dam full of water, waterlilies, ducks and frogs. The air was so clear you felt you could see to the south pole if not for the curvature of the Earth. A large raptor sailed in overhead.
We went away to think about the house. Other than not having a very large workshop it seemed just about perfect. The price was within our range. The nearest neighbour was a bit too near, but we thought we could live with that. We could probably look for another four weeks and not find anything we liked better. It was an 85-percenter at least.
We made an offer, it was accepted, and three weeks later we were standing on the patio, lord and lady of all we surveyed.
We will bring you more of Karen and Gene’s story in a few days. Stay tuned!