The Great House Hunt

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Buying real estate sight-unseen

Here’s a question for you.

How many of you have bought a family home 9,029km from Beijing, sight-unseen?

Come to think of it, given the nature of this expat life – probably quite a few of you. But it’s our first time. We are sight-unseen real estate virgins.

Let’s just say, thank goodness I’m so busy with my work, wrapping up our lives, and pining for our Christmas holiday, because if I was somewhat idle, I’d have been committed to a home for nutbags by now.

Last week, we sold our house in Australia. It is the house my husband and I lived in when we were first married. It is the house we brought babies home to and the house first steps were taken in. It was a small house but it was idyllic, in a leafy suburb, with established gardens, a cubby house out the back and tongue-and-groove feature walls. It had a loving spirit residing within, and it’s no wonder it sold within two weeks on the market. It was a beautiful home.

Alas, it’s ours no longer. We sold it without even saying goodbye. It hasn’t hit me yet. I’m too busy to think about it, but when it does hit me, a ton of bricks will fall on my heart.

Onward. We now have to find another beautiful home to move into. In a different city, in a different Australian state.

We’ve lived temporarily in this city before, but we really don’t know much about it. We don’t know the schools, we don’t know the areas, we don’t know the good, the bad and the ugly. Thank goodness for angelic friends who have helped fill in the gaps and have spent every spare waking hour of their already manic lives, videoing dwellings and sending them by email.

What would we have done without them?

Nonetheless, despite this priceless help, this house-hunting via the internet has been an experience I wouldn’t wish on many.

From real estate agents who never get back to you, to those who like to screw with your head, to questionable schools, to pointy hills, to shady parks, to the biggest shopping centres, to dodgy zones, to pricey pockets, to double-storey, single-storey, 3-bed, 4-bed, study, pool, cubby, sprinkler systems, water tanks, caravans, quagmires and castles…

It’s been searching and seeking and pitfalls and highs, followed by excitement, hope, disappointment and disillusionment, overlaid with the uneasy awareness that we’ll have to pay a hell of a lot more for a house than we ever dreamed. Like – seriously.

It’s been tough. And we haven’t even put a single offer in yet.

Tomorrow we may be doing just that. There are two houses we’re interested in and they’re beautiful but they’re going to mean at least two years of baked bean dinners and no holidays for us for a while, no no. Will it be worth it?

How can we buy a bricks and mortar shell from the other side of the world and move in and make it a home? Isn’t a home all about the spirit that resides within? The warmth that descends on you like a rug? Doesn’t a house really choose us?

I have to have faith. I’m putting out the call and hoping it carries far across the Pacific Ocean to our new Aussie dwelling. I’m hoping our house hears us. I’m hoping this house will take us in heartily and distract us from the angst we’ll be in over leaving Beijing, which is a whole other issue.

It’s a huge life moment for our family.

For goodness sake, will someone please hurry up and invent tele-transportation? I need to beam myself into a kitchen or two! And a shopping centre… and a park… and a school…

First published on the City Weekend Beijing website.

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