There’s a house being built next door to the Best House in Melbourne. We moved into the Best House in Melbourne 20 months ago when there was a derelict old cottage on the block next door. Within a couple of months, it was demolished and about 15 months ago building commenced. I met the young couple who owned it and the husband said that they’d be in by Christmas 2017. That seemed a long time to me, but he said that they’d factored in the delays that every building job seems to have and so that was the date they’d set themselves to.
At first, work went hammer and tongs. There were people there every day and the place grew quickly. Not the most attractive house, just between you and me, but at least it wasn’t an apartment block looming over us, which is the sort of thing that’s getting built in our old neighbourhood.
Then all work fell silent. At first, we thought that maybe the builder was juggling jobs and they’d soon be back. But month after month went by with any workmen on the property becoming a rarity, something the boys would tell me when I got home as a thing that made the day a little different.
Over winter, the house appeared to deteriorate a little. The black paint they’d used on the top storey started to look as though it needed to have another couple of coats. There were windows on the upper floor that flapped open and shut if the wind was in a certain direction and nobody ever came to fasten them. There was blue plastic that appeared between the bricks and the deck at the front and flapped in the wind and it was never tidied up. There was clearly a story there, but nobody knew what it was.
A couple of days before Christmas day, I opened my ensuite window and saw that the makeshift wooden front door was hanging off its hinges. ‘Oh no’, I thought, also thinking (because I have an enormous brain that can think many things at once) that maybe some local yokels had broken in for kicks the night before. If so, they were remarkably quiet, because my room is on that side and I hadn’t heard a thing. If I could’ve notified the owners I would have, but without any way to contact them I thought I’d just keep an eye on the place. Maybe now it was holidays the owners would come down to have a look at the place and fix the door.
Christmas came and went. The door looked as if someone maybe propped it shut but a day later it was wide open again. Yesterday my sister and her husband came to spend a couple of weeks at our place while they rented their house out to holidaymakers. My brother-in-law is a chippie (‘carpenter’ for Americans) and he suggested that we go in and see if we can secure the door, while having a little sticky-beak at the same time. I love looking at houses and house plans, so I was in.
We untied the wire at the front that was holding the mesh fence together and we walked up to the house.
“That’s odd,” said Francis. “Have a look at this. This deck’s been screwed together, but they’ve pulled up this patch of it.” Right beside the front door was a hole in the timber deck. He was right, you could see where the support beams had been screwed into, yet quite a big patch of the decking was now gone. We then turned our attention to the front door.
All it was was 2 big bits of flat timber, with round door holes that were clearly meant to have a chain and padlock through them. A length of chain with a closed padlock lay on the deck. Francis wrestled with the left hand one and we stepped inside.
It was one long room. The strange thing about it, as we soon worked out by the gas and plumbing fixings sticking out of the walls, was that when you open the front door you step straight into the kitchen. The island bench separating the kitchen from the lounge room was right in front of the door. Not sure that’d be my cup of tea, but I suppose it’d make unloading the groceries from the car a bit quicker!
We started walking around the place. There was a ladder so we went up it to the second storey. It soon became very obvious that there were major things wrong. The shower recesses both had floor to ceiling windows with timber frames in them. How would you be able to waterproof them? The places where the shower heads would go were nowhere near the middle of the lowered floor for the shower recesses. You have to shower with your body glued up to the glass of the shower. There were airconditioning systems installed with the outlets smashed up against bulkheads, which would have to be cut through if any cool air would ever reach the bedrooms. There were notes scrawled on the walls from (presumably) the builder to his workers, telling them off for doing things wrong and telling them to fix things. Windows were put in crooked and then the outer walls have been bricked up, leaving them there permanently on an angle, sometimes with gaps beside them to the outside world.
The design was also a little different. The position of the kitchen was the first thing we noticed. The staircase would have to go directly in front of a massive floor to ceiling window. The 3 balconies on the top floor are too narrow to fit a chair on. Why bother having them? The side deck between my house and theirs is lovely, but the back deck has 4 brick pillars that hold up the back bedroom upstairs going right through the middle of the deck. There’s no room for a table and chairs. Apparently their fridge is going into the laundry at the back of the house. The master suite has a huge walk-in wardrobe, but the actual bedroom has hardly enough space to sidle around the end of a bed.
As we wandered through, Francis was focussed on the building job, whereas I started to get sorrier by the minute for the young couple who were the owners. Ok, so the design was definitely not something I would have picked, but that’s their decision and they obviously liked it. But the workmanship! David24 said to me that there were a lot of young boys working on it, so I guess the builder was trying to cut costs by using kids who really didn’t know what they were doing.
I pictured the owners, all excited about building their dream home, telling their little children that they’d be in their brand-new bedrooms in time for Christmas, planning the barbeques and beach walks they’d be having … and then slowly having their dream turn to ashes. Francis said as we were on our way out that it looked to him as if the owner maybe called in an independent building inspector who marked down all the things that were substandard and then work ground to a halt. Imagine how disappointing.
This morning, as I was typing this, I heard the fence rattle at the front of next door and the dogs started barking at the fence. I went out onto the verandah, fetchingly attired in my bathrobe and pyjamas, and the owner was there showing a friend around. He heard me talking to the dogs and called out to me.
I told him that Francis and I had gone in there only yesterday and secured the door as much as we were able and we swapped phone numbers just in case anything like that happened again. I then asked, “So what’s the story? Why haven’t you been able to move in yet?”
He shot a look at his friend and said, “That’s a story for another time.”
Damn! I thought.
“Ok,” I said. “We’ll have a glass of wine once you’re in and you can tell me then.”
“I’m a nurse,” he said. “So if your heart stops while I’m telling you what happened I’ll know how to keep you alive.”
That doesn’t sound good, I thought.
I laughed and said, “My brother-in-law’s a chippie and he had a quick look around.”
He nodded and said, “Yeah. When a job’s not done the way it was promised, then work stops.” He nodded back towards the house and said,” The plaster’s been delivered. Work’ll start in January sometime, but we won’t put anything valuable in until after school goes back, just in case. It’ll move quick once things get started. They’ve even smashed the front door.”
They say that your home is probably the most expensive thing you’ll ever purchase. I really feel for them as they pay more rent than they would have budgeted for while their build drags on. With anyone even contemplating building their own house, it’s so important to keep your finger on the pulse and check all along the way if things are compliant with the appropriate building code for your area. This young couple will more than likely move into their house sometime next year. But I can’t help but feel that the shine has been taken off it a bit.
I suppose that the moral of the story is: Do your research… and then keep looking over their shoulders! Nobody cares more for your money and your time than you do.