Not to diminish the totally decent accommodations at Caroline Serviced Apartments, or the cleaning service 2x per week, but the hunt for permanent housing has been on since we arrived in Melbourne.

Our arrangement with S&C was that we were permitted to stay at the Caroline for 30 days, or until our belongings arrived from the U.S. The estimated time of arrival for our sea shipment was 4 weeks, with 1-2 weeks of time to clear customs, so it was conceivable that the shipment could be there as early as the first week of October (the end of our allotted 30-days).

Having heard about the housing shortage and peculiar house-hunting situation in Melbourne, and due in no small part to my desire not to pay out-of-pocket for the furnished apartment and general OCD-fanaticalness, I forced Steve to endure our first bout of apartment hunting in a jet-lagged state on our second day in Melbourne in the funky and edgy (and at times, a bit dodgy) neighborhood of Fitzroy.  Jenn had highly recommended the neighborhoods of Carlton and Fitzroy as quaint, interesting, and hip neighborhoods like Adams Morgan or U Street in D.C., and we had devised a plan to spend each Saturday focusing on a different neighborhood or suburbs of the city (Carlton, Fitzroy, St. Kilda, South Yarra, East Melbourne and South Melbourne were the contenders).  By sheer happenstance or vague familiarity from my conversations with Jenn, settled on Fitzroy for the first week. As such, we logged to online real estate search engines on our first sleepy afternoon and sized up the available listings. With four scheduled viewings and only two abysmal inspections later, we soon came to realize, there are a number of lessons learned in the search for rental housing in Melbourne.

  • If the listing has no pictures of the apartment, don’t even think about it. A listing should be similarly excluded from the running if they don’t include a map, because it’s likely (when confirmed by simply entering the address into google.maps.au) that the apartment is between two rail lines, in the middle of nowhere and miles from a tram or train station, or directly across the street from the Melbourne cemetery. 
  • If the pictures look decent, but mediocre, don’t waste your time. With the magic of photoshop, you can do wonders with cropping, enhanced lighting, and the like. If the pictures look dismal and worn, news flash, the place in person is totally dismal and worn.
  • If your price range is in the “we’ve just moved to Melbourne from a ridiculously expensive apartment in D.C. and would like to save some money” range, expect anywhere from 20-60 people to attend the inspections, and to have zero shot at a serious consideration by the landlord as Americans with pets.
  • If your standards are “we’ve just moved to Melbourne from D.C. where we lived in a contemporary, open and light-filled apartment with a fantastic terrace and all modern amenities, and should be able to find something in Melbourne for less, if not significantly less, the price we paid in D.C.”, schedule a session with a therapist to deal with the abject disappointment, or move back to D.C. now. We quickly realized that we’d be lucky to pay as much as we did in D.C. for the same standard of apartment, and that, as adorable as they may be from the street, wrought-iron decorated, charming little Victorian houses are small and dark inside, minature rooms, old carpets, non-functioning fireplaces taking up precious space in each tiny room, and out-of-date (or at least, certainly not contemporary) bathrooms and kitchens.
  • If you have a job, community commitments, or a basic desire to eat and sleep, just resign yourself to whatever meager accommodations you have currently and don’t waste your time trying to find rental housing. Searching for an apartment involves countless hours of looking at online crappy apartments (see 1 and 2 above), absolutely no flexibility in viewing any decent apartments and zero customer service. Rentals are made available for one (or possibly two, if you are lucky) inspection times per week. These almost all occur on Saturday, and are 15 minutes in duration. This means that, if you’ve never ridden the train system in Melbourne before and you miss the connection, you don’t make it to your first listing on Saturday in Fitzroy, the most promising one from picture viewings. Or, if you happen to miss the street because the streets in Melbourne are seldom labeled and you miss the 15 minute window, you’ve just walked across town in vain because the real estate agent packs up and leaves after the expiry of the 15-minute window on the dot.

Bless his heart, Steve has been spearheading the apartment search effort and doing a spectacular job, juggling the multiple inspection times.  Any weekday inspection times are between 5 and 5:30, and it’s a wonder anyone working in the city manages to find new housing when needed. And, online searching is not made any easier when you are stuck in a temporary apartment with lackluster internet connection, snail’s-pace refresh rates, and a mini-computer with a 8” screen and keyboard.

Lucky for us, the search is almost over.  One, we’re running out of time.  Only a few weeks left til our things get here.  Two, we’ve a serious contender.   found a lovely, brand-new construction, modern, 3-storey, 2 BR apartment with a small ground-floor terrace and second-floor balcony, willing to take on us Yanks and our furry creatures in St. Kilda, a beach town that’s a 25-minute tram ride from the CBD and one of the most dog friendly neighborhoods we’ve seen (that means, we’ve actually seen 2-3 other dogs there). 

St. Kilda is a charming beach neighborhood. The townhouse is 2 blocks from the main strips—Fitzroy and Ackland—and the beach (the Esplanade), respectively, at the end of a 1-block long street in a surprisingly quiet little alcove of Victorian cottages.  The two hours we spent in St. Kilda  exploring the neighborhood, beach and shops of St. Kilda was the brightest and warmest 2 hours in Melbourne since we’ve arrived. Whether dizzy from an overdose of vitamin D, or enamored with living in such a quaint little slice of city-suburbia that’s only a stone’s throw from the beach, I was pretty much sold on the surrounds.

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