The ‘Bentham Process’: How I Research Property

I’m known for being a bit pedantic. I spend far too much time pouring over data and plugging it into spreadsheets. But it’s something I enjoy and adds value to my property searches. Knowledge allows me to feel in control. Without it I am filled with self-doubt and uncertainty and feel as though it is an uncalculated risk. With it I can make sound decisions and back myself up.

This is how I go about searching for property:

1. Find a property of interest.

I’ve used a plethora of sources to find property. The major real estate sites (Domain and Real Estate), Gumtree, eBay, real estate agent sites (e.g. Professionals, Ray White, etc), word-of-mouth, roadside ‘for sale’ signs, wanted ads, Grassroots Magazine – the list goes on. The major real estate sites have been the most help and I am on them most days searching newly listed properties. Gumtree is great, especially if you want to deal directly with vendors – cutting out the middle man and potentially reducing the price.

Once I have found a property I ask a million questions.

2. Ask questions. Lots of questions.

What is the land zoned? Are there any planning overlays that may impact on development? What is the public transport like? Is there a general store or pub or supermarket? If not, how far is it from amenities? What’s the soil like in the area? What are the people like – are they like-minded or pitchfork-wielding red necks? What have other properties in the region sold for? How long has this property been in the market? What’s the climate like – summer temperatures, rainfall?

These are just some of the questions I research for every property that catches my fancy. I attempt to answer them a number of ways.

3. Seek answers.

Here is a list of methods which I use to answer the above questions:

Planning Maps Online (PMO) – PMO is my favourite site. It’s jam-packed with useful tools and information. By typing in an address I can see what the zoning is, whether there are any overlays that may restrict what I can do with the land (e.g. whether it is bushfire or flood prone, sensitive indigenous historical site, etc), the dimensions of the block, etc.
Council websites. All council websites have a section of planning and building.
PT Victoria – Public transport is hugely important to me. I check whether there are services that runs near the property.
Google Maps – Great for viewing satellite images of the property, seeing it in Street View, and researching the surroundings.
Google – I google things like “[town name] general store”, “[town name] pub”, and so on. It’s interesting how many times I have googled to see whether the town has a store to discover a real estate listing for the general store, or the pub.
Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) – Currently, I live in the driest state in the country. Our rainfall is quite low by Eastern state standards. The idea of living somewhere comparably dry doesn’t bother me too much. BOM has a nifty function that allows you to export historical climate data – temperatures, rainfall – into Excel which helps to sort and compare data. Mostly I use it to check average annual rainfall and maximum summer temperatures – few places I have checked get as hot as Adelaide in summer which is nice.
Community pages – A lot of towns have their own community home page. These websites are useful for general information about the town and often give a historical rundown. Many have email addresses to local people that may be helpful. I have emailed a number of folk this way and have struck up a few new friendships.
Email and phone – I contact real estate agents, people I discover through associated webpages (members of local community groups, etc), business owners – anybody that I can find the contact details for who may be able to share a bit more information about a town or region.

4. Weigh up the features.

Once I have answers to my questions I tend to rank the property in a spreadsheet I designed. Weightings are given from 1 to 5 (1 = poor, 5 = excellent) on such things as public transport, climate, prettiness, soil, community, amenities, closeness to Adelaide, and so on. The higher the rating, the better the property.

5. View the property.

The cream of the crop, I go and view in person. These are the properties that really tick the boxes. As I live so far away, it’s important that I get the most out of these visits – I can’t be travelling 1200km return to see a property that was never going to work.

Living Deliberately Isn’t About House Size or Remoteness

This is a slightly edited comment I wrote over at Life in 120 Square Feet in response to a post entitled, “Live Deliberately: Follow Your Dreams“.

People ask me “Why do you want to build such a small house?” My answer is usually “Why would I want to build any bigger?” Deliberate living has nothing to do with the size of one’s house. Other factors will determine the size of my house and they are my budget (I am building a house that I can afford) and my needs or wants (I need a bed, a bathroom, a kitchen, a comfortable place to read, and a workspace). When I say I need or want certain things they are determined by my budget. If I couldn’t afford, say, a dedicated workspace (with a view, I might add) I will change my plans. The fact that I do want a work area has meant that my tiny house is a deal bigger than many others. I’m okay with that as this isn’t a race to be the smallest. For me, at least, it is about my budget and my needs and wants.

People also question me about my want to buy so far away. This largely comes down to budget. The further from the big cities you are, the cheaper the land. “But why not save for a bit longer and buy something closer in?” (I actually had this question from a colleague today.) Because I don’t want to. I want to start living more deliberately as soon as I can. “Then why not rent a place rather than go to all the trouble and expense of buying land and building a house?” Because if I rented a house I’d be whittling away all my savings, the money that I have worked hard and endured suffering for, only to have nothing in the end. My current day job, where I earn good money, I hope, will be my last stint of that. Wage-slavery, I perhaps unfairly call it. I am going to make the money work hard for me as I no longer want to work hard for the money (there’s a bit of Donna Summer for you!). And it’s important, for my ‘new’ life to be sustainable, to acquire assets that don’t cost much to maintain after the initial expenditure. To rent, requires being out of pocket many thousands of dollars every year ad infinitum. Many more than I would pay in council rates and so on.

Buying Land : Another One Bites The Dust

I checked out the property on Patricia’s Road, Edenhope, yesterday. To say I am disappointed is an understatement. The soil was beach-like – it was that sandy. I expected to see it overgrown with Pteridium (bracken). Oh no, it was overgrown in Melaleuca Uncinata (Broombrush). We couldn’t actually walk the block – it was that dense, so ended up walking around it via a track that had been carved through one of the adjacent blocks. It certainly is a nice spot. It backs onto a cute strand of stringybark and – what looks to be – a private pine plantation. But it wasn’t what I expected. Now I know why the online listing didn’t give too much detail.

If the land was given away (or priced at about a 20th of what it is listed at) I’d certainly give it a shot. But in its current state it is way too much work. Don’t get me wrong, I want a challenge but there are challenges and there are challenges. This is greening the desert type stuff. (Perhaps I am just being dramatic?)

Geoff Lawton, want to give me a hand?

Buying Land : Take Two

I have officially given up on the Wimmera block that I looked at a few weeks ago. The bank isn’t interested. I haven’t been in business long enough, they say. I have been in business three months short of their two year requirement but that isn’t good enough. I expected this to be the outcome.

Not to worry, I am heading back over the border to view another block in the Wimmera region next weekend. This one is much different. It’s around 10 acres, no forest or woodlands to worry about – there is the odd eucalyptus dotted here and there only, and it satisfies all my other criteria. In fact, it’s within walking (and cycling) distance of a large town which has good transport links. Best of all, finance shall not be a problem.

Buying Land: Emotion, Rationality, and The One.

In my previous post, “The Desirable World: The Beginning“, I wrote that I was going to view my first block of land this weekend. Well, I did.

As I walked over the sandy loam and sniffed in the damp air I struggled to find words to describe my impression. My partner asked, “So what do you think?” My answer was confused and mechanical. I wanted to describe my feelings accurately but without putting too much emotion in. I wanted to answer rationally. This is what was confusing and made me feel mechanical – the need to answer in this way. I was looking at a piece of earth that I may soon own, that may be a part of my journey to making a life for myself, that may become a part of me, and here I am questioning the language I ought to use to express myself. Ought to, why?

Ancient Fence Posts Australia

A little sneak peek of the property, looking onto the reserve.

This feeling, this internal fight, has been with me for a few weeks now. As I increasingly tell people my intentions I am made to feel that I need to be rigorously rational about this process. But why aren’t other people made to feel that way? Home ownership is core to the “Australian Dream”. One ought to aspire to home ownership, we are lead to believe. Well so say the banks. Those that rent for too long are looked at as people with poor character or poor credit. To be treated equitably, it would seem, one has to toe the line: to live the normal life. To buy a suburban block. To live with the burden of a mortgage until just before retirement. If my choice was to live that life, it would be cause for celebration. Finally I am growing up, people would hail. Welcome aboard the property latter they would say. Too emotional a decision, buying a house in the ‘burbs? Not at all. It’s a sensible move. After all, rent money is dead money John Newcombe told us – in a television commercial for new homes.

The risk I am taking is known to me. However – and a lot of people say this – I tend not to regret things if they go ‘bad’. I see failure as an opportunity. And I mean that. I have taken many risks in my life that haven’t worked out, from giving relationships a go that perhaps I shouldn’t have, to taking on huge physical adventures that fell in a heap. From each of these “failures” an opportunity was born. Failure is a positive.

But you know what, I am going to talk about it in emotional terms now. As I was emoted by the experience. I’m a human, I am susceptible to it. It was stunning. Not just the land but everything around it which would be mine too. The land only measures 3 acres but backs on to a crown-owned reserve that is huge and impenetrable. Behind the block lays an ancient creek bed which was full and alive with the sound of frogs. A couple of hundred metres to the west, a massive wetland, thick with insects and drowned timber. Nature at its best. Beautiful.

As I walked back to the car – my partner drove me on this trip – the lady that lived in the closest house came out to see what we were doing. I explained to her that I was interested in buying the block. She gave me a short history of the area, in a thick cockney accent. She told me that the rainfall this year has been very good, though late, but then shared her concerns about global warming and that that the Australian Greens party have lost their focus on their founding cause, the environment. I found myself talking to a greenie, where I thought there wouldn’t be a greenie in miles. She told me that when she and her husband first emigrated to Australia they settled in the same city where I live. But she wanted room for her horses so moved to this town. She loves it. The people are pleasant, she said. Maybe not greenies – true, considering it is a Nationals Party safe seat – but that isn’t talked about. Politics isn’t part of the conversation. There are other things to talk about like the town, the sports scene, the weather, life.

Having spoken to this dear old lady, who unfortunately lost her husband a few years ago, I feel already a part of me is connected to this place. Let’s imagine for a sec that this block of land fell through. Well that’s okay. It can happen. But I reckon this region could be the one. It is stunning. It is beautiful. I felt something. Or perhaps I am being a bit too emotional.

The Desirable World: The Beginning

Booking flights makes the trip seem real. It’s the breaking of dirt of a holiday. Well, I felt a similar sensation today buying a tape measure. Odd, no?

tapemeasure

I’m heading to country Victoria on Saturday to check out a block. I bought the tape measure to take measurements of the

distance between vegetation on the eastern and southern boundaries and the “proposed dwelling site”. A lot rests on this. It’s for the Bushfire Management Statement which I’m required to submit in order to obtain a planning permit, should I proceed with the purchase of the block.

The tape measure symbolises that indeed this is real. I am going to the country to look at a block of land that I may come to own very soon. Which may, in a few years time, have a tiny house perched upon it that I built with my own hands. This all symbolises the real, tangible start of my journey towards the Desirable World.

Personal Responsibility: Not Only For Libertarians

I am not a libertarian by any stretch. Well, not at least based on the standard definition of the term. However, I believe we need to take more personal responsibility. The nanny state is alive and well and I think that’s a bit rubbish. We should rely less on being handed things on a plate and do more for ourselves. I’m not necessarily referring to big things, like tilling the land to feed ourselves entirely, but smaller, sensible things like capturing water off our vast roofs to drink and do the washing up. Why must the state or some greedy corporation deliver these things on a premise akin to a right? In my previous life in the telecommunications industry I had people threaten to take my company to court because we couldn’t supply a satisfactory service to a place they chose to live. Ultimately, we have a lot more choices than we make out.

Nor do I mean that it should be every man for himself. Those with a need should have that need provided for. Some people can’t afford rainwater tanks – I forgive them for not capturing the liquid gold that falls from above. But most of us can make the effort to be more personally responsible but we choose not to. It’s a matter of convenience I think. We have become accustom to receiving certain things whenever we need / want them. These things are now considered rights or tenets of an expected standard of living. Great personal satisfaction can be fostered through taking on more personal responsibility, I think. We become more open to learning from our mistake and celebrating our efforts – we take less for granted. Studies have shown that growing your own fruit and vegetable, even some non-edible plants, is hugely benefit for mental health.

What got me thinking about this is a podcast I was listening to this morning – The Environment Show. The episode that got my mind-juices flowing featured James Woodford, author of Real Dirt. James made a “footprint change”, as he calls it, after becoming disillusioned with his fast-paced day job in the city and a desire to finally find home – a place he had been looking for all his life. James had a yearning too to become more personally responsible for his life. To produce for himself and his family rather than carry on supporting consumer culture. Life affirming it has turned out to be for James, his partner Prue, and their children. I really want to read his book. In fact, to iBooks I head right now…