Getting Quotes

About a week ago I put in an offer for a block of land and it was accepted. I sign the contract in four days. Over the past week I have spent a lot of time compiling quotes for various services I need to use over the coming months. I need a conveyancer or solicitor. I need a geotechnical survey. I need a soil percolation test.

I soon discovered a flaw in google, trying to search for these service providers. Type in, say, “Conveyancer Adelaide”, and beyond a handful of legitimate listings you get a list of directories. Truelocal. Yellow Pages. Whereis. The same happened for geotechnical surveyors, soil percolation and land capability assessment, concreters, building surveyors… Turns out, and I say this in shock, but the Yellow Pages website was the most helpful one-stop directory for each of these trades. As someone that runs a service business, I have always, perhaps irrationally, shunned Yellow Pages, thinking that google is king. And it is for me. My website ranks tremendously well on the keywords it services.

But it’s not all dandy. I started to call** geotechnical engineers. About half the phone numbers were no longer in service. About half of what was left weren’t actually in the business of providing soil tests for footings and foundations (they had been mis-categorised) leaving a quarter of the initial list as legitimate companies that could provide me with a quote. About half of those – a whopping 3(!) were nice enough to do so.

Business must be good. To not return calls. To not send emails that you promise you would send. To blatantly turn away business like that. It must mean that they don’t want the business at all. And prices reflect that. Want to earn some money, kids? There are tonnes of opportunities out there.

** I wasn’t even going to bother emailing. It would seem email isn’t a legitimate form of communication for Australian trades people.


Riddle Me This

If I offered to pay $95,000 for something you’ve been struggling to sell for years for $75,000 (and will probably have to discount further) but the one condition is that I will pay you 10% now and the rest over 8 years, what would you say? 

Buying Land, Zoning and Pro-Mining

Let me share with you where I am at with my plans.

I am very much in the early stages, to put it simply. From a financial point-of-view I am in a good position. I have established my savings goals and have developed a good foundation for a sustainable income source. Surprisingly, my financial position is in pretty good shape. Which brings me to the fun part I suppose: spending some money!

I am in the process of looking for land to buy. I know roughly what I am after but every day reveals a new challenge and the scope changes a little bit. For example, at the start I had no idea about zoning and planning permission. I thought you could buy a block of rural land and do what you like with it. How mistaken I was. Through much research, conversations with land owners and several councils, I have a much better understanding of what the various zones mean and what is required to get a planning application off the ground.

A few weeks ago I got excited about a block of land in Tasmania. It ticked almost every box:

Less than 20km from a town with basic services (e.g. general store, pub and public transport links). This block was 2km from the town of Rosebery on Tasmania’s West Coast.

Private, ½ to a couple of acres. This block was a whisker over 1 acre, located in an older, underdeveloped section of Rosebery.

Within the budget of $25k with the possibility of vendor finance. This block came in at $17k and vendor finance was a possibility.

I thought it was too good to be true. Over an acre, in a beautiful part of Australia, for under $20k. Zoned Natural Resource – so a planning permit would be possible. Mega win. Well, all was great until I watched ABC’s 730 on Friday. Rosebery, like other West Coast towns, relies on mining. The Tarkine Rainforest to the north has been controversially earmarked for several new mining operations. This is to the delight of West Coast folk that rely on mining for their livelihood but cause for protest for environmentalists. As such, there is significant division between the pro-mining and environmentalist groups in Tasmania – it is the old-growth logging debate all over again. One side is pleading for their livelihood – as though mining is the only option – and the other for the good of the natural environment, especially the habitats of endangered species such as the Tasmanian devil.

The 730 report revealed some interesting symptom of the debate. Pro-mining is livered. They see the tree-hugging environmentalists as out to ruin their lives. To take their only hope away from them. One pro-mining gentleman in the segment said that he’d like his daughter to have the option to work in the mines, to drive trucks or something

similar. (My thought when I heard this was what about something else – maybe she could become a doctor or a writer or a horticulturalist or a school teacher or perhaps even an eco-tourism business owner?) The general sentiment was of utmost disdain. The pro-miners would do anything to stop the evil greenies. To date, this has included death threats, property damage and vandalism. The Save The Tarkine Coalition planned to set up their headquarters in Tullah, north of Rosebery. This was advised against – property damage was likely to result. One activist shared her account of being intimidated and abused.

My father use to live in Tasmania so I gave him a call to discuss the Rosebery block. He flat-out warned me against it. He has spent time on the West Coast and too has been intimidated. You see, my father is an out-and-proud greenie – obvious by the stickers on his van, and he does look like a bit of a tree-hugger.

On the back of all this, I decided that the West Coast of Tasmania wasn’t for me. I want somewhere I can feel safe and comfortable. What would happen if the townspeople caught wind of the fact that I am a greenie – and gay to boot? Yeah, nah. Pass.

East Gippsland Map

The beautiful East Gippsland region of Victoria

So my quest brought me back to one of the first blocks I found – on, if I recall.  It’s located in the East Gippsland region of Victoria. An area my father has spent time too – he approves of this region thankfully. The block ticks the boxes but has a couple of weaknesses:

It gets hot in summer. This is something I have experienced all my life. I am use to summers that exceed 40 degrees. Having said that, I hate the heat. This is an opportunity to move to a climate that suits me just right. According to my researching the Bureau of Meteorology website, it isn’t as bad as where I live at the moment. The real scorchers are fewer and far between and the average summer temperature is much more mild. Good.

It’s 30km from the nearest town. So, an hour and a bit by pushbike. Fortunately there is a coach that passes right in front of the property 3 days a week. This coach could take me to any number of small or large service towns and two capital cities. Very handy indeed. I imagine needing to do a big shop ever fortnight or month and catching the bus into one of the bigger service towns, like Bairnsdale, camping the night in the caravan park – the bus returns the following day – before heading back with my haul of shopping.

Zoning. Like much cheap rural land, this block is zoned Farming Zone (FZ). Ever since the new Victorian planning scheme was implemented by the State Labor Government several years ago, this has been a real sticking point. Many owners bought larger blocks (20, 40, 100ha) years ago with the view of subdividing off smaller parcels to help fund their retirement or to offset the purchase price. Problem with FZ land is that only parcels bigger than 40ha are permitted to have a dwellings constructed. Unless you can make a solid case. Recently the State Liberal Government set out to make some amendments – to relax some of the conditions. For this I am appreciative of the Liberals (the conservatives for my overseas readers) – something I don’t say often. Don’t get me wrong, I can certainly see the importance of zoning laws. However, too often, it is a one-size-fits-all solution. The amendments give more power the councils to consider what suits their unique circumstances. This brings me to the conversation I had today with the East Gippsland Council.

I phoned to see whether there was any chance getting a planning permit for this block. I was in luck. I spoke to a wonderful planner who told me that the FZ won’t cause me too much hassle but there is a 44.06 (Bushfire Management Overlay) on the property that needs to be addressed. I can understand why this is the case. In recent years Victoria was ravaged by horrendous bushfires – I believe the Black Saturday fires made international headlines. Councils can’t let people build, willy-nilly, in potentially hazardous areas. The libertarians out there may say that in doing so one is exercising their personal responsibility, i.e. if their house burn down, it’s up to them to get on with their lives. However, that’s not how things operate here in Australia. The government repair bill from the Black Saturday fires was several billion dollars.

So, where does that leave me? It leaves me with a tonne of reading to do. I need to get my head around the 44.06 and 52.47 (Bushfire Protection: Planning Requirements) to see whether I can make a case – and whether the block is safe and viable. According to the planner, the block last changed hands in 2007. Perhaps the previous owner sold up because they couldn’t get permission? Who knows.

If I feel I can address the bushfire protection regulations I will take a trip to see the block. It really does tick all the other boxes. It’s in a really beautiful part of the world – backing onto some of the most remote Australian forest. Wish me luck.