When we bought our first home, we bought in a low income area because that was all we could afford. We found a Kiwi Quarter Acre property with a 2 1/2 bedroom house on it. That was still common around 1980, but is now becoming a pipedream for most first home buyers and urban properties have gone from 1000 square meters to around 350-400 on average, come are even smaller. In fact many people wonder if they will ever be able to get that first property.
Anyway this is what it looks like today. There was no second dwelling at the back, we had a huge yard with fruit trees and lots of room for entertaining and for the kids to run around in. The side street you can see didn’t exist.
Our house backed on to a fruit orchard and unfortunately the real estate agent didn’t tell us that it had been sold to the State and was going to become low income housing. We envisaged our kids playing in the orchard and picking fruit. This is what it looks like where the fruit trees were, now. But that’s progress and nothing to do with the story.
We loved the fact that we had a house, we could afford it, just! So we bought it and moved in. We didn’t really consider what life was going to be like for my wife from the perspective that my job entailed being out of town on average at least 1 day in 3 and our family grew, as planned, to two kids during that time.
The neighbors on one side were elderly and quiet, but the wrong age group at 50 years older than us, to really be more than just friendly acquaintances, and on the other side we had an older couple with 11 children. What we didn’t know was that several of them were gang members and when they were doing time, their children stayed with their grandparents next door to us.
That in itself was admirable that they were family oriented, but they were rowdy with many all night parties. They frequently threw glue bags over the fence once they were finished with them for our kids to discover. I was pretty freaked out when one of my daughters came to me with the question of “What is this Daddy”, holding up a bag containing stinky brown sticky goo, and even more intimidated about how I was going to confront the neighbors to stop that happening. I feared for my own skin let alone that of my kids. I was scared I could be beaten up for my trouble, but I had to protect my family.
I plucked up the courage and knocked on the door, explaining who I was and why I was calling on them. The reception was borderline hostile and at first I don’t think the grandparents believed me. The outcome was the kids got a beating and the bags stopped coming over, mostly.
However they got their retribution by frequently playing Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley music from their bedroom that backed onto ours. I liked both artists myself, but not at 1AM on a weeknight, several nights a week. It took a few years, in fact just before we moved out, that we became ‘friends’ with those neighbors after one of them heard me playing guitar on my front deck. What a shame that didn’t happen when we first moved in. They weren’t our demographic, but we made peace.
My wife eventually made friends with neighbors over the road and another young family farther up the street through Kindergarten and life was generally OK, except….
I can’t say for certain it was the neighbor kids, but once in a while we saw teenagers leap over our 2 meter fence from one side of the property, dash past and into the next, which if it was them, was their temporary home.
Then we got burgled. Again, no proof and back then no evidence despite fingerprint dust creating a mess where they had broken in through our bedroom window and trashed the room. We think we got home as they were stealing cash and other items like irreplaceable jewellery which we never saw again and they hadn’t managed to get to other valuables. This was supposed to be our castle and I was leaving my wife alone there while I was away staying in hotels and motels earning a living.
I’d like to share a short quote from my book
to illustrate the impact it had on me:
It’s 2AM and I leap out of bed, grab the Fijian souvenir skull crusher club from under the bed, ready to deal with an intruder in the house!
I race into my 3 year old daughter’s bedroom next to ours, adrenaline pumping through my veins. I vaguely see something on the floor. My heart tries to beat its way out of my chest and I’m angry.
I step further into the room and the person crouching on the floor sits up. It’s my daughter who had fallen out of the bed in her sleep.’
So we learned that it was important to consider a lot more than the size of the property, the living space, and the budget we had to invest with, or in affect how much the bank would let us borrow. The neighbors can make or break your home. We got lucky in the end, the elderly couple moved out and their children who also had a young family, who became lifelong friends moved in next door.
In our current home, not only did we check out the neighbors, but they checked us out and we got lucky. We clicked from day one. They had been monitoring people looking at the property and if they didn’t like the look of them, they cranked up the music and made out that they would not be the sort of people potential buyers would want to live next door to. They also understood the importance. They liked us and we liked them from day one and we got the entire history of the house and the cul de sac we moved into before we made the final buying decision.
So to cap this off. If you are looking at your new home, first home buyers or not, check out your potential new neighbors. Talk to them. Ask them about themselves and ask them about the neighborhood. Ask them if there is anything that the Real Estate Agent might not have told you about (they don’t have to tell you negative things that you don’t ask about, unless there are things that are illegal, like unpermitted add-ons.)
If you feel like you would get on well with your neighbors and they tell you what you want to hear, chances are you will have new friends, people to look out for you, people who are like you, with similar demographics and values. This is an important step so that you recognise you are buying a home, not a house.