Monday, March 08, 2010

A new week

My father has been buried and with that a chapter in my life comes to a close.

The house hunting continues, and it is not easy, despite having more than 150 pages of real estate ads. Unfortunately, print media is organized for the benefit of the advertiser, not the convenience of the reader, so instead of being able to go to a page for the suburb I want to buy in and then select a group of ads for houses (not duplexes, flats, clusters, or townhouses), I have to peruse each page individually, filtering each page by my criteria. Exhausting and, after looking through the whole thing, found fewer than eight properties of interest. The paper does provide an index of suburbs with a list of the page numbers where relevant ads are located, but it is discouraging to thumb through dozens of pages and find apartments, flats, cluster developments and townhouses instead of stand alone houses.

I don’t think clusters are a popular option in the American housing market. Here, they are all the rage, despite narrow lanes, miniscule plots and postage-stamp rooms and a homogeneity in appearance that makes it easy to park in front of the wrong house, especially if it is dark or you are tired. The houses all look alike, are mandated to be painted the same colour, and individuality in the exteriors…at least the part of the exterior that can be seen by your neighbours…is verboten.

We looked at a cluster house recently…it was a rare one that had staff quarters (read: maid’s room) and even a few trees. But we parked Big Bertha on the street and nearly blocked the road, once inside the gate it was obvious that there was no shade in the garden whatsoever, the plot was so small the swimming pool was in the front yard, and the view from all windows was into the neighbour’s houses and gardens. The kitchen was so small I would have had to expand it into the dining room just to house the pots, pans, and dishes, and the living room was so small we would not have been able to put the 3-seater sofa in it. And the bedroom? Well, one wall was all windows, one wall was built-in cupboards, the third wall was doors (to the en suite and into the hall) leaving only one wall for positioning furniture. Since my bedroom furniture consists of considerably more than just a bed, there was no way it could have worked for us.

Aside from the forced homogeneity of the clusters and the crowded conditions, one of my chief gripes about them is that the developers knock down all the trees on the land and when the building is done, it is as bare as the Gobi. Yes, we can plant our own trees and shrubs, but next Sunday I will be 63…I will be in my grave before a tree I plant reaches sufficient size to provide respectable shade, and will have lived those years without the comfort and ease provided by trees and lush landscaping.

But South Africans seem to like clusters. I am told it is the security they like, the boomed gates and the high walls with security, but I find that difficult to accept. I live in a separate house…I have high walls with electric fencing, an alarm, an armed response company, and my street is access controlled. And the house is twice the size of a cluster with three times the landspace…AND I have a lushly landscaped garden with mature trees in it, even though the house itself is only a few years old. Like me, the owner loves the greenery, and when he built the house, he positioned it on the lot so that the trees already here would be spared.

Clusters are not like the boomed communities in America that border golf courses or vineyards. Those “gated communities” boast expensive luxury homes with large properties and grand, opulent houses, places where those teetering at the top of the “upper middle class” ladder live conspicuous consuming lives as they ready themselves to leap to the nouveau riche rung of the next one. That kind of gated community is just arriving…Waterfall Estates is just getting underway and promises the kind of luxurious enclave that our upwardly mobile will flock to until they can afford Illovo or one of the other areas where you don’t buy houses, you buy multi-acre estates. No, clusters here are a developer’s dream…they buy one gracious older home on a large lot, knock it down, scrape the land bare, carve out tiny little parcels of land with dangerously narrow lanes between them. Then instead of burning the bucks to build houses and risk standing around with an inventory of unsold bricks and mortar, they simply put in the services, hire an architect to draw up a couple of housing plans, then sell “plot and plan” to buyers who spend their own money to build a house that takes up most of the plot, has views of their neighbour’s windows, no shade, and will always look like every other house in the development. I don’t like them, but then I am not a “cookie cutter” person (no offense intended to those of you who are).

Apparently some of the older clusters, however, are not so uniform in appearance, have larger lots, and they’ve been there long enough for the trees to have grown to a size sufficient to provide some shade. We will be looking at two houses in a 13 year old cluster this week, and hopefully one of them will be right for us. I am tired of looking at other people’s awful houses and biting my tongue to keep from laughing when I am told they are asking a premium price for a house that hasn’t had the kitchen or bathrooms updated in 30+ years.

Now, I’m off to scour the internet for my next exercise in futility…


  1. SV--First, I am so sorry to hear of your father's death and I send you my deep condolences. You've had more than your share lately.

    It sounds as though the house hunting remains daunting--ugh--I hate having to look for house and moving. When Les and I were looking to buy a house several years ago, we looked at a few houses that were similar to what you described (although bigger). These were like "McMansions" on tiny plots, the developers all made them look more or less the same from the outside--none looked all that unique, even though these houses were close to a million dollars! Les called them "ticky-tacky" houses. We finally did find a great house--although still not our dream house--but at least we are on an acre of land so we have some privacy and the house is unique and interesting enough to satisfy both our needs and our creativity.

    Best of luck, SV--and again, so sorry to hear you have had to deal with your father's death on top of everything. :(


  2. I am so sorry to hear of your father's death and I send you my deep condolences.

  3. So sorry to hear of your father's death and good luck with the house hunt. I do know how disconcerting it can be not to have a good place to call home.

  4. Oh, hon...I didn't know your father had passed on. Please accept my condolences & please feel free to bend my ear if you ever need to. *hug*

  5. I am so sorry for your loss.

  6. Ooops! Apparently the term "cluster" is not associated with the prurient profanity Americans (particularly servicemen)use. And, SV, I don't expect you to publish this level of comment, but I just couldn't resist!



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