First home adventures

Jan 27, 2024
Source: Getty Images.

Buying or building your first home after leaving your parent’s nest is always destined to be memorable, and when starting out on your own, many of the decisions you make are based on your budget at the time. Here are some of our adventures after the excitement of the engagement party had died down.

After hunting around for some time, we came across a relatively cheap block of land. It was in a new estate on the outskirts of Brisbane. Parts of the estate had been touched by the 1974 Brisbane floods and although most of the land was high and dry, the flood tainting meant that our 1/4 acre block cost around five thousand dollars whereas similar sized blocks closer to Brisbane were around ten to fifteen thousand dollars.

As soon to be newlyweds, we spent most of our weekends walking through display homes looking for a house builder for our new block of land. Most of these were way beyond our financial expectations and had so many complicated exclusions in the fine print that we even thought about plonking a caravan on the block. The guy we settled on in the end was a small builder who used his own house as a display home. After the builder treated us to a home cooked dinner we made our choice of brick, tiles, and tap fittings by searching his garden shed, not a pretty showroom, by torchlight, so it was a bit of a surprise when we saw our finished home in daylight months later.

Being on a budget, I decided to build us a double bed using timber scraps and iron railings from my old truck. It was a beauty, except as I’d built it as a solid never to come apart piece of furniture, we discovered on moving in day that it didn’t fit through any of the doorways of our new home. My father-in-law came to the rescue by removing the master bedroom window. I think we used a circular saw on it when we eventually moved it out years later.

Once we’d moved in, floor coverings were our first money saver. We started off with my in-law’s cast off carpet underlay instead of actual carpet. This softened and warmed the concrete floors in our bedrooms. For the other rooms, we went to Waltons for the cheapest lay it yourself vinyl we could find. This came in 6 foot width rolls, so with some double-sided tape and jigsaw puzzle skills, we did a half decent job of covering the rest of the house. A bit later, we picked up some carpet offcuts and replaced our second hand underfelt with actual carpet.

A few months after we moved in, we decided that a proper fence was in order to keep our randy weimaraner from straying off in search of a mate around the neighbourhood. Up to that point, we had him confined to a small area of the yard by using chicken wire and leftover brick pallets, but he’d still manage to dig his way out. We decided on hardwood fencing for our new fence as this was the norm then and to help it outlast wood rot and termites we painted it with a mixture of creosote and motor oil. My father-in-law and I spent a Saturday morning trolling around workshops to get used sump oil. The following weekend, my wife and I coated both sides of the 100 metres of timber fence by brush. If you haven’t used creosote before, here is a tip. Cover yourself up with long sleeves and pants, as the little flicks of creosote from the paintbrush burn like blazes and leave you looking like you have a bad case of sunburn crossed with measles. Suffice it to say our next house had a CCA pine fence.

Every Aussie home needed a BBQ, so this was our first attempt at DIY construction. Again, the in- laws came to the rescue with some leftover concrete blocks. We spent our time after work sticking them together and then tried our hand at cement stucco. By try our hands, I mean literally without any concreting tools. Neither of us had any fingerprints by the end of the week, but we did have a solid white Mexican style barbecue that would need a jackhammer to demolish it.

Having a healthy green lawn was also part of the Aussie dream, so we lashed out on enough turf to cover the front yard. For the backyard, we would have to settle for whatever blade grass and weeds I could mow into submission to stop the loose dirt from washing away. Tending to the front grass became a form of Summer meditation. A quick mow around to take off any stray leaves followed by a beer in one hand and a garden hose in the other to decompress after a long hot day at work.

After our success with the DIY BBQ, we were set for more ambitious projects. After visiting the local hardware and picking up a pamphlet with step-by-step instructions for building a pergola, our next project was born. The timber and fixings arrived, and we were into it. Treated pine was not readily available then, so my poor slip of a wife performed the Herculean task of holding up heavy oregon beams while I bolted each end in position. The pergola was at the front of the house and once it was complete we’d sit under it, cool beverages in our hands while we admired the new lush front lawn or waved royalty style to passing neighbours. Unfortunately, I was so thrilled with the result that pergola addiction set in, with me building one on every possible aspect of the house (and even an internal one in the living room over the bar area).

In retrospect, I think the lack of new pergola construction opportunities is why we eventually moved out. Being keen to save money to go towards our mortgage and fund more DIY projects, simple inexpensive foods like porridge, tinned spaghetti, and flour based creations were a big part of our diet. At one stage we seemed to be having porridge three times a day, but on special occasions, I’d create a delicacy consisting of tinned spaghetti in pastry. At least I thought it was a delicacy. To save money on heating in winter (albeit a short one in Queensland) we took to wearing warm tracky dacks to bed. This attire also included Ugg boots. Not very romantic for newlyweds, but very cosy on cold nights.

How did your first home adventures pan out?

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