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I should have it permanently etched in my brain but for some reason I always forget: house-hunting for a rental property is one of the most soul-destroying experiences I have had to endure.

Let me walk you through it.

First, you start your research online. You do a search for your ideal place, the right price range, right number of bedrooms…nothing turns up. You adjust your criteria slightly, expanding your price range into the next bracket, even though you can’t really afford it – just to see what’s out there. Lo and behold, a whole slew of beautiful looking houses. Don’t be swayed by the photographs, you remind yourself. They are so rarely an accurate representation. But oh…look at that balcony, couldn’t you just imagine sitting out there with a book? Look! A beautiful deep bath. Oh look at that kitchen…stainless steel European appliances – well it must be good then. Stainless steel. European.

None of the properties have open for inspection times. Just email the agents then, surely they’ll be keen to get back to you. You don’t hear anything, so you email again and eventually get a terse, one-line reply telling you to check the website later in the week. How handy! The real estate website will email you when a new property comes up fitting your criteria. So just set that up and wait for the emails to arrive. But what if it doesn’t work? What if you miss one?

You end up checking the website every day, even though of course there are no new properties. You stare at the tiny photos again and again, trying to find every possible flaw so you’re not disappointed when you see it in real life, but you start to imagine yourself retreating to that loft bedroom, reading next to that fireplace, sitting on that deck with ‘district views’. You look at maps of increasingly unfamiliar suburbs, telling yourself you’ll be able to get used to it even though you have always felt uneasy in that area. If the house is perfect, surely it won’t matter!

Saturday arrives and you have your list of properties neatly written out, an efficiently structured timetable of viewing windows that will surely yield your next home. How hard can it be?

You arrive early at the first one and look at the outside. Wow. It’s beautiful. The street is quiet, the area seems nice, the house itself looks fantastic. Other people start to sidle up alongside the front gate, waiting for that pole position, first through the door, first to make a good impression on the agent. You smile at one another briefly, but try not to engage in conversation. The agent finally arrives and opens the door for you, smiling as though she is welcoming you into the most palatial of homes.

Then it hits you. The unmistakeable stench of mould. You peer through the dark at cracked and peeling walls, at piles of the current tenant’s belongings stacked up all over the place. The current tenant is still in the house, making himself breakfast and getting in the way. You climb up and down stairs and try to imagine yourself living there when every fibre of your being is screaming at you to get out. You remember to smile at the agent as you leave.

Oh well. It was only the first. The next one looked gorgeous in the photos and had just been renovated – maybe it’ll be better. There’s lots of light, freshly painted walls, a brand-new kitchen and…that’s it? You thought the listing said there was a separate living room. Oh. This is the separate living room. And the bedrooms…could you even fit your bed in there? Smile at the agent and head back to the car.

Just as well you smiled, as the same agent is also managing the next house on the list. She’s a small girl, looks like she’s barely eighteen, and is wearing the contents of an entire makeup counter on her face. Another lovely house – newly renovated! – on a main road, under a flight path, tiny bedrooms (what is a ‘double’ bedroom, can anyone tell me? It sounds big, but it’s not), with a ‘tenant enquiry’ range of $170. Even though the agent assures you that “money is the last thing the owners will be looking at” it’s a pretty safe bet they will choose the person who offers $170 more than someone else, no matter how impeccable their references.

Onto another place that looks like it has probably been a uni share house for the last 20 years. Less said the better. Blood sugar levels crash. Time for a pitstop – coffee and a Portuguese tart in Petersham, which appears to be the Portuguese quarter of Sydney, not that you even knew there was such a thing.

Last place you look at is absolutely massive. There are more people waiting outside this one than any of the others, but most of them you recognise from other properties during the day. Now you give one another the world-weary smiles of recognition, the falsely hearty ‘might have to fight you for it’ comments, until the door is opened and then it’s all business. You push past one another in narrow corridors and up steep staircases. You try to put a positive spin on everything, even though the rising damp is obvious and there is some almighty hellhound next door that won’t stop barking. The current tenants sullenly continue to pack their belongings while you shuffle around them, and even when you smile and thank them for letting you into their house, the reception is frosty (why?! why on earth would you stay in your house when there was an open for inspection?!!!). The young agent waits at the door with a vacuous smile, and a woman with a baby grabs an application form from her saying “I’m sorry if I sound desperate, but we’ve been looking at places all day and we are desperate.” You take a form just as a formality, get back in your car and drive away.

It’s only the first week, you think. Other things will come up. We’ll do it all again next week.

I can’t wait.