2023 has not been the easiest year because, besides my emergency spine surgery in April, I’ve had other setbacks that have affected getting THE HOUSESITTER finally published.
A major setback has been a disruption to my work environment and work schedule.
As in: Construction happening. Right. Next. Door. As in, ten feet from my office window. Jackhammers. Diggers. Tradies. Starting at 7am sharp. Well, excavation, to be more exact.
Settle in with your favourite beverage as this is bound to be a long post about how construction and writing do NOT mix. As of writing this post (early December, 2023), I’ll let you know what has happened so far, and what continues to happen.
It began about two weeks into July, in 2023.
But first, let me tell you about where I live, so you get the full picture of this disruption.
My husband and I moved into this regional spot on the east coast of Tasmania in July 2019, after travelling full-time for three years. We stayed in this house when it was listed as an Airbnb earlier in the year. Deciding to stop in Tasmania after travelling, we reached out to the homeowner and asked if he’d be open to renting to us for a longer term. We loved the location, the quiet and, while it was a distance from Hobart, we kind of liked that remoteness.
So, we moved in. It is so quiet here that you can’t hear any traffic noise, and we have the Tasman highway only a few kilometres away. In fact, the only ‘traffic noise’ we hear are the fishing trawlers heading out in the morning and returning in the evening, along with the ferry to Maria Island. We figured it would be the perfect place to land, get our bearings, write a book (or four!) and work out what was next.
As you can guess, we found this spot just in time, as COVID hit in March/April. Lockdowns and our state closure came swiftly thereafter. Our spot on the east coast (Orford) proved to be the perfect place to be in a pandemic. There were only residents here – less than five hundred and that’s counting the number liberally–as none of the holiday homeowners were allowed to their ‘shack’s here. We were living our best life, in the safest bubble we could be in.
Even when the lockdowns lifted, and the state reopened, it remained quiet. Sure, there was a lot more movement. The tourists returned, but it was still quiet.
But then our bubble burst.
There was a block of land for sale, you see, right next door. It had been on the market when we moved in and had been for a couple of years already. Apparently, the owner bought it with his partner and, when they split, it left him with a block of land to dispose of. It was nice to have a vacant block next door. From my office window, I watched kookaburras land on the fence line, eyeing off their prey. I viewed spectacular sunsets full of rich reds and oranges, the wild grasses blowing gently in the breeze. Wild rabbits loved the lot, as they darted in and out of their warrens. It was especially lovely when their babies came out for the first time.
I will miss these views from my office window.
I never thought someone would build on the lot because it’s an odd block. Great for a small vineyard maybe.
Not only is it lopsided, but it’s unstable in any torrential rain, not to mention the hill is full of rabbit warrens! Given the choice, and I guess we had one, I would never buy it, let alone build on this block. But when COVID hit, the offers began coming in. Three in a matter of weeks.
A couple bought the lot during COVID lockdowns, sight unseen.
They are from Melbourne (apparently) but live in Singapore. They are building their ‘forever home’ so they can return to Australia. When they finally made it to Tasmania, to see if for themselves, the woman had stars in her eyes when she viewed it for the first time. (Sure! It’s right on the water!) But the husband had a look that screamed ‘what the fuck have we done?!’ He should have listened to that instinct and sold it, right then and there.
Undeterred, they employed surveyors and engineers and builders. They all got bogged when driving on to the lot. Did I mention the water issue that the neighbours have all been experiencing for the last number of years? It flooded the lower level of this vacant block for most of the time we’ve lived here. Well, that had to be sorted first before any building could begin. Turns out, the water problem was not ‘run off’ that TasWater told all of us for years, (after our neighbour invested hundreds of dollars in piping to reroute the water off his property.) It turned out a broken water pipe was to blame. Surprise, surprise!
That fixed, they began construction on the driveway first.
Now the next-door neighbour’s lot is next to the lower part of the property we are on. Above them is our pipe-laying neighbour. To get to the construction zone, they have a strip of land that goes from the street, down between the pipe-laying neighbour and the top of ‘our’ property, to their bottom block. (I say ‘our’ property because we rent this property.)
To give you some perspective, the street is at the top of the hill. To get to the street from our house, our driveway is seven stories from the street at the top of the hill to where the house is, at the bottom of the hill. So, the new neighbour has a strip of land, about a single-car driveway wide, between our top property and the pipe-laying neighbour.
Around mid-July, construction began. A twenty-tonne digger was brought in to begin the work. First on the driveway, beginning each day at 7am. The digger has a huge scoop and a jack hammer attachment. They brought in dump trucks to get rid of the dirt. Then, they moved the digger – now with accompanying small diggers with annoying beeping mechanisms, to the bottom section, to cut out what we believe to be the bottom section of the house foundation.
It was about then we moved our offices, which were ten feet from the fence line to the other end of the house. I took the middle room, which gave some buffer.
We kept telling ourselves: It would be over soon. The house would go up fast. Life would return to normal.
Except that someone had decided, somewhere in the construction, that they needed a passing cut-out on the new driveway. The driveway was now 3m deep – deeper than the 2.5m the plans outlined–between our property and the pipe-laying neighbour. It was a massive hole in the ground.
But one afternoon we arrived home to find they had dug into ‘our’ property for this new ‘cut-out’.
Halfway down our step driveway, only mere feet away from the driveway, our fence line dangled above a new cut-out.
Surprise! We can’t use the driveway. The concrete is the right side of our driveway.
As you can see, our driveway consists of two strips of concrete. Our car mirrors hit the star pickets.
I asked the onsite apprentice about it. At first, I heard the reason for the cutout was that the new neighbour wanted a passing lane, in case one person was going out while one person came in. Later I heard it was for bushfire regulations. Not sure how that worked, since anyone fleeing from a bushfire is going only one way. He then said something flippantly about a boundary dispute.
Hmm… first we’d heard of it. So, we took photos, and sent them to our landlord. It was the first he’d heard of a boundary dispute, too. Work halted. Immediately. We were then told we couldn’t use our driveway. At all. The council was called.
They brought an engineer in – an independent engineer–who claimed our driveway to be unstable and told we could not use it.
Nice. We wondered where the concern was for our safety, should there be a bushfire? Without driveway access, we had no access at ALL for escape. There is one way in and one way out for us. But that had crossed no one’s mind until we raised it.
What added to the stress of somehow dealing with getting supplies up and down a seven-story driveway – hell on wheels in the rain and icy weather – and I had a book festival coming up a week after this all occurred. The idea of carting 60 books (plus festival paraphernalia) up seven stories was not giving me positive vibes!
I’m not sure what happened after that, but the builder, with the small digger and shovels with rock and, God knows what else, patched it back in. The fence line remains hanging on precariously. An engineer was called back in to ensure it was structurally sound.
Their new driveway – not finished yet, but cut down 3m between properties.
He claimed it was now safe to drive on, but solely for our personal vehicle.
No deliveries. No small trucks. JUST our vehicle. I’m not sure how that is ‘fixed’ – at the time I was just happy not to have to schlep books up the driveway – but that, my dear reader, is NOT a solution in my mind.
Then we were told by the apprentice, who got his builder’s certification during all this, that the homeowner wanted sandstone blocks brought in for the landscaping. As in large sandstone blocks that measure about 2m long, by 1 metre wide, by 1 metre deep, each – or thereabouts.
Keep in mind, they have laid no foundation. But they must bring the sandstone blocks in before they build the house, because once the house is up, there’s no getting the sandstone blocks down to the lower level. The apprentice told us there would be one hundred and forty (140) sandstone blocks total. I gasped.
What the hell were they going to do with 140 sandstone blocks? Those things are huge! And expensive.
Okay, so I got curious. Because, so far, the driveway was now looking to cost around three hundred thousand (AUD). Originally, they estimated around one hundred thousand dollars (AUD) – yes, for a driveway! – according to the apprentice. The driveway was more than they bargained for between the water issues, the cut-out, the patch-up, the deeper dig, the more robust retaining wall that the engineer has now recommended…. When I priced the sandstone blocks, it’s around eighty five thousand dollars. Eight five THOUSAND dollars (AUD)!!
They haven’t even started on the HOUSE yet!
So, about sixty blocks were delivered – and guess what they built with about fifteen of them (so far)? A wall. Between our house and theirs, right outside one of the bedroom windows. The reflection is horrendous. When you open the curtains now, instead of seeing a lovely field and a beautiful big gum tree at the top of the hill, you see a sandstone wall. Our homeowner is PISSED. And rightly so.
The new wall – when they were began work on it. Attractive – not – and awfully reflective. That’s our shed next to it. The house at the top is our pipe-laying neighbour.
Oh, and they are building a fence on TOP of the wall when it’s finished (wtf?!)
The wall, the landscaping, or the cut-out were not in the council plans for approval.
Apart from the driveway and the lower foundation excavation, the sandstone blocks brought it, very little work has been done in six months. They have laid some plumbing for drainage, but after one downpour, everything was back to being flooded, so I’m not sure about that plumbing work!
Their internet line was connected to the property, after some random guy walked on to our property first, to see how ours was done (without permission). When they installed the pole for their line, someone braced it from our property – again without permission – and they butted it up to our driveway!
They have set up their porta potty – at the top of our driveway.
It sits to the side of the driveway, on our side of the property line, on the street. If it gets tipped over, it’s our property that will have the sewage leak.
With all this going on, our landlord has been lovely. He’s tried his very best to keep us happy. He knows this disrupts us. He knows I’m a writer, and that we chose this place for the quiet. As my husband says, we are the stewards for our landlord’s property, so we’ve been trying to keep him informed with what’s going on.
But let’s be clear: There’s NO WAY I can write when I’ve got this happening right next door.
From 7am-4pm Monday-Friday, there’s something happening, even if it’s the apprentice riding his little digger back and forth, pushing dirt around. I have designated my writing time to Saturday and Sunday, which means there is no downtime, no quiet time to sit and reflect for me. I naturally wake around 7.30 am normally and it’s usually between when I wake and 9am, that I’m the most creative. Not for the last six months. I have TRIED to work around it. I’ve tried getting up earlier. I’ve tried writing when they leave, but by then, the stress of the noise next door has me exhausted. We have little option of other places for me to work. The local cafés are just as crazy with tourists coming and going. The library, as much as I love it, is not primed to sit and work for hours on end.
I still work. I do a lot of administrative stuff. Marketing. Blog posts (!). Substack posts. I created a non-fiction book about HOUSESITTING, but that was mostly drafted already. We have worked on nothing substantial with my latest novel. And I HATE that.
But I have left the best part until last (she says, sarcastically): The new homeowner has been stalking me on Facebook.
With everything going on, for the months we’ve been dealing with this fiasco, we’ve not heard a peep from the new next-door neighbours. When they first arrived to see the property, they gave a scant few minutes once they learned we were renting.
Now, she wants to be my new best friend. She found me in the community Facebook group. To be honest, I’m not sure how. Maybe my name is unique enough. I have privacy settings turned on with that account, so she can’t determine a lot. She sent me a DM. Saying she was looking forward to meeting me (hello lady, you already have!), and that she was excited to be my new neighbour. Hmm… can’t say I feel the same way at this point.
Her message came right around the time of the driveway cut-out bullshit. No apology. No ‘sorry for the inconvenience’. No explanation.
When I ignored her message, she then found a post from I put up in MARCH, supporting the local librarian, encouraging people to get behind the library. There, she posted a comment on my post, not about the library, but essentially saying the same thing: looking forward to meeting me, excited to be my new neighbour. I ignored that message, too.
I mean, okay, it’s good that she’s reached out. But how about apologising first? Because this has not been a typical build. This has disrupted people’s lives–and livelihood!
I’m not sure what this means for us at this point.
We were told it would take a year for the house to be finished. It’s taken six months so far, and they’ve barely started. I have little faith it’ll be complete within the year’s timeframe. At this point, I’m just adding it to the list of setbacks that makes up 2023.