Pants On Fire

I lied to my friend today. Jules, did too. We looked at one another as we told the lie one after the other like children doling out sweets.

One for you

One for me

One lie from me

One lie from Jules.

Jules and I are not by nature of the lying kind, but today we lied out of a need to protect our friend.

Mara moved out of her home yesterday. She’s lived there for five years. It is a lovely house – very warm and welcoming. She had to sell it due to her husband losing his job and not being able to find another one for over a year. She had to sell it because the pressure of paying the huge mortgage by herself led her to collapse one day at work from stress and fatigue.

Mara has moved into a rented house. She is navigating her way around it with a slightly downcast air. Most rental properties in this part of Sydney are not terribly plush. They are old Victorian houses with landlords who in some cases are probably just as old (*smirk*) and gave up caring about the aesthetics of their property long ago.

Just pay the rent and shut up. Be grateful you beat the rest of the unfortunates to this outstanding property, they say. Outstanding, my Aunt Frida. The only WOW factor in most of the rented properties I’ve seen is that none of the taps drip. That is important, believe me.

When your washer needs changing it can actually cause danger to life and limb. Plumbers sent by the rental agent have a habit of not telling you they’re coming beforehand. They turn off the water before they even knock on the door which is particularly dangerous when you end up with half a litre of shampoo on your hair because you bought one of those stupid squeeze bottles and no matter how hard you try the bloomin’ shampoo won’t come out so you squeeze and squeeze until SLPURGTHROOEY – most of the shampoo is on your head. And you have no means of washing it off because Gazza has come to change the washers.

Australian plumbers are irritatingly guilty of stating the obvious. Gazza the plumber upon seeing me with a mound of intensely nourishing, revitalising shampoo in my hair will more than likely say : ‘You’ll be wanting to wash that out.’

Or if he’s feeling cheeky : “Nice towel.’

Meanwhile, the shampoo is getting warm from the heat of my head and is changing consistency, oozing into my ears where the zesty citrus concentrate designed to energise my hair from root to tip is causing an odious ringing sound. Try as I might I cannot stop it from sliding into my eyes. It burns.  I get red rings around my eyes that are itchy and flaky. They stay there all week. People whisper behind their hands.

See how I did that? I totally went off the point so I could distract you from the fact that I lied today. But I realise there’s no getting away from why I lied now. Nor why Jules joined me.

I have rented for the past 7 years. Before that I owned my house for ten years. Jules has rented for three years. Both of us know how hard it is to crack the Sydney property market. Once you’re out it’s very hard to get back in. There are lots of reasons for this.

Selling your house due to financial hardship actually changes your perception of what’s important. You don’t chase the dollar as much as you used to. You literally take a step back. In doing so you accept that your salary may drop. It doesn’t bother you as much as you might think. But because your salary has dropped you can’t get a loan as easily as you could in the past, nor can you save the minimum of one hundred thousand dollars most people need for a deposit on an average house in Sydney.

Most of the people I know who have sold their homes have done so because one or both of the mortgage holders was ill. Or disenchanted. Or needed a change from the corporate grind. That kind of stress takes time to recover from and when you do recover you are not so keen to get back on that mortgage merry-go-round.

Mara asked us today if we thought she would be able to buy another house in two years as she is planning to do. In this part of Sydney. We are aware of the small amount of money she has left after clearing her debts and setting money aside to live on. We know she will change her attitude to home ownership after six months, one year. We know the price of property will continue to rise. We know she may never have the money to buy a house again. So we lied.

Of course you will, we said. There is nothing surer. Two years from now you will be sitting in your new house thinking that everything has turned out for the best.

I hope Mara recovers from the stress she has been under. I hope she is able to bear the patronising attitude of acquaintances who learn she is now a humble renter. But most of all I hope that the lie Jules and I told today turns out to be the truth.

18 thoughts on “Pants On Fire

  1. I think sometimes lies like these are what friends need to hear at the time and so are actually acts of love. In time, when your friend can hear what may be the truth, I’m know you’ll be there to support her then too. It’s such a sad story. I do hope she does find a way for this difficult time to become “the best thing that could have happened.”


  2. It sounds very much like trying to buy a house in the UK, especially in London. You spend more on rent than you would a mortgage and the additional costs of owning, but you’re lucky if you can afford to save for a deposit. In our area we’d be looking at a mininmum 10% deposit/£36k for a small two bedroomed place that we’ll almost certainly outgrow in the next year or two. It sometimes seems like there’s no hope with housing.

    You and Jules may have been lying, as you put it, but it seems like at the moment it’s what Mara needs. She’s lucky to have you guys.


  3. Hi SUE,
    I hope that in time it does all work out. Mara’s situation has made me realise our health is important above all and that sometimes we have to make a sacrifice to ensure our health improves. You are kind to say it was an act of love. It was what she needed to hear right now. Anything else would have sent her into a tailspin. And also, my experience need not be hers. You just never know what’s around the corner…

    Hi VIC,
    I know how tough it is in the UK. Very much like here. Rents are astronomical and they preclude you from saving for that 10%, sometimes 20% deposit (if you’re self-employed). Then there is stamp duty which is usually over $20,000. Who has that kind of money? No wonder people go bush. I am seriously thinking about it. I agree, sometimes the housing situation seems hopeless. We have to hang in there though, Vic. There has to be a way we can do it!


  4. Selma this is a great piece. You have captured a part of life that we all hate to see. No one likes to see another person lose their home. You brought out the sad reality in a cute way I loved the explanation of plumbers and shampoo. I believe Mara is aware she will have problems owning again. You could have been blunt and cruel or you could have told the “little white lie” and made her feel better as you did. Doing what you did shows you have a big heart not an evil mind. Who knows, the future may prove that you didn’t lie at all.
    great writing


  5. White lies are often not a lie but a kindness.
    I’m shocked at the cost of houses there. I won’t even tell you in Botswana – you’ll feel sick. But of course we don’t get to live by the ocean. Though even in Namibia were I want to buy a house, your deposit could buy two.


  6. Well written post that highlights the way that struggling for a “nice house” can consume us and make us take on a liability rather than living well.
    You have not actually lied to your friend at all what you have done is echo her own desire and provided the support that a good friend should.What you are saying is true now but who knows what the situation will be for your friend in two years time?
    Keep up the good writing 🙂


  7. This needs to be sent out for publication. 🙂 We can all relate….to the stress of finances, to the stress of this economy, to being at the mercy of life’s spitballs and of plumbers!!!

    I think when someone is going through such monumental changes, you have to be so cognizant of how much “reality” they can handle….a little lie is like a kiss on the cheek.


    I really hope the future proves I wasn’t telling a white lie. The fact is that Sydney falls into the top 5 most unaffordable places to live in the world, but I’m not going to remind Mara of that. She needs to recover before she takes that on board. Thanks for your very kind comment.

    I know, hon. I’ve done a comparison of house prices all over the world. It constantly makes me ill when I see how expensive Sydney is. It hasn’t been affected at all by the downturn. Maybe I should move to Namibia!

    It is very good to hear from you. I do appreciate your comment. I have seen people almost sell their grandmothers to get that nice house. It bothers me a lot. Some people will pay well over the market value to get the house they want. It’s hard for those who don’t have corporate salaries or family money behind them to compete. Such is life, eh?

    Thank you so much for saying that. I often wonder when I consider writing posts like this if I’m sending more doom and gloom out there. I mean, we all know the situation and it is repeated in varying degrees all over the world. I do think we can all relate in some way, though, so it is important to tell these stories.

    I really like that – ‘A little lie is like a kiss on the cheek.’ I like the sentiment behind that. Thanks, hon!


  9. It’s probably what she needed to hear and what could have been gained from telling “Well, hon, you probably won’t be able to afford a house for a long long long time.”

    Just be there… this has to be hard on this family.


  10. I don’t think it was a lie – I think it was stating hope. Well, maybe the “surer” part was a little strong, but other than that, there is always hope.

    I find the amount of people renting around the world unsettling. (And I rent, I add). Maybe it’s my Irish roots, hating the landlord, but I can’t help it – there’s something terribly wrong (in my heart) about so many people not owning their own piece of dirt.

    I hope you and Jules were right.


  11. NAT:
    I think it is much harder than they are admitting to. I certainly don’t want to add to their stress. If I have to stretch the truth a little, I will definitely do it!

    You are kind to look at it like that. I am praying she does not end up having the same experience as me.

    I agree wholeheartedly. There is something that the heart rages against when it comes to renting. It is becoming more and more widespread these days, unfortunately. I do so hope Jules and I were right!


  12. I vowed when I bought my first house (by myself then) in 1992 that I would NEVER rent again. Never say never…I hate the idea of throwing out money not to mention putting up with all the annoyances of living in someone else’s house. It stinks in so many ways. 😦 I feel for your friend and I also wish her well. No one should have to collapse from stress. But it happens every day. It happened to me years ago and I couldn’t work for over a year and a half due to all the stress-related symptoms I was left with.

    I agree with what you say about your perceptions changing to Selma. Sometimes the changes are for the better but often situations like this only leave a bitter taste behind…

    Hugs and take care. Hugs to Mara too.


  13. I think that lie was exactly what she needed to hear [for now]. Obviously, she shouldnt even be thinking about re-buying a new home when she is just getting settled into this rental. And I certainly hope this place lets her catch a break from all the stress and fatigue she’s been under.


  14. Sometimes it is OK to lie – a little white lie now end then to help out a friend is OK! I just loved the whole bit about the shampoo in your hair! My vivid imagination was on overdrive! I hope that one day when I’m ready to buy my house or condo I’ll be able to afford it!


    It’s hard to completely make peace with renting, particularly as we get older. The hardest thing for me is not being able to plan ahead and the thought that in a year, two years I might be living somewhere else. I hope that one day we all end up with our own little piece of dirt!

    I think she will de-stress quite quickly. Now that her enormous mortgage is gone she can focus on other things and just wait and see what happens. You never know what lies ahead.

    The shampoo incident actually was quite hilarious. Gazza took so long to change the washers my hair went hard. It was a pain getting all the shampoo out.

    I hope you can afford it too. But when you are a well-known, highly successful web designer/graphic artist you won’t need to worry about a thing!


  16. Speaking of dirt…I also miss having a garden and backyard. How does it happen? 😦

    Here’s to home ownership. May it never be taken for granted. I know it won’t be for me, ever again. Bring it on….

    Hugs, G


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