Going Undercover To See How The 1% Really Live

Going Undercover To See How The 1% Really Live

As a student working part-time, Madeline has been renting for years and feels like her options have always been limited. Find out what Madeline discovered when she toured a rental property way beyond her price bracket in one of Melbourne's richest suburbs.

My first share house was right next to the train tracks. The deafening train horn woke me up at 5 am every morning. In another house I lived in the toilet was outside, making those cold winter mornings that much more memorable. Now, I’m enjoying all the wonders of budget apartment living, including paper-thin walls, a concrete balcony overlooking the concrete car park, and neighbours who sing Eagles covers at 1 am.

So, I’m looking to move again. Somewhere new with new problems. Because that’s the thing about renting within a budget: there’s no perfect place. It’s all about compromise.

The toilet’s outside but hey, at least the lounge room has a heater! So what if the walls have mould? It’s affordable! It’s definitely going to collapse any day now, but look at the location!

I went to a house inspection recently that looked promising online. Maybe this is the one to finally get me out of this pro-Eagles concrete jungle, I thought. A three-bedroom house with a sunroom and light-filled kitchen looking onto a spacious backyard in the heart of Thornbury for only $350 a week. This place seemed too good to be true.

Turns out it was. The ‘sunroom’ was a tiny DIY attachment to one of the bedrooms. The carpet in each room was either stained or partially ripped up. The kitchen was not overlooking the backyard but had windows opening onto a laundry with a farm-style trough. The rooms were dark, partly due to the grime covering the windows. And the floors were so uneven that I felt dizzy walking around the house for less than ten minutes.

After going to inspection after inspection and continuing to be disappointed, I decided I wanted to see what life was like on the other side. Just a taste, to see what I was missing out on. I looked up rental properties in some of the most expensive suburbs in Melbourne, including Toorak, Brighton and Canterbury. Most of the properties were charging over $1000 a week.

After scrolling through mansion after mansion, each one more ludicrous than the next, I stopped on an apartment in Toorak. It was $2,500 a week, with a $15,000 bond. “Beautiful Spaces” the ad boasted. I thought back to the opening line for the Thornbury ad: “Discounted rent”. Worlds apart.

I had to see it. Perhaps it was masochistic, but curiosity got the better of me. Who are the people paying thousands of dollars a month to rent? Do you they have to make compromises?


It turns out this is more Madeline’s vibe | Source: Unsplash

I set out to attend the inspection, wearing my best young professional dress. The plan was to go in, see how much greener the grass really is, and then return home to my dissatisfying suburban flat.

When I arrived at the apartment lobby, a blonde, attractive woman not much older than me appeared and shook my hand confidently. There was no one else around and it was clear that I was about to go on a personalised tour of this luxury apartment.

The agent was very attentive, opening doors for me and switching on all the lights as we entered each room. The apartment was a rainbow of black, grey and white. Each room had more lights than necessary and way too much brass and marble. I went between the three bedrooms multiple times trying to distinguish the difference. Each included marble ensuites and walk-in robes “setting a benchmark for luxury”, as the ad insisted.

The furniture was, putting it plainly, less than inspiring. The couch looked stiff, angular and stupidly large – but then again, so was the space to fill. The coffee table had metal legs and a glass top displaying another open architecture book. They must really want to show people they know their architecture, I thought. But I wasn’t so convinced. Overall the room had a strange Kmart-meets-Chanel vibe.

I stepped out onto the balcony and was disappointed. The described ‘Open Spaces’ were really just outdoor features. The space felt anything but open, with a large metal barricade lining the length of the balcony, blocking out most of the light and view. It felt more claustrophobic than private. The effort to distance the property from its neighbours was extreme.

I went back inside and felt a chill from the marble benchtops and dark oak floors. And it hit me: the key thing missing from this apartment was warmth. No sun-faded carpet. No familiar creeks of the floorboards. No visible neighbours.