The Billing Season

Once a year, the planets align, and I get hit by heaps of bills — often all three utilities, plus car rego and home insurance…

It’s pretty much a consequence of having bought a house mid-year (in 2005) and bought a car mid-year (in 2008) as well. Plus other, quarterly, bills seem to arrive around the same time.

Everything arrives around the end of July, and is payable in August or September, then hits the credit card bill in October. Yes, it’s The Billing Season.

Home and contents insurance (for a year) with fairly high excess I may one day live to regret — $639.95

Car registration (a year) — $270.40 registration + $443 TAC charge + $44.30 insurance duty = $757.70, up about $45 from a couple of years ago.

Car insurance (a year) — ye olde 2000 Holden Astra covered for $2900 (hmm, about a third of what I actually paid for it in 2007) plus Third party property damage = $317.02

So rego and insurance together costs $1074, or about $3 a day, even if you drive nowhere (eg excluding fuel and maintenance).

Rates — total this year of $1427.10 (up from $1351.20 last year) thanks in part to the fire services levy — which moved the cost of fire services from insurance to rates… which makes sense; the burden shouldn’t be just on those who bother to insure. First payment of $356.75 due at the end of September.

Electricity — I recently switched to Powershop, which is interesting — you can pay in advance (and choose between different options at different prices) or just pay afterwards like with a conventional provider. It’s quite interesting seeing what specials come up. Anyway it’s currently costing me $3.83 per day, down from $4.82 at this time last year. But they don’t have a fixed rate all year, and costs may rise a bit as summer demand kicks in, though to an extent you can pre-purchase to minimise that. If anybody wants to switch to Powershop, let me know — if I refer you, we both get a $75 credit.

Gas — $464.50 for 61 days = $7.61 per day over the winter, when we use the heating a fair bit, so this should drop off in coming months.

Water — $212.10 for 76 days, but this includes a government rebate of $100. Without this, it would be $4.10 per day. Apparently we’re using an average 247 litres each day. I’m not sure why the rebate has kicked in now… it’s ages since we switched to the efficient shower head, and I don’t recall any more recent changes. Or was that the thing where they overcharged us in the past?

It’s time to buy a new Yearly Myki Pass — the cost these days for the discounted Commuter Club fare is $1395 including PTUA membership — compared to $1501.50 for a retail yearly. Some people saw price cuts in January, but most fares went up by CPI+2.5% (which is a reason to buy your Yearly Pass before December when the old prices stop being offered).

As a bonus, the drains had their biennual(ish) partial blockage, caused by a tree behind my property. The plumbers came and this time recommended a water jet which they say will clear away more of the tree roots. $250 later, the drains are clear again. I’ve got a coupon for a 20% discount next time.

Some costs are more regular: I get monthly bills for my ISP and phones, for instance, mostly processed automatically.

One other trend is obvious: more bills are arriving online than a year ago. It’s not hard to see why Australia Post is in trouble.

I’m not complaining about all the costs above. I do okay in the income stakes. But perhaps I should try to shift things around so they don’t all hit at once.

How long does a dishwasher last?

Just on five years ago my dishwasher door spring broke. In that instance a secondary fault also affected the actual washing of dishes.

Now another door spring has broken. It hasn’t affected the washing – it’s just the door is heavy, and needs to be opened very carefully.


Repair from Fisher And Paykel is expected to cost $135 for a call-out fee, excluding parts. I actually have the second spring from the pack from last time. I had a look at instructions on the internet to do it myself, and got through the first stage, but after that it looks too hard; I’d risk rendering the machine inoperable.

Given this unit is probably at least 15 years old (I moved in 10 years ago, and the kitchen renovation looks to have been a few years before that, though the house also had some renovation in 1995), I’m wondering what the typical life of a dish washer typically would be.

$135 to repair (if I don’t want a heavy door), or perhaps $900ish for a decent, brand new unit? (I’ve had good luck with Bosch products, and they have several models in that range). Hmmm.

How hard is it to install a dishwasher, anyway? Just connect up power and a couple of pipes? Sounds like it may be worth paying a little extra for installation.

On the other hand, the current one works fine, and it would seem to be a waste to scrap it in favour of a new one.

Future triffid in the garden?

I got my hot water heater replaced with a solar boosted unit 7 years ago when the old one died.

The tank includes an overflow pipe, out of which small amounts of water sometimes drop.

Because it’s only a small amount of water, I made no special arrangements for it. It drops straight onto part of the side footpath and (theoretically at least) drains away.

After a little while, I noticed some moss had started to grow on that section of footpath.

Triffid in the garden?

Fast-forward to 2015, and the moss has grown and been joined by who knows what from who knows where… it’s now a proper little garden — probably of horrible weeds, but still.

I could cut it all back, but I’m intrigued to see how much it grows from here.

If my blog goes silent, you’ll know it really was a triffid.

House prices in Bentleigh top $1 million – I couldn’t afford it here now

I mentioned the other day that it’s coming up on ten years since I bought my house in Bentleigh (hence the flurry of maintenance).

In that time, the prices here have gone through the figurative roof.

Median house prices: Bentleigh vs metro Melbourne
(Source: RealEstateView)

I didn’t think to save the data at the time, but this document tracks median house prices around Victoria from 1998 to 2008.

In 2005, the median in Bentleigh was $501,000. By 2007, it had shot up to $713,750.

There’s a gap in my info for a couple of years, but it got to about $910,000 by June 2010, before rising and dipping and dropping back to about $765,000 in December 2011.

As you can see from the graph, since then it’s climbed steadily: Figures in The Age recently indicate 14.4% growth in the past year, to a dizzying $1,003,000.

So not only has the median price now gone up about a million dollars, but it’s also doubled in the not-quite-ten-years since I bought.

I should note that although I own a house, it’s on a half-block of land, having been subdivided about ten years before I bought it. The rear garden is a mere courtyard, and it’s really only two-and-a-half bedrooms — all of which means I paid less than the median price.

The increase since means I lucked out on a good investment. Not that I’m planning to sell.

But it also means if I were house-hunting now, I’d be priced out of the suburb I’ve come to know and love.

And with my kids almost grown, I really wonder what the implications are for them and their peers.

Will the next generation be stuck as renters? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s nice to have the option to buy.

The alternative is to buy much, much further out, in suburbs with less amenity and walkability.

Bentleigh East is more affordable than Bentleigh, but is less walkable. Although the street layout is pretty good, access to amenities is reduced: Walkscore says 59 in BE vs 75 in B. And BE is mostly well beyond walking distance to the train network. Even then it’s not much more affordable — only about 10% cheaper, with a median price still over $900,000.

As others have pointed out, the capped public transport fares mean that if train/city access is your priority, it’s now better to look down the line than across from it. Think about travel time, rather than distance as the crow flies.

How long to the city? Metropolitan Town Planning Commission map circa 1920.
How long to the city? Metropolitan Town Planning Commission map circa 1920 — See blog post

For instance, along the Frankston line, spend another 10 minutes on the train (instead of fighting your way into the station car park every morning, or battling with hopeless feeder buses or facing a long walk) and you can be in somewhere like Edithvale, Chelsea or Carrum, at a cost of about 40% less than Bentleigh.

I’m sure it’s similar on other lines — though beware of train service frequency. For instance, out from Sunshine is quite good towards Sydenham, but the trains to Deer Park are hopelessly infrequent.

Of course there are other factors such as proximity to friends and family, crime levels, access to schools and shops and parkland.

And it’s still expensive of course. If you’re house hunting, or will be in the future, I wish you the very best of luck.

House repairs and renovation

Happy Australia Day! Now I’m going to do the Australian thing and talk about real estate.

Later this year it will be ten years since I moved into this house. It’s got me pondering maintenance, repairs and a little bit of renovation.

It started when I got my stepfather, who knows more about this kind of stuff than me, to look over the place and identify what needed fixing or upgrading. He came back with a lengthy list, and did some of the smaller jobs himself. Some of the major ones I’ve now organised to get done by tradesmen:

Window repairs. Some of the wooden windows need patching up as they’re showing signs of water damage. It’ll be good to get this done before it gets worse and more expensive to fix. Some of the sash windows need additional repairs, and the same guy can look at a couple of other issues including cracking brickwork.

Windows in need of repairs

This lead me into house painting. The windows obviously need to be repainted when patched. Looking at the rest of the outside of the house, it seemed like it might be a logical time to get it all done in one hit — for one thing where the windows were repainted, they’d match everything else.

Thirdly, external blinds. This is part of my three-point plan to keep the house cool on hot days via passive cooling. The first two parts were better roof insulation, and ceiling fans. I’ve ordered three external blinds for the biggest north and west-facing windows.

Wait, do ceiling fans count as passive cooling? Not sure, but hopefully the external blinds will make a difference, by deflecting the heat before it gets into the house. At present the inside of the house can get up to the low-30s on a really hot day.

I’d heard mixed reports from the big blind company starting with V (who also own the one starting with K), and ended up with the one with the appalling radio jingle starting with B. They came out on Monday and the bloke seemed cheerful and knowledgeable. I also got him to quote on replacing a broken interior window blind.

I’m not sure I understand their system of working out a price then automatically giving you a 40% “factory discount”. If that’s done as routine, it’s not really a discount — it’s just your price. I gather V/K do something similar, but press you to agree on the day to get some/all of that discount. Must be something they just do in the blinds business.

As part of preparations, I spent some time in the garden with various implements of destruction clearing away bushes from the walls and windows to about a metre. Hopefully it’s enough to allow the coming small army of tradespeople to do their work.

I’m also steeling myself for the cost. Suddenly I find myself up for about $800 of window repairs, $2000 in new blinds, and a third big bill for painting, which will drain away my savings somewhat.

But it ultimately is an investment in keeping the house shipshape, and cooler in hot weather.

(Some neighbours of mine have gone for a different plan. They’ve just moved out, in preparation for having their house demolished, and a brand new one built in its place.)

And doing a bunch of repairs and renovations at the start of the year is good, because (as will be the subject of a future blog post), I always get a whole raft of annual bills midyear.

Other things that need attention soon:

  • Some floorboards moving about a bit, producing gaps
  • Narrow cracks near ceiling in livingroom
  • Kitchen: remove blank plate over old light switch hole; fill and paint
  • Continue the clearout of stuff I no longer need! (Let’s face it, this is a long-term prospect, which has been going longer than I’ve lived here!)


Wednesday: Window repairs done, went smoothly, apart from one crack in a pane, which was then repaired. Now awaiting painter.

Friday: Painter came yesterday to get paint samples, and today used a high-pressure hose to wash down the house, and did some other preparatory work. Painting itself starts tomorrow.