Vertical Villages

Some people still think of apartment living as a sad sequel of Rear Window, a collection of lonely desperates with only the view from their windows offering the distant promise of company.

By contrast, life in a suburban house is all about chatting to the friendly neighbours over the garden fence, nipping down the road for a cup of tea with the lady on the corner and attending neighbourhood BBQs and street parties.

In both cases, the reality often couldn’t be further from the truth and suburban life can be far lonelier than living in apartments.

While some people choose apartments for the anonymity and privacy they afford, others see them as a gateway to an extended social life. The best combination is a balance of both, so you can opt in whenever you like – or simply close the front door when you want to be alone.

The key is to choose a block that has like-minded people in it, and that could be as simple as checking its noticeboard. All apartments must have one, by law, to display Owners Corporation minutes. And some will allow nothing else to besmirch the pristine authority of those notes.

Others are a lively jumble of car spaces to rent, special deals in local restaurants and services from masseurs to plumbers who have a number of ‘regulars’ in your building. A block with that kind of noticeboard is more likely to be one of the growing number that are keen to nurture a thriving sense of community.

We know of buildings that hold a couple of functions every year, like BYO Christmas drinks in the gym and summer BBQs outside. Increasing numbers have their own book clubs, theatre groups, wine-tasting sessions, weekly restaurant bookings at a communal table, bridge evenings and yoga classes, all putting in a share of the instructor’s fee.

One Sydney Executive Committee (EC) chair even organises annual holidays – past trips have included ten days cycling in Vietnam and an expedition to Yemen (!) – to which all residents were invited.

If you want to turn your building into a true ‘vertical village’, a communal noticeboard is vital, a shared email group to which all residents can post notes is great, and a building website is a huge boost. You should also have a regularly updated handbook which details all local services – from the police station to the pizza delivery – as well as containing the dreaded bylaws.

And it’s a lot easier to join a building with a thriving social scene than try to create one. You don’t want to be the only person in the foyer for Christmas drinks while everyone else scuttles past. Trust us – been there, done that!

Jimmy Thomson is co-author (with Sue Williams) of Apartment Living: The complete guide to buying, selling, surviving and thriving in apartments, ABC Books. $29.95

Q: Our neighbours in our brand new building in which we all bought off the plan are paying for a professional defects inspection of their apartment. Can’t I just do mine myself?

A: Yes, you can, but it’s not recommended. In our first off-the-plan apartment, I did my own, and found 12 defects. Someone else in the block paid for an expert – who listed 1,200 defects which were promptly repaired.

Unless you’re an engineer, architect or developer yourself, you won’t be able to see most of the problems until they become glaringly obvious – when you’ll be paying to get them fixed up yourself.

So a proper inspection is a valuable investment. It may cost you $1,500 – but if you can then get all, or most of, those defects rectified as a result, how much will it save you in the long run?

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