Personalities of Co-Living: Bernie


Extract From 'SUBURBAN ADAPTATION' by Trina Day

NAME: Bernie

AGE : 46

PROFESSION: Science Writer / Presenter

LIVING WITH: Partner Leila, and their single friend Lya

Bernie, her partner Leila and their friend Lya bought a property together about 4 years ago. The property is a 1960’s block of 3 one bedroom apartments in Marrickville. Sydney on 370sqm of land. The council zoning for the property is Residential 2A.

Why did you decide to purchase property with three people?

It kind of just happened. I had been living in a share house with Lya for 6 months, and when my partner moved to Australia she just moved in with us. It worked surprisingly well with the three of us sharing the house for the next 4 years, so when we realised that we were all thinking about buying property at about the same time it seemed like a natural thing to do to look together.

We found that adding a third income also opened up the possibilities of the type of property we could consider.

If it were just Leila and I, we would be in a small terrace or cottage, but with the three of us we could look for a property with some space. I also grew up in a large family, so I enjoy having people around me. Originally we wanted to live closer to the city, but prices were just too high. This area in Marrickville is great, we back onto the Cook’s River, we have an amazing community of neighbours; Polish, Greek, Baltic, and a bike ride into the city only takes half an hour.

What facilities are shared?

The property was already divided into 3 separate apartments when we bought it. Each apartment has a separate entrance, 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom, a kitchen and living space. My partner and I live in the upper floor apartments, and we generally keep the door between our apartments open. When we have a guest, I move in with Leila and we can give the guest a whole apartment.

The only internal area shared between all of us is the laundry. There is one carport for two vehicles, but I hog this because my electric car needs to be plugged in at night.

The garden areas are all shared. There is a porch at the rear of the block and we use that for our larger social gatherings as there is no large internal space. The porch is at a lower level than Lya’s ground floor apartment, so these gatherings don’t affect the privacy of her apartment. A lot of our friends are mutual so these events are open to all.

Last summer we had a bath tub in the front yard, and we would cool down after work sitting in that bath in our bathers and talk to the neighbours as they walked by. They’re very forgiving of us!

Do you own the property equally?

Lya owns a third, and Leila and I have a 55 – 45% split in the remaining two thirds. We organised our mortgage ourselves, although we did look into using PodProperty who deal specifically with co-ownership arrangements. Our ownership model is a tenants-in-common contract, and we have a gentle(wo)man’s agreement that none of us will sell for 5 years from the purchase date. We have lived here now for 4 years, and none of us are interested in selling or changing the contract at this stage. Lya is convinced that this is her retirement property. Although we’ve all been known to change our minds! But we’re so used to negotiating things now I don’t see a problem down the track.

Are you open to renting out the apartments?

Lya has actually moved away for a while so a friend will be renting her apartment. There is no issue because the apartments are autonomous. We did have an acquaintance staying when Lya first moved away and there was a bit of an issue because she often popped in when we had friends over. I think she saw it as a share house, but we still value our privacy. It’s just a matter of setting a clear etiquette from the beginning.

What qualities do the three of you have in common?

We all have similar ideas on social justice, and we all believe in working hard for the things you value. Lya and Leila make it very clear if they think I haven’t pulled my weight in any of the shared duties - which doesn’t happen often, but its good to get a nudge.

Any conflict as of yet?

It did take a while to get used to decision making as owners rather than renters - the decisions have a lot more weight to them as owners and Leila and I had to be careful not to vote as a bloc. But we talked our way through it over the first 6 months and haven’t had any problems since.

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