My mother had an expression. 'They looked at me,' she would say, 'as if I'd just crawled out from underneath a stone.'
By second class citizens, I am not referring to those in Australia who might feel like them sometimes, such as Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders; or asylum seekers who try to sneak in on 'the boats'; or boguns or westies or bevans or ockers or hoons. No, I'm talking about people who rent property in Queensland (and, I assume, the rest of the country).
We cannot buy a house in Australia: we're not residents. We can only rent. My friend has a responsible job, a decent salary, and a 457 visa. We are legal, but we are low life in the eyes of estate agents. They don't return calls; they ignore emails; they promise to do things, then don't. If you're seriously searching for a new property to rent, they won't give you a heads-up if one comes on the market. You have to trawl their website frequently or collect xeroxed lists, which are often out of date before you've put your glasses on.
When you walk into a real estate shop, the moment they know you want to rent rather than buy, their eyes go dead, the smile fades, and the distinterested demeanour is effected.
We could be told at any moment to leave our house, with four weeks' notice to vacate. It was last October when a nice man called me with the bad news (we would have been quite happy to stay here for the whole of our stay in Brisbane) that our landlord was putting the house on the market. He has since been stuck in a stagnant market of falling prices; he's on his third agent. The latest one is ambitious and officious and unpleasant and doesn't give a monkey's about our predicament: we have family from the UK staying with us for a month and are largely unable to house-hunt; neither do we want strangers traipsing through our house while our guests are taking a shower or eating their lunch.
I now don't return her calls or emails.
I suspect this may not be the last you'll hear of this...