The truth about flat hunting in Auckland

house hunting in auckland
By: Andy Arthur

If there’s one thing we took away from our various American hosts, it’s that you guys enjoy an insanely high standard of housing.  Your bathroom is straight out of the 70s, you say? Oh, please, spend a day a flat hunting in Auckland and you’ll realise how good you have it…

When we left, the state of property here was insane. Six months on, the market is even crazier, and there are no signs of the housing shortage abating or of any political action being taken to fix it. Yes, Mum, there’s nothing more I’d like than to buy a place of our very own, but even a standard house in humble suburbs like the one I grew up in are well over the $500,000 mark.

We’re looking for a cheap rental so we can save up for a down payment. Somewhere that won’t kill us financially – or physically. One place we looked at … well, I wouldn’t let an animal live there. Dank, filthy and creeping with mould in every room. All the other people there to look at it seemed to be new immigrants, and I worry for whoever winds up renting it. My mother has taken it upon herself to help us look through listings, and it’s cute to hear her keep muttering “If I was a landlord, I’d fix this up and …..” Of course, if she were to do that, she’d also charge a lot more rent and probably price people like us out of the market.

We could flat with others, saving money and also getting to live in a nicer place as a result (as long as I’m not head of the house; I had that responsibility before and will never do it again). If we had our own bathroom, I think I could probably handle it. We’ve even looked at a couple of shared houses.

T isn’t so keen, however, and so we focused mainly on rental properties. Ideally:

  • around $300 a week (or less)
  • in an area where it’s easy for me to get to work (I work in the suburbs, not the CBD, so this makes things trickier, as we are a one-car household)
  • not visibly mouldy (it’s a little sad that this has to be said)
  • with a full kitchen (oven and stove, not just a hotplate)
  • mixer taps (my pet peeve is separate hot and cold faucets; I want to be able to wash my hands without either burning or freezing them)
  • off-street parking (garage would be a dream)

Beggars can’t be choosers, of course, so I was open to compromise. (And all going to plan, today we sign on the line for a tiny but very nice place, which is very affordable and includes whiteware – but has only two cooking hobs and no oven. Lots of stovetop cooking for us, then…)

But as well as being a beggar, I am also a blogger, and predisposed to ranting about things that get my goat. Here are three things that completely blow about flat hunting in Auckland.

If you don’t have a somewhat flexible job, you are shit outta luck

Agents don’t give a flying f*ck about renters.

Viewings for rental properties are always held during regular working hours, and because the market is so tight, there is only ever usually one single viewing. If you can’t make it, tough luck – it’s almost a certainty that property will be gone after that viewing to someone who DID attend. (By contrast, open homes are always on weekends – usually both Saturday AND Sunday.)

You might get lucky and find the odd property that’s managed directly by the owner, but in our experience (that is, lower end of the price range in central west Auckland) almost all rentals these days are managed by agents.

You will waste a lot of time

Compare a typical rental listing on TradeMe to a typical property for sale listing.

One will have a multitude of photos of every single room from every possible angle, and a flowery description to accompany, along with address or at least the name of the road.

One will state the bare minimum and the bleeding obvious (number of bedrooms, type of dwelling, and maybe the total move-in cost). It MIGHT list the address, but often it will simply only give the suburb. Super helpful. As for photos, there are a few rare listings that include photos of all the important rooms as well an exterior shot. Most of the time though, one of the following is true:

  • No photos at all (yes, this really happens)
  • One single photo of the exterior
  • Multiple photos of the exterior from different angles (sometimes up to about 10 – why?!)
  • Photos of the interior – bedroom and/or lounge only
  • Photos of the interior – minus the kitchen
  • Photos of the interior – minus the bathroom

I will remind you again that almost all of these are managed by agencies. I’m sure many of these amateur photos are provided by the owners, but that’s a weak excuse especially if you’re paying someone to manage your rental for you.

Then again, it hardly matters since the market is so tight that even crapholes get snapped up in a flash.

What sucks is that the managers put zero effort into the listings, forcing US to take time out from work to go along to viewings to get any sort of idea whether a place is really like inside. If we were better able to screen listings online, this would make flat hunting a lot less of a headache.

Did I mention that lots of agencies still don’t offer online application? Apparently they’re still stuck in the 1990s. Seriously – if I have to download and print a form (then scan it to email or physically deliver it to the office), then it doesn’t count, *cough Barfoot & Thompson*.

Meanwhile, house hunters have apps to get pre-approved in 10 minutes. I know there’s a lot more money to be made off buyers, but renters are people too, you know – and we need shelter over our heads just as badly.

On a budget? Then your choices range from Damp to Downright Uninhabitable

Yes, our climate is pretty dang mild compared to most part of the world. But that doesn’t mean living in an uninsulated house is healthy.

Did I ever tell you about the time we found a mushroom growing through the carpet in the hallway of our last house? I also hate to think how many spores I’ve breathed in over the past few years in the process of cleaning mould off bedroom and bathroom ceilings (and walls, come to think of it). I met up with a Kiwi friend while she was over in San Francisco at the same time we were, and we collectively marvelled at how warm and dry it was inside American houses.

If there wasn’t such a shortage of (affordable) property, maybe landlords would sort out their act. But there is, and so there’s no incentive to.

Please, share your other big city renter sob stories in the comments. Let’s wallow together.

19 thoughts on “The truth about flat hunting in Auckland

  1. Amen to this! Our current place I didn’t even see – R went to the viewing and handed in the application and the first time I saw the place is when we took over the keys (you guessed it, no interior pics!). We’re not even close to being central AKL, but the rental market out here is just as insane.

  2. YOU FOUND A MUSHROOM GROWING IN THE CARPET OF YOUR LAST HOUSE?!

    Oh, my God. I can’t even imagine. Your stories make my latest apartment hunting ordeal in DC a total breeze!

  3. It’s hella competitive in Wellington too. All leases end in January, within about a couple of weeks. Good luck trying to find a place outside that time block. Actually, good luck finding one within that time slot.

    We also had a carpet mushroom a few flats ago. Oh and mice, lots of mice.

    The agents here are absolutely terrible — everything is your fault and they’re totally unwilling to take any responsibility themselves.

    Luckily, my partner and I found a really great agency (HousingPlus) with friendly, reasonable agents. We’re also treated a lot better now that we’re nice University teachers rather than students with part-time jobs. We look great on paper.

    Our current place is awesome, the agents are great and we just signed on for another year. I shudder to think about moving again. Ugh.

  4. ditto Manda’s comment! I probably live in one of the worst apartment units in my area (otherwise the rent is more than my roommates and I want to pay) and it’s probably tons better than everything that you’ve seen so far. Hell, most old homes I saw in Taiwan when I was there are tons better than everything that you’ve looked it.

    As an American, I sense a business opportunity for the investor landlord with lots of money: refurbish apartment, rent/sell at high price, give comfortable home to the many people who are willing to pay.

    1. There’s some decent rentals to be had, but not at a reasonable price. If we were to rent somewhere nice, we’d basically be giving up on our dream of ever buying a house as we wouldn’t be able to save for a down payment. As with everything else in Auckland, you’re set if you have the $$$. If you don’t, you’re outta luck.

  5. I can’t even move out because rent for a one bedroom around here $1,000 or more a month. Being single, I can’t really swing that!

  6. I am so glad that I own now. But, I can’t imagine running rentals like that in the States. What you describe is what slum lords get away with. it’s shocking! A freaking mushroom!!?? WTF.

  7. :|

    I am with Michelle. I can’t believe you have rentals like that in NZ. Even in Canada, which I think is more backwards and expensive than the U.S. for housing, doesn’t have mushrooms or mold growing in the homes. If it did, we’d just NOT RENT (lots of options, which is probably why NZ’landers are screwed for choice), or report them.

    It’s slum lordship… but it’s also because there’s no choice there and no rules or regulations.

    Here in Canada at least, you can take landlords to court for failing to provide a safe place to rent.

  8. Wow, I had no idea. NYC is a pretty tough place to rent in. Almost all the places I saw rented out the living room. Auckland sounds pretty crazy though. Good luck!

  9. That sounds almost as bad as Vancouver! At least the places here sound a bit nicer for what you pay, but it can be pretty difficult to find something quickly!

  10. This sounds like an ordeal. Reminds of them time I had to compete with multiple bidders just to rent a two-bedroom in a Sydney suburb. I ended up getting it by paying for a few months’ rent in advance. What makes things so much harder for renters is that the real estate agent works for the landlord, so there’s no incentive for them to help the (already plentiful) renters. After all, if half-ass marketing works, why do more?

  11. That’s funny you mentioned mixer taps. I’ve used separate hot and cold taps all my life and never really thought about just having mixers. I can see how they are more convenient but I feel like most US housing has separate taps except sometimes in the kitchen.

    That is tough the rental market is worse than when you left. Yikes – dealing with mold is not fun. I hope you find something decent soon! Best of luck.

    1. Really? I don’t mean separate hot and cold knobs with one faucet where the water comes out (I still call that a mixer tap), I mean literally separate hot and cold faucets where hot water comes out of one faucet and cold out of another. In every house we stayed in North America (which was quite a few) they were all mixer taps.

  12. These stories are amazing!

    Housing costs in the US are not that outrageous except in the big, glamorous coastal cities — which of course is where all the young folks just starting out, without a nickel or a dime to rub together, dearly want to live. My son and his roommates were paying $2400/month to live in Oakland (San Francisco Bay Area) — and I hear the average rental now is something in excess of $3300, at least in the City. But for their $2400, they had a very pleasant three-bedroom house right off a stylish shopping strip. They did find a three-bedroom flat in the City, also for $2400, but it wasn’t as nice and IMHO it was a firetrap. But at least it was clean and no ‘shrooms were growing in the carpet. Not by accident, anyway.

    In Phoenix he’s paying $1200 on a mortgage toward a cute (but older) centrally located house on a big lot — he could bicycle to work, if he felt that ambitious. Apartments run around $800 – $1000, for more-or-less livable two-bedrooms. And I doubt if separate hot & cold taps are still manufactured in this country.

    1. I’m not sure those old taps are still made here, either, but the fact is we have a ton of rentals that are, I don’t know, 50/60 years old and still in their original condition, so they’ve never been updated. :/

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