Tag Archives: housing

Location, location, location: Renters just wanna live centrally (this one does, anyway)

It’s funny how different people’s priorities can be when house hunting.

The only negative about our current place, in my eyes, is how freezing cold it is. That and the fact it doesn’t have a full stove. The cold issue, however, is the one that might prompt me to move sooner rather than later. (It’s so cold I’ve actually been keeping half an eye on listings, but there just aren’t that many options out there, certainly none that are overall better than this.)

My MIL, however, seems to think it’s a bit of a dungeon, due to the small size and the fact all the windows have dark tints, for whatever reason. Apparently there’s a two-bedroom house available for rent she knows of and suggested to T, but I can tell you right now that we would not take it. Why?

That house is in Te Atatu, which is further out than where we currently live. That would increase the cost of my bus pass, and I can guarantee the commute would only be worse. Right now, we live literally a minute away from the bus stop, not to mention a few minutes from the local hub with mall, train station, multiple supermarkets, butchers, grocers, Asian stores and organics shop. It doesn’t get much better than that. I’d happily sacrifice a degree of convenience to live in Te Atatu if we were buying a house there, but not for a rental.

For me, as a renter, location is the first thing I look at. I know I won’t be able to afford to live as centrally when we buy, so I’m making the most of it. Even if I had a car of my own, I couldn’t/wouldn’t drive to work, so access to public transport is paramount.

I can’t do much about cold and damp because that’s the default for New Zealand rentals, so onto the next thing on the list…

Next, I stand my ground on mixer taps in the bathroom and kitchen. I will not live somewhere where hot and cold water pour out of separate taps (yes, this is still common in a lot of rentals). That is barbaric; it’s 2014 and any landlords who haven’t updated their plumbing need to get with the programme.

Having lots of space comes last for me. But I guess it comes first for my MIL, and if T was single I think it might be his top criteria, too. Me, I grew up in a fairly small house. I hate cleaning. And I’m not big on entertaining at home. Home is where I go to escape from the world.

What do you look for when choosing somewhere to live?

Generation Rent needs habitable housing – it’s that simple

By: grahamc99

It’s painful to admit, but for a brief moments earlier this year I allowed myself to hope that T might do well enough at his last job that we might be able to afford to buy a house in a year or two.

Obviously those hopes went out the window with that job.

Our current place is only slightly damp, thankfully – no ceiling or closet mould, just window condensation – but it is fucking freezing. It most definitely would not meet the World Health Organisation’s recommended indoor temperature of 18-21 degrees. So, you know, like most everywhere else we’ve rented. /shrug

In nearly 10 years of renting, and moving on average every 18 months, the warmest and driest place I’ve ever lived was a studio under our landlord’s house in leafy Epsom. Dark and tiny, the tradeoff for insulation was having barely enough room for two people to stand up (the rest of the house where the landlord and his family actually lived, though, was reasonably large and very nice) so when the rent went up, we started looking elsewhere right away.

I absolutely refuse to raise my kids in this kind of place. I want to provide them with at least the standard of environment I grew up in. I really don’t think that’s asking too much. We lived very modest lives, but in a dry and warm house in a safe area.

It’s all well and good to say:

“Tenants are encouraged to find a property that not only meets their needs and lifestyle, but does not have any existing issues like [being cold and damp].”

but that totally ignores the reality of our market. That might work in other countries – not here. Nobody wants to live in a cold, damp place, but the majority of our rental housing stock IS cold and damp. Yet everyone needs somewhere to live. So the default question becomes not ‘is it damp and cold?’ but ‘how damp and cold is it?’ in an attempt to gt something toward the better end of the spectrum. Except for the very worst cases, it’s hard to gauge the extent of cold and damp during a 5-minute daytime viewing, especially during the non-winter months.

I’m getting too old for this shit.

I’m not sure what we’re going to do. I’m still hopeful that we might be able to buy at some point. (I’m not going to make any projections or commit to any goals here; T’s work situation has been so variable over the years that it would be frustrating and feels pointless.)

Otherwise, quality rentals are few and far between. Finding a place that’s insulated at all is the first hurdle. The second hurdle: can we actually afford to rent such a place? And the third hurdle … would we even get it? Granted, we aren’t at the very bottom of the tenancy ladder anymore. We’re not beneficiaries or students (oh, the times we house hunted when I was still in uni … how many places we missed out on!) But we are not particularly high income earners and in a tight market, when you have your pick of applicants, are you going to approve the couple making more, or the couple making less? I’m not delusional; the kinds of places we qualify for in Auckland are not the nice ones.

I think it’s really hard to grok the state of the market here unless you’ve experienced it firsthand. There’s the sheer fact that there’s so much competition (one showing per rental and always during work hours; houses almost always sold at auction, or blind tender).

And anyone who’s spent time abroad can testify to the dire physical state of housing here; there are countless expat message boards devoted to this topic. We’ve stayed in many, many apartments and houses throughout Europe and North America, thanks to friends, Couchsurfing and Airbnb, and all of them stunned us in a good way. Yep, even the supposedly crap places – and that includes the depressing grey Stalinist apartment block in Berlin that was astonishingly lovely inside – were miles ahead of anywhere we’ve rented here. Heck, we even have landlords who apparently would have no qualms about renting out meth houses. That is, to put it mildly, somewhat worrying.

And if you need a memory refresh, here’s another reason why renting for life isn’t a good option – here, tenants have very few rights/security.

Change may be on the horizon – at some point. I recently came across a blog devoted to examining the state of housing in New Zealand (hallelujah!). Student Elinor Chisholm is writing her PhD on collective action to improve rental housing in New Zealand.

The poor quality of New Zealand’s rental housing is finally getting the attention it deserves. People seem to agree that our housing is having terrible effects on health, and that it’s not right.

Not long ago a  scheme that sets minimum standards for rental housing was trialled. Criticism has mainly been along the lines of:

a) it’s going to raise rents

b) a lot of the criteria are shallow

to which my responses are:

a) I would be willing to pay more in rent if the property merited it, because I care about my health – I would be more open to renting for life if it didn’t put me at such risk of dying with black mould in my lungs. I suspect the savings on heating and medical costs (we did not need to use a heater at all when we lived in Epsom and didn’t get sick) would even it out. Maybe at the low income end, the government needs to increase Accommodation Supplement – but the current state of rentals is just not acceptable by any standards.

b) as a result, they are reviewing some of the criteria – but really, let’s not nitpick, let’s focus on the important stuff – namely, insulation and heating. I’d love to see minimum indoor temperature introduced as a criterion.

I mean, the fact is that the vast majority of houses in the sample failed: 90 percent, or let’s be generous and knock it down to two-thirds since 36 percent only required “minor” fixes to be brought up to scratch. And given that the surveyed rentals were volunteered by landlords, it’s probably not a big leap to conclude that the real number would be even higher.

Tenant horror stories often make the mainstream media, but how often do we hear about the horror houses we have to make do with? That’s why I’m so glad to see Elinor getting a platform on Public Address (which reaches a fair number of people).

“Horror renters” are a very small issue, about 0.6% of the population, that, fortunately, we deal with through the courts. Horror rental houses, on the other hand, is a huge issue – 44% of our rental homes. Our current system, with its lack of quality standards, and with its disincentives to tenants for taking issues of quality to the court, is not working.

I think it’s safe to assume the quality of owned houses here is overall higher than the quality of rented houses. Maybe it used to be okay to do your time in mouldy rentals before buying your own place (doing it up if need be). But as home ownership slides further out of reach for our generation, we need habitable rental housing to fill the gap.

Because, to borrow a phrase from this Medium piece:

“It shouldn’t be easy. But it should not be this hard.”

Why I love living in the suburbs

There is a certain local blog I’ve started following very closely (with transport being one of Auckland’s biggest growing pains as the city expands, I’m keen to keep up with what’s happening in that area).

One thing that does frustrate me is the sometimes excessively ideological stance it takes. City life = good. Suburbia = bad. Walking and biking and of course, public transport = good. Cars = bad.

Absolutely, we need to reduce car congestion particularly at peak times – and I think that’s our biggest opportunity in regard to public transport. But for the majority of Aucklanders, a car is still going to be almost a necessity for your leisure time. (Even more so for people who don’t work in the CBD and generally need to drive to work.) I don’t ever imagine there being enough demand for a regular bus from, say, town to Bethells beach, and I sure hope there never is, to be quite frank. That would be horrible – I can’t even begin to fathom it.

Most of us do not live in the CBD, and I’d say very few of us want to. (Not bashing the CBD! Just stating a general truth. The most desirable areas are undoubtedly the immediately surrounding suburbs rather than the CBD itself.)

Personally, the closest I’ve ever lived to town is Epsom/Mt Eden (about a 15-20 minute bus ride). Here’s why:

Location/proximity

We have to balance the ease of getting to work for me AND him. We are probably always going to work in very different parts of Auckland, and he will probably never be in a situation where public transport makes sense for his commute. It’s also ideal for us to live close to friends and family, who are all central-west/west. His side of the family has no car of their own; we always go to them. He also spends a lot of time with friends; the time and petrol costs when we lived over in Epsom sometimes got a bit silly.

Food

The best Asian food is found in the suburbs. None of my regular favourite restaurants are in town. YMMV depending on your tastes. Also, grocery shopping is wayyy better in the suburbs, both in terms of supermarkets and cheap grocers/butchers. When T’s sister lived way out west we’d bundle visits with a trip to the massive Lincoln Rd Pak’n’Save, the supermarket to end all supermarkets.

Room to breathe

This might sound a little weird … and I completely understand if you don’t get it. Having grown up in a suburban area, these are the kinds of surroundings I’m used to. We spent about a year living in an apartment building when I was still a student and it just didn’t feel right. It’s not about raw floor space; after all our current one-bedroom flat (which is kinda like a big sleepout between two real houses in front and back) is probably about the same size as that apartment. It’s about little things like stepping out your front door and being outside. A little garden. Not having neighbours literally on the other side of the wall/floor/ceiling. That’s what feels right to me, probably because that’s how I was raised. And while we’re on that note … the beach and bush that we like are an easy drive away. I love that.

I was also actually going to say that it’s cheaper out here, but that’s not necessarily true. There’s always a glut of tiny shoebox apartments available for rent in town, but again for that breathing room/lifestyle aspect, we’d pick the suburbs any day. Caveat: I don’t mean the sprawly, soulless type of suburbia where you have to drive for ages to get anywhere – that end of the spectrum sucks – but the good kind, that’s near transport links and shops and parks.

It’s all about balancing and tradeoffs. Commuting is a bit of a pain, but it’s not like I’m not used to it, like every other Aucklander. We’re not after bar hopping, shows, and going to trendy places. Out of the years that I spent working in the suburbs, I can probably count on my fingers the number of times we ventured into town in our own time. CBD living doesn’t interest us (at least not with the CBD in its current state, for all the progress it’s made in the last decade). I love working in town, but am happy to go home to suburbia.

Renting for life: how bad would it be?

After recent conversations with friends who are flathunting (renting) and househunting (buying), I’ve been giving serious thought to a scary and depressing scenario: renting for life in Auckland.

Let me cut you off right here: I don’t want to hear your comments about the pros of renting for life, unless you live in Auckland. I have been a renter since age 17. I know all about the pros, and for me, in the Auckland context, they don’t outweigh the cons, especially because we want to have a family. I am not interested in uninformed opinions from people who don’t have any clue what it’s like to rent, buy, live in Auckland. Okay, onwards…

This post over at The Conversation tackles the state of the property market in Australia, but it could just as well have been written about New Zealand.

“Renters are the losers in the property game. Not only do they struggle with high rents but tenant protection in Australia is among the weakest in the developed world. This is not coincidental: Australia’s 1.8 million and counting property investors support and are supported by tenancy legislation heavily weighted in favour of landlords. This produces a fundamental lack of security in rental housing.”

(I note that the UK is looking at introducing tenancy reforms, recognising that members of ‘Generation Rent’ need more rights. Good for them. We could use some of our own, since “compared with many countries, New Zealand and Australia are some of the most restrictive rental jurisdictions”.)

That piece at the Conversation argues that factors like tax laws and rapid appreciation create “effectively an infinite demand for property in Australia”, which I think is also applicable to us; NZ is right behind Australia in terms of ratio of housing stock to GDP.

A Forbes post recently did the rounds warning of a housing bubble here in NZ, and much as I would like to hope that Jesse Colombo is right (being an aspiring homeowner myself and all), I am more inclined to agree with local writers Brian Fallow and Bernard Hickey’s assessment of the situation. They both lay out some high-level reasons as to why they think a huge crash is unlikely, and while I’m not going to pretend I know anything about the Reserve Bank or exchange rates, here’s my plebeian take: here in Auckland we continue to have a shortage of housing; land is limited; and there are obviously still people with the means to pay current prices – and potentially higher.

The NZ Initiative isn’t afraid to tell it like it is:

“New Zealanders face a shortage of dwellings of just about every description, while paying far more for those we do have New Zealand houses are not only expensive compared to income but their prices too have been rising. New Zealand’s house prices have increased by a staggering amount over the past 30 years, aided by a mixture of policies and social and cultural changes that have forced up the price of building or buying a house.”

Let’s break that down:

“Someone in an inner suburb of Auckland who bought a home for, say, $70,000 in 1975, lived in it for 37 years, and did little but basic maintenance on it might find the house worth $1.5 million plus today. Someone in, say, Torbay on Auckland’s North Shore, who built a ‘standard house’ (land and section) in 1969 for $16,000 and did basic maintenance would find the property worth about $1 million today. The malign effects of the MUL [Metropolitan Urban Limit] that planners produced – believing that constraining the boundaries of urbanisation would work to the advantage of ordinary people, save transport costs, and restrain unnecessary local authority outlays – are absolutely
clear. The MUL has benefitted mostly older people who hath, and hurt younger people who hath not. The MUL favours the old and the rich and it punishes the
younger and the poorer.”

Ain’t that the truth. According to a Salvation Army report:

Housing has become more and more expensive for first-time home buyers and home-ownership rates have fallen. This fall has been aided by tax policies that favour existing property owners, and easily available debt that allows those who already own property to buy up lower-valued houses as rental investments. To some extent, this rental investment has been propped up by Government housing subsidies to low-income households that have now grown to $1.8 billion annually.

We, therefore, have the worst of all worlds when it comes to housing. Housing is too expensive for up to a quarter of all households to afford without Government assistance. Much of the housing is poorly-built and now needs further public subsidies to repair.

Worst case scenario: we are permanently priced out and left with no choice but to rent for life. What would this realistically mean for us?

No dogs in our future. It is damn near impossible to rent with pets – maybe cats, definitely not dogs. That said, based on my observations, I am not surprised that many landlords don’t want to rent to dog owners. Compared to the US where even apartments allow dogs, I found the dog culture over there a pleasant surprise – overall I felt most pet dogs were well trained, well behaved, quiet and clean, moreso than my experience of dogs here. I suppose a lot of that comes from having more of an indoor pet culture rather than an outdoor pet culture, as a result of density.

Spending a fortune on heating and dehumidifying. Aside from the top-priced tier of the market, the quality of housing here is generally quite ridiculous. It’s no good having a mild climate if you don’t actually insulate your buildings – might as well sleep under a bridge. Thanks landlords who don’t care about providing healthy accommodation and updating old houses! Longtime readers will recall my stories of mould in bedrooms, in wardrobes (trying to clean spores off your favourite dress blows), being able to see our breath in front of us while INDOORS and mushrooms growing through carpet.

Poor quality housing has been identified as a public health issue of major concern in New Zealand, with evidence that dampness and “thermal inefficiency” (which I’m pretty sure is a bullshit way of saying FREEZING COLD) are more prominent in rentals. Unsurprisingly, these things are associated with higher rates of respiratory conditions, among other icky problems. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I have gotten sicker more frequently and to worse degrees since I moved out of home. I started having trouble breathing a few winters back. And I know many immigrants who developed asthma for the first time after moving to New Zealand.

Most likely bouncing around and around. Literally almost everyone I can think of who has rented a family sized house for any significant period of time (think your typical 3-bedroom) has been forced out at some point due to the landlord selling. Or, in a few cases, the landlord moving in a family member (in which case the notice period is only 42 days instead of 90 – this seems to happen suspiciously frequently, actually). Of the two larger houses I’ve rented, both were put on the market the year after we moved out. Cash in those capital gains, quick!

This is mildly annoying at best. At worst, if you’re settled with kids in school, I imagine it’s a freaking nightmare. We don’t exactly have an oversupply of rental housing, let alone quality affordable rental housing, and add in our lack of density and it can be a tough call to find a comparable nearby place in a pinch.

Renting is still cheaper, though the gap seems to be narrowing. I was surprised to plug in some numbers and find out that the mortgage on a $500k house would only be $550 a week; rent for a 3 bedroom house would start at about $400 for a crap place and run up into, oh, the 600s for somewhere nicer. (I’m not even talking central Auckland here, obviously, where a starter house is $1 million.)

While mortgage payments may fluctuate with interest rates, rent always goes up eventually over time. Here, rent can be increased as often every 6 months – granted, it usually isn’t raised that frequently, thankfully. And yes, there are additional expenses that come with being a homeowner, but at least they’re going into an asset. The problem of course is that coming up with a six figure down payment is a hell of a lot easier said than done, even if repayments are manageable. Thus, my fading dream of buying a humble house, insulating it, and living happily after with kids and dog. Who even knows how we’d house ourselves in retirement? The Productivity Commission itself states that people in New Zealand who enter retirement while renting may face financial hardship.

Stuff reader Susan Wells is apparently living my future fear:

We continue to rent a tiny 105sqm, three-bedroom, leaking, crooked, mouldy, old house, that barely fits our family of five.

Do we upsize our rental so we are not falling over each other and pay out to a landlord more of what we could save as deposit, or sit tight for three to four years to save that money to reach our dream of getting a small lottery-sized deposit together?

Commentators report that it is better to be renting now than buy, but what happens when we retire in 23 years at 65, and if still renting, will this be affordable on superannuation income?

Could we afford to pay a landlord rent out of our Super or Kiwisaver until our 90s if we live that long? Will we be constantly on the move when rental properties are sold, and have no solid foundation steady home dwelling in which to welcome grandchildren and our children to?

But even if leaving Auckland were feasible work-wise, I simply wouldn’t want to. T threw out the idea of re-enlisting and moving to an army base – and that’s when I realised what I am NOT willing to sacrifice for cheap housing. I would not want to move to the middle of nowhere away from friends and family and my job. Financially I can see that it might make our lives a lot easier – lower expenses, and I could do some freelancing – but I know I would be miserable in all other aspects.

The Salvation Army recommends creating an affordable housing agency with meaningful and long-term budgets actually to execute its mission, but we all know what happens to these kinds of reports. I don’t think anyone who lives here would disagree with the following:

“Any ambition Auckland has to become the world’s most liveable city will be defeated if the housing future being offered by current trends continues to play out. Access to safe, decent and affordable housing is already the single biggest issue facing hundreds of thousands of Aucklanders. This problem will grow in size if the present wishful approach of Auckland Council and the present wilfully negligent stance of Government continues.”

But any fix is probably not going to come in time for us.

“Auckland’s housing problems are at least a generation in their gestation and most likely will be a generation in their resolution. There are no short-term answers or quick fixes—the problems are too big and the causes too ingrained in our social and economic fabric for that.”

Auckland, I love you, but I’m not feeling the love back. Let’s figure this out, stat.

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.

A few more thoughts on house buying

I have a cousin who’s only a year older than me, but has always been light years ahead of me in every other aspect. Nationally ranked swimmer. Newly minted doctor. And now, a homeowner. If he wasn’t a really nice guy, I would really resent him for showing me up.

Seeing as I’m getting married in May, the adults of the family invariably turn to talk of property. Yes, I’m still renting, and plan to do so for quite a while yet.

my house my castle, some more thoughts on home buying

Unlike in many places in the US, it’s basically never cheaper to buy than rent here (maybe in the smaller towns?). To buy a comparable place to our current dwelling would be about double our rent – and our rent is NOT cheap, either. We wouldn’t, however, be buying a comparable place, but a much cheaper one – an entry-level house in the $300,000s, hopefully, which would only be another $100-200 a week.

As I was telling my other cousin, it’s not so much the mortgage payments that are hard to swing (according to my bank’s home loan calculators) but that massive hurdle of the down payment.  I always wanted to put down 20 percent. That’s the responsible thing to do. But to be honest, it’s quite likely that we’ll only end up putting 10 or 15 percent down (“That’s what everyone does!” Yeah, because prices start at about 4x household income and go up from there…).

Say we’re in a position to buy in 2016. We should both be able to get the full Kiwisaver first home buyer subsidy ($10,000 altogether, assuming the government doesn’t scrap that part of the scheme)

Who knows where prices will be by then, though? We had a slight dip in prices during the recession, but they quickly shot right back up to new heights. I don’t see the housing shortage ending anytime soon (not helped by lack of council/government planning and the traditional quarter-acre dream, which yes, I want a piece of too). And unlike in the US, our interest rates can only ever be fixed for a maximum of five years. Right now they’re in the 5-6 percent range (which is low for us, but not compared to the 3-4 percent outlined in this mortgage rates guide in the US) but lots of homeowners felt the pain a few years ago when rates climbed into the 8 percent.

 Well Heeled, though, is making it a mission to buy a house in 2016. I will live vicariously through her!

Three reasons why I want to buy a house (and reasons why I won’t)

1951 ... Farnsworth House Settling down/making it your own

I don’t give two hoots about decorating, but I would dearly love to settle in with permanent furniture, appliances, and most of all, insulation. Sadly, this is the exception rather than the norm in NZ houses. I’d be happy to pay to insulate my own home, but not while renting. In the meantime, we suffer on…

T also wants a dog something chronic. I’m not an animal person AT ALL, so renting has been a good way to shut that down. But I’m willing to compromise when we have a place on our own, particularly if there’s any security benefit to be had (we’ve been burgled too many times).

Putting money into your own pocket

I don’t see property as an investment, nor do I believe rent is dead money. But given housing is our biggest expense, it sure would be nice to be funneling that into an asset of our own – and mortgage rates right now are reasonably low, with home loans in the 5% bracket.

I don’t want to be renting when we have a family

Kids are in the 5-10 year plan. Still a while away, but wouldn’t you want to enjoy your first house for a while before they arrive? And with us getting married this year, this is only intensified. I always thought I’d get married closer to 30 and we’d be in a position to buy a house straight after, but things won’t be happening that way.

Alas, buying a house is not on the cards right now. Why not? Let me count the ways…

The moolah factor

Houses in Auckland are pricey. (For New Zealand as a whole, the median household income is just shy of $80,000 and the median house price is $389,000 – in Auckland, that would be barely entry level. Affordability as judged by the house-price-to-income ratio is nearly 5x, more so for Auckland average house prices – over $600,000 for the city area and $450,000 for the western suburbs, where we’d probably be forced out to.) We definitely don’t have anywhere near enough for a down payment yet. And let’s not get started on property rates, or the fact that we would have to buy a house further out, forcing us to get a second car. $$$$$$ all over the show. It’s a huge financial undertaking we’re just not equipped to make right now.

Flexibility is key right now

We might want to move away for a while or go travelling. T is still figuring out a career. Basically, it’s still too early to settle down and commit to a mortgage.

How stable are our jobs anyway?

T is an hourly worker and his income often varies. And working in publishing, I can’t say I’ll ever really feel secure in my job.

What, if anything, is holding you back from buying a place? Or if you own your own house, how did you know it was time?

House-sitting as a lifestyle choice

While looking at overseas accommodations options online, I started to see a few mentions of house sitting as an option for longer-term stays, and it’s something that seems popular among RTW and long-term travellers. I mean, what better way is there to extend a free stay?

House-sitting isn’t just for travellers, though. I know someone who lives in Auckland and house-sits, going from place to place every so often, as a lifestyle choice. (Imagine how much you could save if you eliminated housing from your budget.)

Upon Googling some house-sitting sites, I noticed that one mentioned that many of its house-sitters are professionals saving for a deposit on a house (which is darn near impossible in this country). So how would one make house-sitting work as a long-term lifestyle?

  • You’d need to be good with animals, as lots of people are looking for a pet sitter
  • You’d need to not have a lot of stuff, because moving is a bitch and carting tons of items from house to house frequently would be beyond tiring
  • You’d need to have a car – in a sprawling city like Auckland it’s unlikely you’d be able to stay within your preferred area all of the time, and would probably end up jumping all over the place
  • You’d ideally have somewhat flexible work arrangements – it’d be ideal if you work from home
  • And of course you’d need to be okay with the frequent picking up and moving, packing and unpacking. No doubt there are long-term assignments out there – the woman I know seems to stay put for a couple of months at a time – but nonetheless you’d be always looking for the next place. You’d definitely need some kind of backup plan should you need somewhere to stay between assignments in a pinch (hostel? Friends or family?)

I briefly thought about signing up to one of these sites, mainly because I spotted a great West Auckland property available over the holiday period and thought ‘what a great way to spend New Year’s without going away!’ But in addition to needing to find someone to take a chance on a first-timer to get your foot in the door with house-sitting (again it’s that whole how do you get experience when nobody will give you experience? conundrum, except it’s even harder because you can work for free to get experience, but you’re house-sitting for free and there’s nowhere to start below that), there’s a membership fee. Too much work for a throwaway thought.

And as for house-sitting as a lifestyle? I just don’t think it’s feasible for us – that would require buying a second car, cancelling out a lot of the cost savings – and adding the other inconveniences into the equation, it’s not the right path for us at this time. But it’s definitely something to consider. Lifestyle alternatives FTW.

Have you ever been a house-sitter? Would you consider it as a lifestyle?

Moving house the cheapskate way

My property manager is on my case right now about renewing our lease. If there’s anything to make you hark back to the horror of moving house, it’s the prospect of, well, moving house. We’re planning to stay here for at least the rest of the year, but beyond that, who knows?

I have moved house many times in the seven years I’ve lived on my own (holy shit, has it really been that long?). Moving can be an expensive exercise, but I’ve pared down on many of these things because I am a cheapskate.

Double rent

The most potential to save comes in being strategic (and lucky) enough to perfectly align your move out and move in dates. I think I’ve only paid double rent once (WOOT) and one week of double rent is not too bad (rent is usually paid weekly in NZ). This may lead to a bit of a mad scramble to move in the space of an afternoon or a day or two, but it’s worth it IMO to save the moolah.

Moving costs

I’ll admit I have a burly dude on call, and not only does T willingly lend his muscle, he also manages to provide boxes from his workplace. During our early moves, we utilised the vans/utes of people we knew. More recently, I’ve borrowed a company van after hours, and twice used James Blond to hire a truck ($75 for two hours), which I would definitely recommend. In these seven years, I’m pretty sure that $150 is all I’ve spent on movers.

Property fees

Property managers take their initial cut from renters – a week’s rent plus GST – and because hardly anyone wants to manage their own rental houses these days, these fees are getting harder to avoid. I’ve always sought out private rentals in an effort to get around agency fees, but haven’t always been successful. Boo.

Cleaning up

Upon emptying your old place of all your crap, you will invariably notice weird spots, stains, scratches. This will result in a panicked trip to procure all kinds of products to clean up the mess. There might even be a visit to the supermarket to borrow a Rug Doctor. Or, if it’s a big house, you might just give in and pay for a pro to come give it a proper once-over scrub. And all those blown lightbulbs you never bothered replacing? It’s time. Prevention is better than cure. Don’t slack off on maintenance like me.

Furnishings

I was talking to a friend once about how out of reach home purchases are for Aucklanders today. She said something about tacking on another $20k for furnishings when considering the cost. I nearly choked.

In moving from smaller places to bigger ones back to smaller ones then upsizing again, we’ve done plenty of both purging and acquiring. My bed is one of the few items of furniture I paid for. Our TV was originally nabbed for a few bucks from someone T knew as it wasn’t working (he fixed it, and voila, a nice flatscreen). Our lounge furniture is all free – donated by friends and family, and once, picked up off the kerbside during inorganics. My desk, I admit, was pinched from the first flat I ever lived in. And I’ve never owned a dresser in my life, though I’d like one when we eventually own our own place.

Key cutting

One of those costs that really grates, but one you can’t avoid. Even if you live alone, you’re gonna need a spare set (funny how they never hand over more than one set; surely the previous tenants also had multiple copies?).

How do you keep costs down while moving?

Places I have lived: A rundown of my renting history

As I mentioned in this post, the housing market in NZ is rather unique. Crappy stock, sky-high prices.

I thought it might be fun (in what sense of the word, I’m not quite sure, actually) to recount all the places I’ve lived in since leaving home.

Student life is, of course, meant for building up horror stories about bootstrapping. Two-minute noodles. Walls of beer bottles. Bongs and one-night stands and other awful flatmate escapades.

The boarding house

My first place was .. an experience. Along with one of my best friends, we set out to find somewhere we could both live. Nobody would rent to 17-year-olds, and no flats were advertising two empty rooms at once. Eventually though, we found a special situation: a six-bedroom townhouse/boarding house where each tenant paid the landlord individually. And he didn’t mind if we weren’t 18. (He actually also proposed us living in the basement apartment of his own house, with cheap rent in exchange for help with chores and cooking. That was a bit too weird, though.)

The first night my cell phone was stolen off the coffee table. Everybody locked their rooms when they weren’t home. Flatmates came and went, including the P-addict who used my soap and shampoo, the crazy old lady who threw dishes into the bin if they weren’t washed immediately, the girl who slept with the middle-aged body builder who lived next door, the guy just out of jail, and more.

The family townhouse

Next was another terraced house, with my friend and her grandad. Nothing much to report there. It didn’t last long; her mother came back to the country and I got the boot so she could live there instead.

The quiet suburban house

This is the furthest I’ve ever lived from public transport – a good 20 minute walk at least. Very inconvenient. Again, only lasted a few months.

The old bungalow

This was the oldest house I’d ever lived in, but it did have mixer taps (this is a requirement for me in any house). Flatmate had a few dope plants growing in the cupboard, but otherwise was sweet to live with. My first experience living on a main artery road, in which I learned to factor in road-crossing time in my walk to the bus stop, T had a major car accident just outside, and I vowed I would never buy a house on a busy road.

The suburban apartment

Apartments are rare outside of the CBD, but this was one of the notorious blocks. We were here for about a year. You pretty much couldn’t make any noise; the big communal rubbish bins were always overflowing and the pool was usually kinda grotty. Our dishwasher was home to cockroaches and for some reason half our mail never made it to our letterboxes, which were inside the lobby (I was a student then so had plenty of correspondence from Studylink to deal to … or I should have had, anyway).

The ghetto house

Nobody would rent to students. So we ended up in the ghetto. Our street was nice at one end, but at the other end was a state housing enclave – and that’s the end we lived at. Our room was a converted garage. There was mould in the closet, on the ceiling, and I could see my breath in front of me in the winter. Our landlord lost his job and when the hot water cylinder went, he took over a month to fix it. That was coming into winter, too. He also then tried to pin a bunch of things on us when we left, like the roof caving in. Oh, and we got burgled… three times?

Other fun things: nightmare flatmate still owes me nearly a grand from this. He was a terrible drunk and broke a couple of panes in our door while on the piss. Similarly, the boys used to wrestle all the time and managed to break a couple of windows doing so. I got half decent at painting/puttying. Nightmare flatmate also got his car rear window smashed several times, mostly by the shits down the road who also burgled us, and once by his girlfriend.

The thoroughfare house

Weed got sold. People came and went. One of the flatties literally had a walk in closet for a room. Another had a bit of casual polygamy going on. Lots of Naruto was watched.

The bottom floor studio

A really nice small place, albeit a tiny kitchen with old cupboards. But brand new bathroom, gorgeous built in cupboards and drawers and a cute little patio-type thing. It was a quiet, affluent neighbourhood handy to everything – and really cheap.

The bad: the yard was always in the shade so I hardly ever used the patio and our clothes took forever to dry on the line; it got a little too small for our liking (even the apartment we lived in had a living room); the landlord’s kids upstairs were often loud and the floor was thin; it was always dark because we were on the bottom floor and surrounded by fence/trees; T’s first bike got stolen, after which he hated the place; and it was just that little bit too far away from the west, where everyone he knows lives.

Current house

Also on a main road, but not at the same level as the other bungalow. We have a garage, a deck, lots of sun, a 20-minute walk to work for me and a spare room for junk, among other things. After moving in, we also found the previous occupants had been growing cannabis in the space between the roof and the house, hacking a power point to run electricity up into that space, and apparently using the hall cupboard (now my wardrobe) for drying.

The house itself isn’t all that nice, I’ll be honest – it needs work and it’s very much a rental (but all the cosmetic things, like the carpets and walls, are pretty well hidden once you move in with all your stuff). It’s at the low end of my standards, but it does well enough.

The house itself is split into two dwellings; the back one is a one-bedroom, and the tenant is a lovely older lady who’s rarely home. In fact, we haven’t seen since Christmas and just found out she’s down south caring for her sick mother. Hope she can continue to pay rent and keep her place – quiet neighbours are great!

So, that’s my woeful housing history from 2005-2012. What does yours look like?