Tag Archives: housing

All the money I’ve wasted renting

money wasted while renting

Ten years of renting was a few too many, personally.

Non refundable agent’s fees

A week’s rent plus GST – many, many times over.

Bonds you never see in full again

Fair enough in some cases, but definitely not in others.  And as a tenant you’re at a vast disadvantage here.

Carpet cleaning

Expensive carpet cleaning fees are included in leases by agencies – big and small alike – everywhere. Tenancy law information online seems to suggest these are unlawful, or ‘unenforceable’, but practically speaking, if it’s in the contract what are you going to do, kick up a fuss? There’s a dire shortage of housing in Auckland and it’s hard enough to secure a rental as it is.

Dodgy utilities

I was briefly in a very strange situation where I was in charge of the power bill, and everyone was supposed to split it evenly with me, but there was also a separate couple subletting the self contained downstairs rooms from one of the other flatmates/tenants (who was also the mother of my friend and fellow flatmate), and that flatmate was charging them a flat all inclusive rent and not including them in the power bill split. Yeah, try wrapping your head around that. Then there was the shitty apartment where you had to use their electricity provider – there was no other choice – and that provider had only one plan and no low user option, meaning we were stuck with higher prices than we would be paying on the free market.

Buying and selling things

Every move forces change of some sort – buying or selling appliances and/or furniture depending on each individual property’s size and what is or isn’t provided with it. Fridges, washing machines, tables, couches … It gets old.

Lost and broken stuff

I’ve had countless possessions go missing or break due to flatmates. No point having nice stuff.

And I can’t put a dollar amount on it, but…

So much time and stress. Taking time off during the work day to dart out to viewings (always within business hours) and to agency offices to sign papers.

Literally months of uncertainty over the years when you know you have to move and scramble to find a new place (about six months total in 2015 alone).

Fighting shitty landlords trying to blame us for things going wrong with the house, so they wouldn’t have to foot the bill for their own maintenance and repairs.

So, so glad not to be living what amounts to a temporary life anymore.

So you want to buy a house in Auckland?

So you want to buy a house in Auckland? Have fun with that

It’s funny that buying a house is one of the most stressful times in life, and a time when you’re also forced to deal with all sorts of horrible people – realtors, bankers, lawyers. (I don’t say that in a mean-hearted way; I was once a journalist, one of the most reviled jobs on the most-hated professions list every year.)

The good ones make things easy and I think I got off fairly lightly on that front! I would definitely use my lawyer and broker again. (Alas, we do not have buyer’s agents in NZ.) You’d think it would be quite rewarding, too, helping people achieve a big dream and being involved in part of that happy (if stressful) process. They’re only in our lives for a brief stretch of time, but it’s such a significant period.

That said, I encountered NO END of awful agents and nightmarish properties.

Allow me to rant a little about…

The houses themselves

There are so many damn things to watch out for, the most obvious being leaky homes. But then there’s also all sorts of other materials to be wary of. Asbestos in older houses. Weatherside (I’d never heard of it before), a cladding that looks just like hardiplank but not as sturdy, and falls apart.

Then there’s unconsented work to look out for, or things that don’t match the plans.

I wasn’t opposed to buying a do-up, but do-ups need to be affordable enough in the first place to make financial sense (because you still need to pay for all the renovations!) and in no case did the prices stack up. Plus there were basically no “light” do-ups. They were universally in dire need of a total overhaul… and when you’re spending half a million dollars, you want it to be somewhat liveable off the bat.

And other stuff

I lost count of how many times I turned up to an open home (or emailed about a listed property to organise a viewing) only to be told that it was already under contract. Look, I get why they continue to do showings when an offer is still conditional, but I think it’s lame not to be upfront about it, when it’s rare for contracts to fall through. I can only think of about one instance where I saw the actual house listing had been edited to say “under contract” online, in every other instance it was a case of ‘surprise’!

Speaking of agents, not to tar ‘em all with one brush, but the majority I had the misfortune of crossing paths with were useless. Can’t tell you anything, or won’t tell you anything – well, I’m not going to get a lawyer to check the plans or a builder to inspect the place for every single house I have a modicum of interest in!

I suspect it’s damn near impossible to actually use KiwiSaver funds toward the deposit that goes to the seller’s lawyer. They say you need at least 10 days to process the withdrawal, and that’s a long time. I only had five days to go unconditional – my KiwiSaver money went toward the remaining balance for settlement.

And can I add the weird mind games that come about when bidding on a house? There were eight on this one. You’re in to win and then at the end of it all, second guessing yourself – am I paying too much?

Also, I (perhaps naively) imagined my broker would be 100% in the know and up to date with all things KiwiSaver and home-buying related. Not quite the case.

Hey, vendor’s lawyers: how about being prompt with sending through the dang statement with the final sum to settle? Do you want a deal or not? Because I want to pay you. Seriously.

Finally, dear bank: so my passport expired a week after my mortgage draw down / settlement day, and months after my initial approval, and you need an updated form of ID now? And are you seriously going to ask me for updated ID every few years?

Adventures in first home buying

Buying a first house in AucklandThis was not how I pictured myself buying a house.

I imagined being blissfully married, with two reliable incomes, a solid savings history, starting to think about a family, maybe.

None of this was true in 2016.

But the main thing is I now have a stable place to call home. It means the world to me to have a house of my own, after two years of living in a holding pattern. The last few months in particular have been the textbook definition of ‘transitory period’ and I’m so ready to put them behind me.

A few false starts

I lost track of how many houses I saw. Dozens upon dozens. But here are the ones that came close.

The first one I saw was a cute early 1900s bungalow with a country feel, hardwood floors and nice outdoor flow. But conversely, there was no available information upfront about what updates (if any) had been done to bring it up to code, the kitchen was cramped and there was only one minuscule wardrobe (this was a tiny place with barely two bedrooms).

The next one I liked was a similarly country-feeling house, except this one was actually semi-rural, with a septic tank and all! Again only two bedrooms, but it was the location that gave me pause – it was just a little too far away. Plus, it was on a unit title, something I’d rather avoid.

Then there was an unassuming duplex that dropped my jaw once I stepped inside. Perfection in every way. There was even an adorable spiral staircase. The buts: it was two stories rather than single level, attached to another unit, parking was limited, and it was cross lease.

This one ticked basically all the boxes. Liveable off the bat, solid bones, sunny and cosy. Of course there are things I’d like to do but they can be tackled slowly and aren’t major or urgent, and there’s room to renovate.

But how do I actually do this?

I have yet to find ANYWHERE a brutally detailed, step by step guide to buying a house in New Zealand. I had basically no idea what to expect at each stage. There are bits and pieces of info online but what I desperately wanted was a thorough walk-through. I hope to never ever do this again in my entire life … but just in case, I’ve recorded the process for reference. Here’s my experience of buying a house by negotiation in Auckland.

Apply for mortgage preapproval

Meet with broker, do paperwork, gather supporting documentation.

COMMENCE STRESS AND WAITING.

I was applying for a Welcome Home loan, which takes quite a long time to process – two weeks in this case. It was an immense relief when it finally came (I was half convinced I would be rejected, given my usually stellar records had taken a big hit thanks to the whole unemployed partner debacle) and I had a wee lie down on the floor after opening that joyous email.

Start going to open homes

Graduate from stalking listings online to actually going out and seeing properties.

SO EXHAUSTING.

Endless viewings every weekend; scrambling to view new listings after work before they get snapped up. And then emailing my broker about every individual listing that I was seriously considering. Bleh.

Negotiating/Making an offer

AKA welcome to Stressville.

This house was listed as ‘deadline private treaty’ – aka get your offers in by a certain date. That date was about a month out and I could tell it wouldn’t get anywhere near that point. Indeed, after one look around I knew it would go like hot cakes; we got there about 10 minutes into the first open home, and there was already at least one offer in.

Getting mine in apparently involved signing a non binding  ‘offer to purchase’ form, which looked ridiculously informal. Scribble in your offer amount, desired conditions … and then text a photo to the agent. I wish I was kidding.

We popped back the following day for the second open home, which confirmed my first impressions. There were even more offers by this time. After this viewing, the negotiation commenced that same evening. It was an exhausting and inefficient round robin over the phone, slowly whittling down the eight bidders to one.

You know, I had all these grand notions about crafting an emotive personal letter to submit with my offer that would dazzle the sellers and help secure my bid … but this didn’t happen. In the end it had no bearing on the situation, and it was only money that talked.

Getting the call to say I’d gotten the house was pretty surreal. Then came a congratulatory text from the agent, and a bit of emoji-heavy banter back and forth.

Sealing the deal

Forget Stressville, now we’re in Stress City.

Hurrah for long weekends. On Auckland Anniversary, I went in to sign the sale and purchase agreement and organise to pay the deposit. The contract was a super daunting document in some ways and yet so underwhelming in others. It wasn’t totally unfamiliar to me, as the agent for the very first house I went to actually gave us an S&P agreement to take away. Then the contract was sent to the broker and lawyer, and the wheels set in motion for the next phase.

Working through the conditions

No rest for the wicked.

The agent provided a LIM report, so I just had to confirm finance and organise a building inspection. Seriously – the longest five working days of my life. And as if I didn’t have enough on my plate already, I had to contend with daily calls/texts from the agent nagging me for updates and reminding me about all the backup offers on the table. Duuuude.

More paperwork than you’ve ever dreamed of

So much you could drown in it, if the papercuts didn’t kill you first.

KiwiSaver first home withdrawal forms.

More bank forms (including a terrifyingly huge number called Priority Sum. I’d never heard of it. Still couldn’t explain it to you, really. Thank god for Google).

Confirming mortgage structure and interest rates.

Getting house insurance.

And income/life insurance.

Organising account setup with the new bank.

The land transfer form.

More bank forms (these ones signed in person at the lawyer’s office) and title form.

Waiting for the vendor’s lawyer to send through the final settlement statement with sum to settle.

A minor panic when it came time to transfer the balance to the trust account, and the lawyer’s deposit slip seemed to have some extra digits at the end of the bank account – as if my nerves weren’t already shot enough!

(I accept no responsibility for any inaccuracies in the naming of the documents listed above.)

Settlement day

AKA the most nerve wracking day of all.

My lawyer had told me not to worry if I didn’t hear anything from her during the day. That would probably be a bad thing – it means something’s gone wrong. Just hang tight.

The first person I heard from was the agent. About 11.30, he texted saying they had the all clear to give me the keys, and could he drop them off to my office? (Um, YES.)

A couple hours later the lawyer emailed to wrap things up. And boom, hello homeownership.

* * *

A garden, a dog, compost, chickens (well, eventually). Farms and bush around the corner, the beaches not too much further.

This is everything I have been dreaming of.

Real estate trends I’ve noticed in 2015 (also, hallelujah, we moved house!)

By: Shubert Ciencia

There is no bigger nightmare than competing for housing in a growing city.

Ever-more intrusive rental applications

Self-explanatory. With a growing population and not enough housing to meet needs, this is what happens.

Shorter tenancies

For some reason, there’s a fair few properties being advertised as available for only 3-6 months, and others are advertised as longer fixed term leases with no mention of possible extension. Weird.

Renting out houses in two parts

Bigger houses are increasingly being rented out as separate upstairs and downstairs floors, self-contained.

More heat pumps

More properties than ever before now have heat pumps installed, which is a good thing. And I’m seeing more frequent mentions of insulation as a selling point… since, you know, having proper insulation is still the bloody exception. Still the minority, though.

The misery is widespread #solidarity

Why yes, I have been devouring everything on the internet related to our property clusterf***. What’s new?

“I don’t want to be a landlord – I just want to own my own home so I stop getting kicked out of rentals.  It just happened again last week and I’ll have to find somewhere else to live, yet again.  It’s exhausting and demoralising…”

– Interest.co.nz commenter

“Our lease is up in April. Not looking forward to this shit. Saw so many places with obvious damp or complete lack of weather tightness last time around. Property managers get outright aggressive if you ask about landlord’s plans to resolve damp, usually saying it’s already solved (despite damp smell and to the touch).

“Bring on WOF, willing to pay more to not get sick from shitty housing.”

– Reddit commenter

“The amount of money I would need for a deposit on a house is astronomical but trying to rent is making me want a house just so I don’t have to worry about renting ever again.”

– Wireless interviewee

Our new place

After 5 years of living on our own (wow, it feels longer) it will be strange to live with others again. The good thing is we have our own bathroom – we’ve moved into the downstairs floor of a house, so we’re largely self contained. And the others aren’t home much.

I am SO excited to have:

  • room to breathe! To swing a cat, even! There’s actually a cat, no kidding. No more constantly tripping over each other. Space to do stretches, play guitar, and just live alongside, rather than on top of, one another. Even if I wasn’t married to a hulk, I hate small spaces. Micro apartments and tiny houses can bugger right off. Unpopular opinion, I know. Lack of living space has caused us a lot of misery over the years.

 

  • a full kitchen! A real stove and oven, and a DISHWASHER (thinking back to previous places where we had a dishwasher, life was vastly improved.)

 

  • a dining table (I have never lived anywhere with a dining space since leaving home)

 

  • a bathtub (in the main bathroom)

 

  • outdoor living space (the deck is epic)

 

  • no sharing any of the following with neighbours – driveway/water meter/bins/yard etc  

 

And we won’t know for sure for a little while, but it seems like a decently warm and dry house. (Fun fact: I now have a new warning sign to look out for, thanks to a random person who was at one of the same open homes as we were. “There’s a bit of dampness – you can feel it in the carpet,” she said to her daughter. Indeed, upon further reflection, there’s definitely something to that). It was a family home for decades, so that bodes well.

I was really not sure I could make it through another winter in our last place. Also, our neighbours were becoming even bigger pains in the ass, and traffic along my bus route was getting downright unbearable. Now my commute is shorter despite having a longer walk at the city end from the bus stop.

Still, there will be no rest until we are owners. Your place is not your own otherwise – you’re at the mercy of leaseholders/head tenants, property managers, landlords. I can’t wait to have a permanent home – one we never have to budge from as long as we make our payments, and that we can truly make our own. I want a heat pump and/or amazing insulation. A spare bedroom. A garage/workshop for him. A pizza oven, that we’ll build in our yard. And a dog. I can’t express how intense my nesting urges are.

I know my property fixation is not good for my mental health and happiness, and I’m trying to get it under control. I almost feel a physical stab every time I hear of someone I know managing to buy their first home.

Example: A former coworker who failed to buy property a few years ago and bowed out of the game, calling it a bubble, has just bought a place. Prices have only gone up since then, so I presume she saw the light and got in while she could. Interest rates can only go up so much before they fall; the same is not true of house prices, and I see nothing that actually points to a real reason for a crash (the way things are going, nothing short of a nuclear explosion would reverse population growth, and we don’t have nuclear plants here).

So: trying to get this real estate thing down to ‘motivational’ levels rather than ‘obsession’. Which should be easier now we don’t live in such a tiny hovel.

Wow. So much for paying professionals…

By: Gabriel

Man, I’ve dealt with some BS in my near decade of renting, but this has pushed me over the edge. Did I say agencies are better than private landlords? Whoops. I take that back.

That’s twice now the property manager has been an absolute twat upon moving out.

Last time around, dealing with them was a breeze throughout the entire tenancy … until our last afternoon. It was literally the day before we flew out of the country, leaving for 6 months. We waited, shivering, in our garage, as the rain started coming down, for the PM to show up for final inspection. Numerous calls to his phone went unanswered. Finally we gave up, placed the keys in the house and left. First thing in the morning, he starts trying to get in touch asking what happened – useless much? No, we are literally leaving the country TONIGHT, we do not have time to come back for a walkthrough – you will have to do it without us. We didn’t get our bond back until we returned to NZ, either – he never sent through the paperwork to me and I had to chase him for it when we came back to the country.

This time around, it was with an even bigger (and thus, ostensibly more professional) agency. Alas, they turned out to be douchebags pretty early on, and every time I thought it couldn’t get worse, it kept building until move-out. These guys instruct you to drop off the keys at the office, and then do the final inspection on their own rather than going through the house with you in person. Two days later we heard from them – outlining an absolute litany of basic complaints about cleaning. (The legal requirement is to leave a property ‘reasonably clean and tidy’, which translated to a pretty grey area. However, I can tell you never had an issue at ANY of the many places we’ve lived. We know how to mop a floor and scrub a shower.) They also conveniently ‘forgot’ that they had sold us the fridge upon move-in (for owner had wanted to get rid of it, probably as it was getting older) and more or less accused us of stealing it. Oh, and I’m not even going to go into the dramas they caused in trying to force us to move out earlier than our planned date.

I’ve been thinking a lot about power, and the imbalance of it in the renting market. I’ve already been incredibly stressed out for months on end, and this whole situation with the house has basically doubled my stress levels since the start of the year. I made the decision early on that my priority was getting the hell out of here with as little headache as possible, while knowing the agency was highly likely to make it a hassle based on their behaviour to date.

So often it’s a question of where you can afford the time/money to pursue a conflict. For example, they insisted on going ahead with hiring a cleaner anyway (end result: splitting the bill). As another example: it’s actually unlawful to have a clause in a lease requiring carpet cleaning at the end of the tenancy. However you’ll find these in many, many contracts. I know I have, and gone along with it because in a tight market it’s a miracle if you can get approved for a place at all.

And for bigger stuff … Do you really want to jeopardise your chances of ever getting another place to live, if you take something to the Tenancy Tribunal and have that associated with your name as public record (no matter what the result)?

Cannot wait to be off the renting hamster wheel.

The problem with intensification in Auckland

 

Quite simply, we stink at it.

A colleague mentioned to me the other day that she’d walked past a construction site in Ponsonby, where there used to be a row of townhouses – one of which she’d lived in for a few months.

“What’s happening here?” she asked one of the workers.

“The houses were leaky. They had to knock them all down,” was the reply.

My neighbourhood was one of the early pioneers of denser suburban living, with a few different apartment and townhouse developments. They’re flagships, really, and have been the subject of local housing studies.

I have lived in the two main complexes: in one of the apartments, and in two different townhouses – so three properties in total. All have had, or are going to be, reclad. Yep, leakers, or if you prefer, with “remedial issues”. None felt solidly constructed, built to last. Two out of three were cramped; all of them had a weird layout with bathrooms in the middle of the building, with no outside ventilation. And honestly, I wasn’t a big fan of the demographics they attracted.

I used to hope I could eventually buy around here. It ain’t happening. We have looooong since been priced out. Possibly we could afford a townhouse, but I wouldn’t want to buy a place that I wouldn’t be happy living in – and I already know what it would be like, having been there and done that. Plus, the body corps (and of course you have to take those fees into account!) have rules about everything from pets to hanging out laundry. It really would be the worst of both worlds.

Another new development, more or less around the corner, is in the works. I really hope they get it right. Plan the mixed-use aspects, don’t rush it, and for the love of god deliver quality residential construction and materials. We need to break the vicious cycle we’re in.

The show that sucked me back into reality TV

What’s a gal to do when tucked up in bed sick in the middle of summer?

Start watching TV – reality TV, even – again.

Normally I can’t stand reality shows, which is one of the reasons I’ve never watched The Block (despite my thing for houses). But I have been a little curious about Our First Home, as it’s something new…

The basic premise is this: Three families (one set of parents, one kid + partner) compete against each other. They have to buy a house in Auckland – bankrolled by the parents, obviously – live in it, renovate it, and sell it. Profits will go to the kids to use toward their own first home. The family that makes the most out of it, percentage wise, gets another $100k – a nice sum to go towards that down payment.

If they do well, they could come out sitting pretty, although in this case their profit might be taxed. (It’s all about the intention you have while buying, and this is a pretty clear cut example of intent to flip a property for profit, one being televised nationwide! NZ has no capital gains tax, however.)

To be perfectly honest, a part of me hates the privileged premise of this show. How many families can afford to take 10 weeks out of their lives to do something like this? And do we really need more people fueling the market by flicking on houses solely for profit? (All 3 families have a dad in the construction industry, to boot.)

But hey, at least this is an honest reality show – most first time buyers in Auckland need help from their parents. And they’re out there competing with everyone else for the same houses.

I was pleasantly surprised when one family, looking around a house that they really liked and was due to go to auction that afternoon, bowed out. After being filmed on the phone to the bank, they decided it was too much of a financial stretch. Shockingly sensible.

We see another family missing out by miles at an auction (a budget in the $500,000s gets you nowhere around here). We see mould and damp. Kitchens and bathrooms, untouched since the 50s or whatever. Features that don’t have council consent.

So far they’ve all managed to buy a house – a small one in a leafy setting, a big one on a busy road, a do-up in every sense of the word in a reasonably central area – and now the rest of the work begins. Guess what I’m doing tonight?

My beef with capitalism: Inequality’s a bitch

The problem with inequality

Economics is not my strong suit. Nor can I say I am particularly interested in it. I’m a micro person, not a macro person; a creative trying to get by in a capitalist world.

But even I can’t fail to note that the wealth gap is growing, not shrinking.  Yep, even here in little old New Zealand.

I like this dummy proof breakdown:

“New Zealand, which had the developed world’s biggest increase in inequality from the mid-1980s to the mid-2000s, has seen more economic damage than most. According to the OECD’s calculations, our economy grew about 30% in the last two decades – but it would have grown by 45%, or half as much again, if inequality had stayed at 1980s levels.”

Inequality matters. It’s a no-brainer. It’s a drag on the economy, and I think the saying that “you’re only as strong as your weakest link” is perhaps relevant here.

“When families lack the income they need to pay doctors’ fees and keep healthy, or to fix their car so they can travel to a new job, or to give their kids the equipment and clothes they need to succeed at school, it’s obvious that economic growth will suffer. You could argue that these are problems of poverty, not inequality, but really the two are inseparable; the reason some people have so little is that the fruits of economic growth are going largely to our richer citizens.”

As someone who ostensibly belongs to the middle class, occasionally I feel a tremendous sense of guilt that I have it so much better than many other people, and gratitude to be lucky to be where I am. But the other 99% of the time I spend fretting that we’ll never be able to really get ahead.

Bridget at Money After Graduation sums up my feelings perfectly:

“Wealth inequality is a growing, terrifying problem and I don’t want to be on the losing end of the deal. I’d rather we live in a more equal society when it comes to wealth distribution, but so long as we don’t, my singular goal is to get as far away from the bottom as possible.”

When necessities take up more of your income, you may even need to borrow to afford them. I don’t believe in ‘broke yet happy’. I think it’s something people tell themselves in order to feel better. Nice idea – in theory.

So, what are we supposed to do? Same old, I guess. Hustle, hustle, hustle.

A key piece of the inequality puzzle in New Zealand boils down to that most basic of needs: shelter. The way I see it, so much of this hinges on property – stability, security and quality of housing. The status quo is a disaster in financial terms – and in health terms, for renters.

It’s good to see that our go-to economist for all stories on renting vs buying is finally starting to discuss the pragmatic downsides of renting in New Zealand. While the actual quality of rental housing isn’t a talking point (and thus, the problem with mainstream media and the limited perspectives of the typically privileged people within it) he acknowledges New Zealand has some of the most restrictive rules in the developed world for renters.

“New Zealand is strangely different in that we have made this almost special provision around renting of residential property versus other types of renting.” – NZ Herald

“The rental market is designed for students flatters. It is no surprise that it is the young couples with children who are most unhappy.” – Stuff

But the level of chatter around the state of rental housing is growing.  Research shows that private rental housing is in worse condition than houses that are owner occupied, however, in a tight market, you have to take what you can get.

“One potential tenant, looking at a property, asked if the holes could be fixed and rodent droppings cleared before she moved in. “[The landlord] said: ‘If you don’t like it, there’s other people that want to live here’.”

Is it any wonder the typical tenancy lasts only just over a year?

Amazingly, here’s a rare mainstream newspaper editorial that hits the nail on the head.

Housing in New Zealand is not only scarce and expensive; for too many people, it is also downright unhealthy.

“Our national housing stock is of poorer quality than most OECD countries. In particular, too many houses are damp and cold – which means they contribute to our grim rates of infectious and respiratory diseases.

This is deplorable in an advanced country, and like our other housing problems, it needs to urgently change.

Extensive work has already been done, so there is no excuse for delay. Most recently, results from a pilot study on 144 rental homes showed 90 per cent failing the warrant. That number needs some qualification – some houses failed for such easily remedied reasons as flat batteries in smoke alarms. But other results were more deeply concerning – like the third of rental properties that lacked any form of fixed heating.

No-one in New Zealand should have to live in a dog of a house.”

In order for renting to life to work you need to be able to save and invest what you’re “saving” by not having a mortgage. The problem is, rents are not going anywhere except up and up.

  • Renter demand in Auckland is forecast to increase by 63% over the next 20 years and it is unclear whether “mum and dad” investors will be able to meet this demand
  • Rental affordability is a critical issue for low- middle income households in Auckland, and people who enter retirement renting are likely to face ongoing hardship

The prospect of continuing to have to pay rent throughout retirement is scary. I can kinda understand why suicide at 65 starts to look like a pragmatic option.

Recently, an acquaintance posted a photo on Facebook . In it, he and his girlfriend stood on the deck of their new house, all smiles. Of course, like all our other home-owning peers, they only managed this because their parents stumped up cash for their down payment. Heck, if mine offered, I’d swallow my pride and take the offer.

But is this what the future of our country looks like? Only the well off buying homes for their children and passing the privilege of living in a decent property on down the generations, while everyone else remains stuck in cold, damp rentals and suffering all the ill effects that poses?

Surely we can do better than that.

Landlord or slumlord? The downsides of private rentals

RENTING NIGHTMARES - NZ Muse

Much as I hate paying fees to rental property managers (here, rental agents do not do anything to help you as a renter, like assist you in finding somewhere to rent – they only serve the landlord) for the privilege of being allowed to rent a place, there is something to be said for dealing with professionals over the long term. Problems get fixed quickly and with minimal fuss.

For example, it would totally have been worth it to me to pay a damn fee to avoid these nightmares we’ve experienced:

Incompetent landlord #1: The Apartment

You might recall that we once spent a year in an apartment and hated it. Suburban apartments are usually kinda ghetto. Soundproofing sucked and it was impossible to have people over, ever, or you’d get in trouble for being too noisy. We were forced to use a certain utility company (one I’d never heard of) who charged stupid prices for electricity. There may have been a small roach problem. And like basically all new intensive construction, it had weathertightness issues – earlier this year the entire building basically disappeared under what looked like Gladwrap while they reclad it.

We also had a pretty crappy landlord. It was fine up until we left – then they withheld money from our bond. Why? We had been paying rent in arrears, they said, and thus owed the last week’s rent. Uh, HELL to the NO. Nobody – and I mean NOBODY – ever pays rent in arrears. Rent is always paid in advance – at the start of the week, for the week ahead. Landlords and agents simply wouldn’t have it any other way. I was so stunned I couldn’t reply. I don’t know what they were playing at. Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity, the saying goes. Maybe this was their first time as landlords. Either way, once they ‘consulted’ their records they realised their mistake.

The other reason they withheld money came down to a handful of ridiculous complaints. Dust on the outdoor balcony. Lint in the dryer. Rangehood hadn’t been cleaned underneath (okay, that one was fair – I’d never lived anywhere with a rangehood before and it simply didn’t even occur to me).

I was pretty pissed off and decided to take the matter to mediation – which was a complete waste of time. Within a couple of minutes it was suggested we split the difference 50/50 (literally, $50 and $50) and that was that. I’d taken the time to bus all the way out west and it was over in less than five minutes.

I would do things differently today, but 20-year-old me was young, naive and confrontation averse – I thought it would be worth taking the time to go to mediation with a third party.

Incompetent landlord #2: The House of Horrors

The house we moved into straight after that apartment was a nightmare. We lived with a couple of T’s friends, one of whom turned out to be the flatmate from hell and will never repay me the money he owes me. It was cold and damp and our bedroom, a converted garage, was the coldest and dampest room of all. For the first time, I had to deal with mould inside my wardrobe and on my clothes. Our front window had no security whatsoever; we had to secure it by jamming a piece of wood into the track so that it couldn’t slide open unless you removed it. It was also in a super ghetto area, but nobody would rent a decent place to us (students and entry level workers). After looking for months, this was as good as it got.

While we initially dealt with an agency  – not one of the big name companies, though, and weirdly it didn’t charge a letting fee – once the landlord lost his job he got rid of the property manager and took over the job himself. And it went downhill from there

He wanted to increase the rent approximately 25%, which I talked him down from. (My first ever negotiation!) And being out of work, he dragged his heels on fixing all the things that started going wrong with the house.

The floor of the shower cubicle cracked, which he tried to blame on us. It turned out the shower hadn’t been properly installed. Duh.

The power bills started going up…. and up… and up. We couldn’t figure out why. And then we lost hot water completely. Turned out these things were related. It wasn’t a quick fix, either. We had to deal with only cold water for a couple of weeks. I was too chicken to ask him to help out with the increased power bills, since they were due to the hot water cylinder and not anything we’d done – though I doubt he would’ve agreed, since he could barely afford to fix the water.

The wallpaper on the other side of the wall from the shower in the bathroom started flaking and peeling off in ever-larger chunks. Again, due to dampness stemming from issues with the bathroom installation. By the time we moved out, that wall in the living room was basically bare.

Finally, the roof sprung some sort of leak. Of course, he tried to blame us. Which was insane.

Given all these issues, we might have had cause to break our lease. But at the time, I was under huge pressure during my last year of uni, dealing with T’s unemployment, and working all hours. I simply didn’t have the mental capacity to take on that drama. Instead, I took showers at work and ignored what was happening around me at home.

Would you rather deal direct with landlords, or property managers?

Why I’m WAY more worried about buying a house than retiring

Why I'm more worried about buying a house than retiring

New Zealanders have not traditionally been great at saving for retirement. (I doubt we are the only country in this boat.) KiwiSaver was only introduced in the last 10 years and still has a lot of skeptics.

Honestly, if I’d never come across personal finance forums and blogs, I wouldn’t be particularly worried about retirement savings. I might have left my contributions at 4 percent and never increased them.

But here’s the thing. Governments have proven they are unwilling to tinker with NZ Super. And the only parties willing to do anything about the state of rental housing have wound up on the wrong side of power.

To me, then, the logical and pragmatic thing to do is to continue to pursue home ownership. I’m not counting on the government to do anything about quality, affordable housing, either rented or owned. Current policy encourages buying – the latest change would double grants for first-time buyers who are building a new house, not unlike the Homestart first home buyers grant in Perth – and nearly 10 years of renting has well and truly turned me off renting in New Zealand. I see buying as the more likely route to securing a healthy and stable future for me and my own. Our chief human rights commissioner summed up things pretty succinctly in a recent speech: “…If you can do so you will do what it takes to ensure your family live in an adequate home … many people are not fortunate enough to find a landlord that they would trust to do that.”

Since the government seems far more likely to cater for me in my twilight years than ensuring healthy housing in my best ones, I’m going to prioritise getting into a house over retirement for now. I used to be pretty set on not touching my Kiwisaver account for a down payment. (I don’t personally think it’s a great idea to enable people to withdraw even more money from their Kiwisaver accounts to buy a house, as new rules will soon allow.) But I’ve changed my mind. I’m not going to rule out drawing on it – that’s drawing from, NOT draining it, to be clear – if that’s going to mean the difference between owning and renting.

I’m tired of the terrible quality of rentals. Mushrooms and mould do not belong indoors, ever. As property owners get richer selling houses to one another, people priced out of buying have to make do with substandard rentals and no legislation to protect them from shoddy, unhealthy properties. For a country that’s been at the forefront of things like gender and marriage equality, it’s well past time we got onto the basics of housing equality.

I’m tired of being on the wrong side of rising prices. Just a few years ago when I graduated, $360 a week could get you 3 bedrooms in my area. Now it only gets you 2 on average, and I guarantee in another year or two, it will only get you 1 bedroom (and a lot of the smaller 1-bedders forbid couples. AWESOME). This is an untrendy fringe area; prices are much higher in more central suburbs. Our city is growing and there’s not enough housing. Auckland is the Sydney, London, or New York of New Zealand. I do not see this trend reversing. I think high (and rising) prices are the new normal – here to stay.

I’m tired of the uneven playing field. I have the privilege of having the kind of job where I can duck out of work during the day to go to a viewing, but even I can’t do this all the time, and you need to do this at the drop of a hat when you’re actively hunting.

I’m tired of the instability. At any time a landlord can decide to cash in and sell out, displacing you, (and of course increase rent).

Like marriage or having kids, home ownership will be bloody hard … but I believe with all my heart it beats the alternative here.

Not every rental is crap and not every owned house is warm and dry – there are always exceptions. But in broad terms, there is a divide. When you’re an owner, you have the option of taking action to address the root causes of issues with your house. I can’t wait to have (or install) decent insulation and maybe even a heat pump. When you’re renting, you simply have to put up. I personally tried to do my bit for the cause by going beyond the numbers and highlighting the quality issues in a recent magazine article on renting vs buying, but what we need is sustained mainstream coverage.

There’s a reason multiple political parties put their support behind standards for rental housing this year. There’s a reason people are talking about this issue (though as has been proven, Twitter/the internet are far from representative).