When you go to a Chinese restaurant, the staff speak to you in their language and look disappointed when you can only offer a small shrug and a ‘sorry’. They may offer you forks, and no doubt take note of the fact your white partner uses chopsticks a million times more deftly than you do.
When an elderly Asian person tries to communicate with the bus driver, and fails, the driver casts a meaningful look back at you over his shoulder, and all you can do is offer a small shrug and a ‘sorry’.
When an Asian person comes up to you on the street and (presumably) tries to ask you for directions in their language, and all you can do is offer a small shrug and a ‘sorry’.
When people at work ask if you speak any other languages, clearly hoping that you do, and all you can do is offer a small shrug and a ‘sorry’.
When a white security guard says ‘ni hao’ to you as you walk past, and you don’t know how best to respond.
When people learn your Chinese/legal name and gush about how beautiful it is, and you don’t know how best to respond.
When you open your mouth and someone hearing you for the first time expresses surprise at your total lack of an accent, and you don’t know how best to respond.
I’ve had too many of these incidents happen too close together of late, and I’m tired of feeling apologetic all the damn time. It’s my own problem to deal with, I know; it’s not about malice, it’s about what’s going on inside me and my own identity issues.
I am Chinese by heritage, born in Malaysia, raised in New Zealand. I know more Malay words than I do Chinese, and I am pretty sure I know even more Maori words in total. English is the language we spoke at home – my parents grew up speaking different dialects – and while my dad briefly tried to teach me Mandarin once, I had neither the desire nor inclination to succeed. If it weren’t for, I suppose, external forces, I wouldn’t even care. Maybe in my dotage, like my mother, I’ll feel the urge to reconnect with my birthright and start taking Mandarin classes – but for now, it’s just not on my radar. But being non white in an overwhelmingly white industry makes me feel like I need to be some sort of ambassador or representative at times. But I’m not. I’m an impostor.
I am surrounded by white people for the vast majority of my waking hours. At work. At home. In the media I consume. Sometimes, despite the fact I see myself every day in the mirror, I think I actually forget I’m not white too.
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?
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).
Thanks to a lot of hard work and a healthy dose of good luck, I’ve never really personally struggled with unemployment. Being a firsthand witness to a long job hunt, though, has definitely got me sympathising. These are the worst things about job hunting, as observed by me.
Please call in order for us to reject you
I can’t believe there are people/companies that will leave a message asking you to call back – only for them to tell you that you were unsuccessful, once you return the call. Just leave a voicemail, or send an email. Seriously.
Radio silence after in-person interviews
There’s a special place in hell for those who don’t get back to you after interviews. I get that some industries don’t screen much and often interview a lot of people in person, but I do think it’s a courtesy once you’ve brought someone in. (Personally I don’t think rejections are needed if you don’t get to interview stage, and actually prefer it this way, but I know a lot of people disagree. As a job hunter, I don’t expect any acknowledgement of receipt, just like I wouldn’t if I was a PR rep pitching a journalist – editors are busy and we’ll ignore pitches we’re not interested in.)
Super scammy sales roles
There are always SO many entry-level sales/promotion type roles promising a fast track to success for hard workers. The thing is, these sales roles are usually pretty dodgy – shady insurance companies and the like – and often just door to door marketing. If it sounds too good to be true…
The weird thing about job hunting is that you’ve got to totally amp yourself up for interviews and really commit to imagining yourself in a particular job. Then you’ve got to completely disengage and do your best to forget about it, since odds are high you won’t make it any further.
I don’t like to throw around the word depression lightly. But the last couple of weeks have seen me at my lowest point in a long, long time.
There’s been fatigue, trouble sleeping, nightmares, an MIA period, tears and eventually, that’s bubbled up into conscious stress. I’m basically walking an emotional tightrope.
In search of peace and a good night’s sleep, I’ve been doing my best to let go and give up worrying about things that are outside my locus of control.
The job situation
I cannot control if/when T gets work. It’s as simple as that. I need to minimise fruitless dwelling on this, because it’s unproductive.
The house situation
I cannot control what the market does. How fast prices or rents rise. What rules the government/banks decide or don’t decide to impose on buyers. What the government does, or doesn’t do, about rental housing standards. How much competition there is for housing here – renting or buying.
I need to stop stalking real estate listings online. It does no good. It makes me depressed because we cannot afford to buy anything and we cannot afford to rent a good place – certainly not on one income as we are. And until I totally give up hope of ever buying, it’s imperative to keep rent cheap.
I stupidly got my hopes up last week. It was all sorts of rare: a private rental, so no agent fee; viewings at lunchtime but ALSO after work hours; a bit more than we really wanted to pay, but it looked so good we went along to the first evening viewing. It was nice but not enough to make the rent increase worth it, and there was already a FAT stack of completed rental applications on the counter anyway.
The car situation
I cannot control how long our car lasts or what else goes wrong with it.
Fun fact – it was totally brake-less for a while a few weeks ago. Thankfully that is now fixed, but there were already a million other issues and it just keeps deteriorating. Another fun fact: after maybe 4 years of owning it, we just found out that the engine was replaced at some point – a 2001-or-later engine sitting in a 1998 car. This explains why every time we’ve had to get parts for it or get anything done to the engine, it’s been a massive clusterfuck.
The conundrum, of course, is T needs a reliable car for work purposes but needs work to afford a car. We’re just going to have to wait until he’s back in work – no way am I draining cash savings for a vehicle. We were previously planning to get a loan for a decent car – I was waiting until he passed the trial period at work and had job security – but that situation turned toxic and screwed up the timeline on that plan.
What else is bugging me? That T stupidly came off his motorbike last week and scraped himself up something terrible – basically nixing any hope of immediate temp work and saddling me with the housework on top of earning a crust to support the two of us. That we’re still waiting on about $250 in reimbursements from that toxic ex-job of his. That we have at least another three years of a government that doesn’t give a toss about renters. That I’m literally feeling a constant weight on my chest – my sternum – making it hard to breathe (whether this is a symptom of stress or just the cold – spring made a brief appearance then disappeared – I don’t know). That I didn’t fall in love with a millionaire. KIDDING. Still have a sense of humour.
I don’t like dwelling on this kind of stuff. I don’t want pity. I hate when people with a die-hard victim mentality go online just to bitch and moan and refuse to make any effort to help themselves.
I’m also conscious that I don’t want to paint NZ in broad brushstrokes – it’s a mild, clean, safe and beautiful place, and as one of the few NZ bloggers I know of, I want to represent my country fairly. But as you already know, it’s not cheap. And the state of housing is especially dreadful – I think it’s our biggest shame. Luckily for you, though, I think I’m almost all blogged out on that topic.
I’ll probably regret publishing this, but it’s been cathartic. I’d even venture to say it’s helped me let go of things.
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.
I’m trying to focus on the good things. I’m earning more than I ever have before, even if I’m not seeing the actual bottom line benefits of that at the moment. Since T missed out on a good job that would’ve taken up all his weekends, at least we’ll be able to get outdoors in the weekends this summer and do stuff. And food, as always, is a guaranteed pick-me-up; the best 50 cents I’ve spent recently was on upgrading to a croissant roll with chicken and avocado, rather than a plain bread roll. When in doubt, eat, and make hay while your metabolism is still on your side. Mixed metaphors FTW.
Say what you want about Scarlett, but she was one determined lass who always came out on top.
In that vein, here is my commitment to myself:
One day, the sooner the better, I will live in my own house. I will never scrub mould from the ceiling or walls again. Never see my breath in front of my face while indoors. Never come across a mushroom growing through the carpet. Never come home in winter and cross the threshold to find it just as cold inside as outside. Never get into the car only to find it warmer than indoors.
The next couple of years will tell whether buying a house is a possibility. Depends what life decides to lob our way. (If there’s one thing in life I hate, it’s not being able to plan.)
If not, I’ll have to come up with a backup strategy … one that somehow incorporates renting a decent, healthy and reasonably modern property to live in and raise kids in – such properties are expensive and rare – while ramping up retirement savings way more at the same time to compensate for the lack of home ownership.
Now you can’t get a six-inch sub at Subway for under $5. Even the cheapest subs are now $5.70. DISLIKE.
Mexican food poseurs
You all know how passionately I feel about Mexican food (specifically, its absence here). I wish I could ban coworkers from uttering the names Mexican Cafe or Mexicali Fresh in my earshot.
I feel bad complaining, knowing most of you guys live places where it snows. But I don’t care. Given how cold our house is, I reckon it evens out (even T is wearing multiple layers indoors and complaining about the cold, and that, I can tell you, is a rarity). Who needs four seasons anyway? (Not that we really get four seasons in Auckland; it just starts getting colder and wetter around May or so.)
I was recently introduced to this term. You know how building anything involves choices and compromises – after all, you can’t get anything that’s good AND cheap AND fast? And how building, tweaking and fixing software creates a many-headed monster over a time? Yeah. I’m over it. Where’s our technical fairy godmother and her magic wand?
Humans being shitty to other humans
As we all know, there’s been a lot of spectacularly bad news happening this month. It makes me so, so sad. That’s about all I have to say on that front.
‘That cost you how much?! We spent way less than that…’
If you want to survive on as little as humanly possible, that’s your prerogative. If you can afford to travel in luxury and that’s the way you want to go, enjoy it. If you are mostly frugal but splash out on food, who are we to judge? Just because it’s possible to spend as little as $10 or 20 a day in some countries doesn’t mean you’re ‘doing it wrong’ if you choose to splurge some days. Even the cheapest countries cost money and I’m inclined to agree with Adam Seper on this one: “You can’t do/see anything on $10/day, no matter where you are.”
Being on the road for six months, we occupied a strange middle ground – one that fell somewhere between normal people who couldn’t fathom how we spent so little, and long-term (often permanent) travellers who berate me for spending so much.
Six months worked in well with legalities (visas and such) for the destinations we wanted to visit and our finances, among other things. It did mean we moved at a fast pace by RTW standards and therefore jacked up daily average spend but it was the perfect length for us.
(Also, the US is not the only country in the world. There are travel bloggers from other countries, who deal in currencies other than the greenback.)
Anyone with a bag bigger than a 25L backpack is doing it wrong
I liked the idea of travelling with only a carry-on, I really did. Then I learned just how tiny the dimensions are for carry-on luggage with some of the budget airlines. There was no way that was going to happen. Plus, our RTW flights (for all the long-haul journeys) included checked baggage anyway – it was only the shorter European flights we had to worry about. So I sucked it up and paid extra for baggage on those flights.
I wouldn’t consider myself high maintenance; I only had a couple pairs of shoes and a handful of pieces of clothing for six months – one of the benefits of travelling in warmer weather. But we did have a few other things like electronics and a sleeping bag to contend with, and I am a lazy, untrained packer who likes to haphazardly squash things in. Oh, and yes, I packed jeans, and yes, I wore them a ton!
We could certainly have bought smaller packs (ours were never completely full until towards the end, when we did all our shopping in the States) and learned how to use packing cubes and the like if needed, but I figured I would rather have the option of more room in case I needed it (this definitely came in handy at times).
Props to the super minimalists and pro packers. Travel is always easier with less stuff to transport – but different strokes for different folks. My 9kgs may seem excessive to seasoned nomads, although non-travellers always balked at how little we apparently had.
The ‘right’ way to travel
Like most things in life, travel is intensely personal. I was itching to get out of the Louvre after an hour; some people dream of visiting it their whole lives. I adore Venice, but plenty of people decry it as a tourist trap.
So-called ‘real travellers’ occasionally astound me with their close-minded snobbery. How about we let people experience travel however the hell they want? Not everyone has the luxury of slow travel – the ability or the DESIRE to travel for long periods – so let’s not give them shit for trying to get the most out of their time. We only had 3 months in Europe as per Schengen visa rules so yes, we were kinda speed-freak backpackers over there as we wanted to fit as much in as we could – and it was a blast. When you’re from NZ, Europe is a long and expensive journey away, so this was a one-off/rare shot for us.
Not everyone wants to stay in gritty guesthouses and hostels, no matter how authentic that might be, or volunteer on a farm, or teach English abroad. (We did all these things ourselves and had a blast … but they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea.)
Also, not everyone wants to spend months or years in developing nations no matter how cheap they are. After six weeks in southeast Asia we’d just about hit our limit in regards to heat and the environment in general. We spent too much on foreign food when we could no longer tolerate local food for every meal and found ourselves lingering longer in our air-conditioned rooms in the mornings as time went on. It was a grand adventure and amazing experience, but too far out of our comfort zone to spend months in.
I will wrap up with this: “You can indeed have a narrow mind and a thick passport.” (Borrowed from William Chalmers, whose excellent list of 22 examples of travel snobbery is here.)
I think it’s been too long around these parts since I had a good old fashioned rant, no? (If you disagree, feel free to ignore this and check back tomorrow for something a little more upbeat.)
I like to think I’m a pretty chilled person. About 90% of that comes down to sheer laziness and the need to save my mental energy for Things That Are Actually Important. Unless it’s going to cost me money, I generally try to employ the “don’t give a fuck” philosophy.
Bus running 15 minutes late? Sure, it’s frustrating, but unfortunately, it’s something that’s beyond my control. Breathe, play some Battleship on my phone, and try to control that twitchy foot.
T’s best friend dragging him/us into his latest drama with his off-her-rocker wife? Sure, it’s a case of same-old-same-old, but he’s made his choice, and T won’t give up on him, and it doesn’t cost me that much to listen for a few minutes and make the appropriate sympathetic/outrage noises in the right places.
Mayor caught with his pants down? Sure, it takes him down a few notches in my opinion (and trust me, I have absolutely no patience for cheaters), but ultimately, I am more concerned about whether he’s done a good job professionally. Can’t we get back to worrying about dying kids, uninsulated houses and internet privacy already?
Ultimately, the only logical reaction to the vast vast majority of crap that blows across our paths in life is this:
(George Watsky is a genius and I can’t believe I only just came across him. Look him up!)
But sometimes things break through that barrier, like it or not.
Sometime in the last couple of weeks, something in me snapped. It might have been after the first wolf whistle of the day, or the third, or the fifth.
We’ve been living here a month, and in that time, I have had more random dudes whistle at me from passing cars as I’m walking outside than I had in the 18 months we lived in our old neighbourhood, and in the 18 months we lived in another neighbourhood before that (a total of zero times in both cases).
Nothing about me has changed. I still have the same resting bitch face (in fact, it’s probably even more pronounced these days). I dress exactly the same way. I haven’t gained or lost weight. I haven’t had surgery of any sort. I still look more or less the same as I did a year ago, two years ago, three years ago.
So if it’s not me, what is it? Is it the fact that we now live in a working class area, where houses are closer to the $500,000 mark than a white collar area where houses are closer to the $1 million mark? That we now live around the corner from a retail/industrial hub as opposed to just a strip of shops and some posh schools? Does it even matter?
I’ll be honest. The younger, more insecure me secretly used to like the attention. But I’m older and grumpier and way more impatient these days, and all of a sudden, I find it intrusive and disrespectful and just bloody annoying.
I want to wait for the bus and cross the road and walk to the supermarket in a peaceful haze, lost in my own thoughts and daydreams, without having someone’s “appreciation” pierce through at random moments.
I do not like feeling that my body, even when clad in wrinkly jeans and topped with unbrushed sea monster hair and smeared glasses, is something strangers feel they have the right to comment on out loud, whether through words or sound.
I’m well aware that many other women have experienced honest-to-God harassment on the streets, the kind that actually makes them fear for their own safety. I’m thankful I’ve never had to go through anything like that myself. But I now understand, REALLY understand, people who are fully anti-whistles and catcalls. No longer do I just sympathise with them, I can empathise.
Guys, be a bit more original, and stop being douchebags. Chur.
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.