12 Jun 2015

Home Truths - 'Cheap at the price?'

12:20 pm on 12 June 2015

I laughed about being stuck in purgatory last week; now it has come back to haunt me.

After my house failed to sell at auction, a new rolling block of negotiations kicked in, and out popped an offer. Not without a fair bit of haggling. At one stage, I employed the command voice I use to get the Jack Russell to stop rolling around in decaying bird carcasses. Apparently my bottom line is my bottom line.

In the end, the offer was acceptable, but it is conditional on various things, so I just have to wait. Ten days. While the market gets hotter and hotter around me.

Killing time, I check out the auction for a house I might have been bidding on. It's the two bedroom unit in Papatoetoe with the scary bathroom from Cell Block H.


Not purgatory, but nightmare-ish all the same. Photo: RNZ/Eileen Cameron

It's a fine Saturday, and I'm quite blown away by the number of people who turn up. There's a crowd of at least 40, and the smile on the agent's face could hardly be wider. The bidding is spirited, and in the end it goes for 477k. The corners of that smile creep around the agent's face and disappear behind his ears.

Other things one does while hanging out in purgatory: travel overseas, to a strange land. Devonport on the North Shore, in this case.

I can't say it's out of my comfort zone, as I've spent time there and love the place. Beaches, a small village feel, so quiet you can hear the waters of the harbour lap against sand and stone. It's the only place in Auckland I've gone for a walk and heard National Radio drifting out of a villa. It should fit me fine.

First up, I check out a nice old two bedroom unit, incredibly similar to the one I've just seen go at auction.

From the street you can see the water, the bridge and the city beyond. Inside it is small but cosy. Renovated probably in the last five years, and nothing flash, but yes, I like it.

I pick up the glossy brochure and peruse the details, enjoying the sun streaming into the living room. I reach the listed CV, and my right eyeball falls out and rolls along the polished floor. It comes to a gentle stop, cradled on the rug.

Devonport unit

Nice, two bedrooms, with water, bridge and city views. Photo: RNZ/Eileen Cameron

Council valuations are pretty much distant history now. This one says 540k. Which means a sale price is more likely to be massively over that. I pick up my eyeball, put on my shoes, and retreat to the car.

It's a solid reality check. With some bad maths, I figure I've travelled about 20 kilometres from South Auckland, and each of those kilometres has seen the cost of what I am looking for go up approximately $10,000. I should have sprouted wings and flown; it would have been cheaper and more achievable.

I only have one eye left, so can't afford another shock. I go look at the one place I can find at around half a million dollars.

It's billed as a super trendy singles pad, and it's in what might well pass as some kind of Devonport ghetto - i.e. a nicely kept block of retro flats.

Devonport flats

Photo: RNZ/Eileen Cameron

It has been immaculately renovated, and it sparkles. It reminds me a bit of those transparent boxes contortionists use to defy nature and compact themselves into.

It would be unseemly for a woman of my age to attempt such a feat. I don't go in.

One more stop, and it's at the most modest auction I can locate. I take two friends who are locals, and can put things in context. The house is on a fairly busy road. It's three bedrooms and two bathrooms, with an add-on second level bedroom with a lovely balcony and views which scan Rangitoto.

Since it's bigger than I would usually be looking at, it's quite the novelty and I am open to being impressed. My friends point out nine million faults, and I wonder about whether it's going to collapse before it goes under the hammer. High standards, apparently higher than mine.

An agent stops by to chat us up. I explain I'm waiting for my house out south to sell, checking out some options further afield. He raises an eyebrow and says, 'Oh, you're selling in LA'. I have no idea what he means, until I get a quick translation. It's not South Side, it's Lower Auckland.

I notice something else that's quite foreign to me. With only one exception, every single person here is white. It's really quite strange, as I'm more familiar with a rich and diverse ethnic mix. I wasn't kidding when I said this was a strange country.

The auctioneer goes into his warm-up, with the technicalities and title of the land. He sings about the joys of the area, the quality of life. Speeds up his tempo as he invites people to take up this Devonport 'entry level' house, then cajoles and pleads for a first bid.

Under today's rules, the auctioneer can bid on behalf of the vendor, and since no-one else is going to, he does. Starting point: one million dollars. A million as a starting point for and entry level home here. I am in danger of having that remaining eye pop out.

A young woman has been sitting with her baby next to her, feeding him a biscuit. She's the only one to make a bid, and the auctioneer tries a bit of humour and flattery, praising her ability to multi-task. She gives him a look, and it's clear she can feed an infant, bid on a million dollar property, and deal to a wayward man simultaneously.

The charm doesn't work, and things stall at $1.1 million. As it turns out, if you bid an extra $5,000 you can see the reserve. Cheap at the price?

The haggling goes behind the scenes, and my local friends are appalled that what they see as a 'dive' is going for over a million. Everything is relative, I guess.

Two bottles of bubbly, courtesy of a well-wisher.

Two bottles of bubbly, courtesy of a well-wisher. Photo: RNZ/Eileen Cameron

We walk back towards their place and past the local bakery. It is French. The French kind run by actual French people. Next to some lovely little antique and curiosity shops. One of my friends goes in for bread for a fondue. He comes out and explains they do not have the specific kind wanted, but they will bake it for him, if he comes back in 12 precise minutes.

I think of my local bakery in Papatoetoe, the one with the beggar outside. Everything is very relative.

Lingering in the property market is making my hair go greyer and now, more embarrassingly, my working class roots are showing.

I hop in the car and head home the way I came, reeling back in $10,000 for every kilometre I drive.

There are two little bottles of bubbly in the fridge, given to me to open when I buy or sell, or have some small success of any kind.

The latest QV figures show home values around the super city are still soaring, and the south is rising the most with a 20.2 percent increase in the last year. So, my waiting around in purgatory is not only tortuous, it is expensive as well.

I eye up the bubbly, and close the refrigerator door.

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