19 Jun 2015

Home Truths - 'Stuck in property purgatory'

2:30 pm on 19 June 2015

Ok, so here I am, still in purgatory. I have a tan, and extremely hot feet. A little crispy one might say.

And 10 working days waiting to see if the offer on my house goes unconditional is actually feeling like an eternity.

It has not been helped by the fact I got lost in Dannemora for one of them. It was a pop-up suburb about 10 years ago, and much like what the Government's new Special Housing Areas will probably be like when they have time to settle in.

Lost in Dannemora - the original one is actually a tiny Swedish iron mining town.

Lost in Dannemora - the original one is actually a tiny Swedish iron mining town. Photo: RNZ / Eileen Cameron

I went to check out a sliver of a brand spanking new apartment, and then couldn't find my way out. I kept driving around gamely, only to lose track of time, myself, and any sense of direction I might once have had, weighed down by the never-ending architectural repetition.

For some obscure reason I thought Dannemora was an Irish name, but it is in fact a tiny Swedish iron mining town, which had a village in New York state named after it, which in turn passed its name to the notorious local prison. I am starring in 'Escape from Dannemora', the sequel. I keep driving until it gets dark, and use the lights from the Botany shopping centre as a beacon. I wonder if this is what dementia feels like.

The top picture is by Amy Timu, the bottom one by Lia Timu.

Top picture by Amy Timu, the bottom one by Lia Timu. Photo: RNZ / Eileen Cameron

Despite my little problem with being crispy and demented, I have sworn I will pretend to enjoy myself this weekend.

This house hunting thing will be fun, even if I have to apply a little journalists' humour in the process. That's the sense of humour people don't think we have, because it can be a bit black for public consumption.

I will ask my nieces to draw a picture of me as a vulture - it's one of the less offensive things I've been called on the job. That should cheer me up no end.

Much to my surprise, considering that it's winter and the traditional time for new listings to dry up, when I look for open homes I find a little clutch of new possibilities in the two bedroom house/unit/apartment category.

It's heartening. I feel a little spike of uncharacteristic optimism. The vulture must be helping.

So off I fly, in ever decreasing circles around Papatoetoe. The first place is reasonable, and the current owner has a collection of quite endearing turtles.


The odd things that catch your eye. Photo: RNZ / Eileen Cameron

The next is a bit close to the southern motorway (a unit away in fact), but it's cute and I can just pretend the traffic noise is the sound of the ocean.

Out, damn optimism, out.

The third is on a very busy road and quite neglected, but on the upside it is right next to a park, which the little white Jack Russell horror would love to chase her ball around.

real estate signs

Definitely for sale. Photo: RNZ / Eileen Cameron

All are up for auction after my house has theoretically been sold. And in my mind I factor in the cost of doing them up, on top of whatever I am prepared to bid. This one will take 20k, another one will take 40k including rewiring. Yeah, it all adds up.

As one the real estate agent smiles about how a 'two beddie' would cost about 350k a year ago. Now it's basically 450k, if you're lucky. What a difference a year makes.


A house in the suburbs. Photo: RNZ / Eileen Cameron

Still, I am feeling perky. I think perky black humour thoughts, as I get rained on. Yes, it is winter, and why yes, more people die in winter, and there are more deceased estates on the market. Look away now, as I plant my crispy feet, spread my wings, and fly away to feed on carrion.

As it turns out, carrion gives me indigestion, so I won't be ordering that one again.

Feeling a little queasy I head off for the auction of a place I was actually quite interested in.

It's on another busy road, but has enough land for a little vege garden, and it's got a lot of light, and space. Two things one can never underestimate the importance of.

It's the stuff that makes a house breathe, and you breathe with it. It hasn't been on the market in 20 years, and that's the last time anyone did any work on the place. Whatever it goes for you have to factor in 50k for renovations.

It has a cupboard in the kitchen in fake wood that opens to reveal a fold-out ironing board. Not quite a selling point, but apparently the agent can make it one. I wonder if he's offering the place with a free pinafore. It would not surprise me.

I'm pretty wowed by the crowd.

The not-that-little front room is absolutely packed, and there are more people behind me outside.


Auction time. Photo: RNZ / Eileen Cameron

I think about how much I would be prepared to bid, considering how much it will take to do up. I reckon about $460k.

And things zoom past that quickly. I feel myself being left in the dust. The bidding gets up to 480, and slows down … but there's momentum here, and when it hits 490, bidders are sweating it out at a thousand dollars a hit. As the hammer finally falls it's 500k.

Space and light: I guess that's how much it costs.

In a completely unrelated outing during the week, a colleague is doing a story about state housing, spending an evening with a family in their place in Otara. I take the kids and the little posse of locals who have gathered some takeaways for dinner.

I have bad night vision, but as I pull up I click that the reason I am having trouble navigating is that there is very little street lighting. When darkness falls in this part of town, it falls hard.

shoes at the door

Too many house hunting feet. Photo: RNZ / Eileen Cameron

The last thing I am consciously thinking about is the crazy Auckland property market, but when I walk in I get a little electrical shock: it's stark, and cold, and made to seem smaller by the number of teenagers and children occupying the space. The light bulbs don't illuminate the corners.

The kids are fantastic, and I hear one say the TV people wouldn't have brought them all this food.

Do vultures smile? Apparently they do.

As I drive away, I think about space and light again. I wonder if I can afford it, and I wonder if I can afford not to.