Sunday, December 14, 2008

House hunting, week 15 (ish)

In the first blush of enthusiasm, we'd set out to hunt six, eight or even more houses each day at weekends. It was exhausting, particularly since neither one of us knew our Auckland geography from our elbows. We'd start off in Mt Wellington, trek across to Epsom, down to Mt Roskill or Hillsborough, back up again to Grey Lynn...

(You might want to glance at Google Maps if you want to follow along, but it doesn't really matter. All you need to know is that these places are all about 15 minutes apart, and we were viewing houses at half-hourly intervals. Those were full and rich days.)

Susan, who was navigating, would often close her eyes during the tedious bits (i.e. most of Auckland). But I was driving, and if I adopted the same policy I thought there might be side effects. So I took to unilaterally varying the routes, to see more neighbourhoods and give me a change of scenery. Of course that meant she had to stay awake too, but you can't make an omlette...

This precaution on my part helped us both to reach the same point of exhaustion at about the same time. Which was a relief. We took a couple of weekends off, we fled the country, and when we got back we settled into a steady rhythm. Now we try to schedule no more than four houses per day, and seldom more than two in any half-hour period.

Today's tour began in Meadowbank, a suburb so exclusive that until today I was only dimly aware of it. One finds it by starting from the upmarket shopping district of Newmarket, travelling through the genteel suburb of Remuera until it turns into leafy St Johns, then taking one of the unmarked and unprepossessing turns that leads into the forbidding turf of Meadowbank itself. F/120 Gowing Drive, when one gets there, is very finely calculated to uphold the tone of the neighbourhood by putting off nearly, but not quite, everyone. It's one of 20 or so houses on a single patch of land; it has a railway track running past the back garden, which itself is low enough to be prone to flooding when the Purewa Creek bursts its banks; and worst of all, it has a driving range under the house itself.

Susan was put off when we went upstairs to the kitchen (Kiwis often put their kitchens on the top floor, I don't think they know any better, poor things) and found she had to stand on tiptoes to peer over the counter. I refrained from telling her how cute she looked.

I was put off when I wandered around the upper landing, and found myself walking downhill. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer floors that are level.

In short, the house was perfect for a tall, sociable, amphibious, golf-loving train-spotter who's not too fussy about the finish of their building. Scratch one.

Next stop was the more down-to-earth, neighbourly suburb of One Tree Hill, which has become something of a favourite of ours. It seems to offer more promising combinations of house, land and neighbourhood than any other area we've tried. 8 Tuata Street was the best new offering we saw today, featuring a quiet, leafy street, a decent kitchen and small but welcoming entertaining space, and a tiled and modern bathroom. But no bath, and no room to add one.

Scratch two.

The third offering was in Ellerslie, our second visit to an address I'm not going to publish here because there's an outside chance we might buy it. It's a pleasant enough house, but suffers from a mild case of Auckland Developer Syndrome (not to be confused with Kiwi Builder Syndrome, on which I'll probably have occasion to rant at a later date).

Show an Aucklander a house with a backyard big enough to accommodate anything larger than, say, an agoraphobic goat, and what they see is at least four lots of prime building land. And if you make the mistake of only building two houses, each with a reasonable patch, the next owners will just subdivide it again. It's like a cancer, splitting and destroying the land. (I just wish they had the sense to build upwards more often. If land is so damn' precious, then why do less than half the homes in Auckland come with stairs?)

This particular house does feature stairs, and a garden about the size of a two-lane bowling alley. And a patio door that opens onto the neighbour's driveway. No, really.

Last on today's itinerary was 19/27 Birdwood Crescent, Parnell. Parnell is a dream of a place to live: central yet peaceful, a buzzing, Bohemian community, rich in academics, artists and modest inherited wealth. (We passed a house that actually did keep a goat in its backyard, possibly as some kind of test of land area.) 27 Birdwood Crescent was, at one time -- probably within living memory -- a stunning, although slightly vertiginous, patch of land, backing down towards the Domain, offering a placid and uplifting view of the Auckland Museum. Then someone decided to concrete the whole thing over, divide it into something more than 30 separate lots and build a shoebox on each.

Scratch three. When this place comes to its senses and appoints me dictator, the former owner of 27 Birdwood Crescent is going to have some very hard explaining to do to the Inland Revenue, the kind of explaining where he ends up considering himself lucky to be allowed to sleep on a park bench.

Another day, another washout.

On the plus side, I can now find my way from Ellerslie to Parnell without any navigational aids at all. If you want to learn your way around a city, buy a house.


Eric Lester said...

Ah, yes. We haven't done that job in almost ten years, and have no plans to do it anytime soon. I hope.

It sounds like the developers of Auckland are afflicted with much the same illness that those of the Seattle metro area seem to have.

I believe it's called greed.

Good luck!!

vet said...

Eric, you're not wrong. The greed on display is truly breathtaking sometimes.

Thanks for the good wishes. I've just made an offer on a place this morning...