In sensible countries (read: home), when you want to make an offer for a house, you phone up the agent and tell them, and they phone the vendor and tell them, and the vendor laughs and suggests another figure, the agent calls you back, and nothing gets put in writing until you've agreed on the price.
In New Zealand, nothing will do but you must make the offer in writhing and the vendor countersigns it. This complicates things not a little, because typically you and the vendor are not in the same room.
 genuine typo which seemed oddly appropriate.
More, the writhing must be on an appropriate legal form, which is a closely-typed ten-page document with your signatures on page 6 and various other details filled in elsewhere and initialled right up the wazoo. I understand lawyers are comfortable with documents like this, and estate agents love them because of the sense of mystery and intimidation they create, but to most of us they're just annoying.
So it was that we had two visits from an estate agent last night. Not my first choice of house guests. But the cafes were closed, and one must be civil.
It was with a mixture of embarrassment and satisfaction that I noted the spilled takeaway on the floor of the lift as I escorted her up. I don't think it had been eaten before spilling, but it was hard to be sure.
She sat in the least comfortable chair and went, in tedious detail, through the standard contract terms that "the vendors" wanted to change. Personally I don't believe the vendors gave a damn' about these things (mostly, whether five working days was a reasonable time to get a builder's report, or whether we should be allowed seven working days as I'd originally suggested), but she needed something uncontroversial to talk about before getting down to brass tacks. (Negotiating 101: make sure your wedge has a thin end.)
Then she showed us the vendor's counter-offer: $475,000, a piffling $7000 below the original asking price. (Which, the agent assured us, was an extremely reasonable price. Never had a vendor been so earnestly pressed to keep their expectations reasonable, never was a house better priced to sell. She knows some agents like to pad their prices upwards, but she could not countenance such a practice. Incidentally, had she mentioned that the market has almost completely recovered?)
I sat and thought for a long time. Then I decided: time to see if they're serious about selling. In one stroke, I increased our offer from $430k to $450k.
"What's your limit?", asked the agent. Hoping, presumably, I'd forget that her job is to squeeze as much out of me as she can. "Because if I keep running back and forth with these small changes..."
"That's not a small change," I interrupted her.
She backpedalled hastily, muttering some non-apology about the multi-million dollar deals she's apparently accustomed to making, and went off to plague sundry other people, including our vendor.
Two hours later she was back. I brought her up in the same lift, she sat in the same chair and showed us the new offer.
I couldn't find it at first. There was so much writing, crossing out and initialling on the front page of the form that the number was not easy to see. Eventually I tracked it down: $470,000.
"Forget it," I said. "I made a big concession, I was looking for a reasonable movement back from them; if they're not prepared to make that, then we're just not going to reach an agreement."
She remonstrated a little for form's sake, but I think she could see she was wasting her breath. I wondered if she'd tried to talk the vendors into making a bigger concession; if so, presumably she'll be in a better position to pressure them next time. Pretty soon we thanked each other politely for our time, and she saw herself out.
I just hope she got the same lift again on the way down.