Deborah Hill Cone
Deborah Hill Cone is a Herald columnist

Deborah Hill Cone: Property porn's turning us all into fluffers

Some houses have sold three times in one day and presumably the real estate agents still got a cut.
Some houses have sold three times in one day and presumably the real estate agents still got a cut.

The most terrifying effect of the housing crisis is not sleeping in cars; it's the way we all seem to be turning into fluffers on the porn set of high finance. This week Auckland became officially the hottest property market in the world.

So you have to ask yourself: when that is what we are best at, why bother training to do an everyday pencil-chewing, non-property-related job? You'd feel like a bit of a muggins becoming a molecular geneticist or a disaster relief specialist right? It makes far more economic sense to just clip the property ticket along with everyone else. Every week another B-list celebrity announces they are becoming a real estate agent. My Facebook feed seems to be full of budding Annette Bennings from American Beauty: "I will sell this house today!"

Sure some might argue your soul will shrivel and it's a job requirement to be mildly delusional - to some real estate agents Chernobyl is a do-up - but really, it seems to me you can make pots of money by putting up a few ungrammatical signs and smiling a lot.

In the past10 years the price of housing has doubled, but it seems real estate commissions have not changed. If an average Auckland house of $300,000 was sold in 2004 there was about $9000 in commission. If an Auckland house sells for $1 million now, my calculations are there is a lazy $30,000 for the same amount of work. Maybe even less work given the overheated nature of the market. Some houses have been sold three times in one day and presumably the real estate agents still got a cut.

Whereas, the pay rates for we drones who labour away in dilapidated non-property related jobs have hardly budged, let alone tripled.

I have to concede being a real estate agent is actually doing something, even if sometimes I Think it is just taking advantage of other people's desperation and flogging them overpriced ***holes. (Sorry, Donald Trump describes real estate as "artistic".)

Whereas the deeper tragedy of the property boom is the death throes of ye olde idea that if you want to get ahead you need to work hard. I'm afraid I'm still rather attached to this quaint notion. I continually tell my children that working hard is important and brings its own rewards, a sense of satisfaction. Which is good, because if you live in the hottest property market in the world, working hard doesn't seem to bring much else.

Why bother working at a proper job where you actually have to, you know, turn up and do some less than glamorous activity and then pay tax? When, according to Bernard Hickey, if you invested about $53,000 in 2011 to buy an average Auckland house with a 90 per cent mortgage you would now be sitting on tax-free capital gains of almost $500,000. That's $97,000 per year, tax free, for doing nothing. Keep slogging away there, kids! I fear that young people might succumb to a reverse What the Hell effect. Why bother, really?

"Why is Auckland so popular?" the Guardian asked in its report on the city topping the hottest property market stats. The answer: "The jobs are there." Oh, really? Not so as you'd notice, unless you want to be a real estate agent. I recently went to London to do a course. I spent thousands of dollars and you know what I learnt? I need to work harder. That was a waste. Really, I should get my teeth capped and put out a real estate shingle.

- NZ Herald

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