Packing up the house in Auckland this week for the move to Wellington was harder than I expected.
My friends tell me I should not have decided to clean the house myself. They're right. Professional cleaners know what they're doing. I don't. That's why my brother found me still scrubbing the oven at midnight on Wednesday.
But I needed to clean the house to say goodbye to it.
I love that house. I loved it from the moment my husband showed me the For Sale ad. I loved it every sunny morning I woke up below the exposed (uninsulated) rafters. And I loved it on Wednesday when I scrubbed the nobbly bits on the stairs with my old toothbrush.
It's funny how much we worried about the stairs before we bought the house. They're very steep. To make them easier to climb, someone installed boat steps, shaped like speech bubbles lying on their sides. This way your foot won't so easily catch on the step above. For the first six months, after a big night out, I'd put a large suitcase at the top of the stairs to prevent night wandering-related injuries. It was stupid. The real hazard was tripping on the suitcase and falling headfirst down the stairs.
The house looked different without furniture. Until the bed was gone, I never noticed the enormous tea stain on the carpet. The husband did an excellent job of acting surprised when I told him the stain was there, the size of Stewart Island and as stubborn as a toddler.
When my brother helped me move the fridge into the basement, he found a photo of a good-looking couple smiling at the camera. Early thirties, clear skin, blond hair, confident. I hate them. They probably go to bed at 10 o'clock even on Fridays. People that good-looking must be boring.
They probably loved the house, too. They left their presence all over it. The stairs, the clivia out the front, the child-proof electricity plugs in the spare bedroom that I haven't removed. Now we've left our marks. The husband's territorial tea staining, the chips in the back fence's paint from my over-enthusiastic waterblasting, the scrapes on the wall from drunk friends consistently knocking off the ornamental red metal arrow.
The tenant moves in tomorrow. I hate it. It feels like the house is cheating on me. I've left a bottle of wine (not an invitation to get drunk and trash the place) and a note explaining all the idiosyncrasies of the house. I also told him that Rita is a great neighbour. She brings in the rubbish bins sometimes and makes a banger cup of coffee.
While I was scrubbing the shower, the Government announced it will become harder for foreign buyers to purchase farms. I clapped like crazy with my Jif-covered hands. We only bought our house because the foreign buyers had left the Auckland market. There's no way my husband and I would've paid as much as a foreigner. We're both as tight as fists.
We bought the place two months after foreign house buyers were told they needed a local IRD number. I'd heard stories of foreigners at auctions trying desperately to get money out of China. There were none at our auction. We paid much less than the real estate agent told us the previous owners wanted.
Now, Labour has gone hard on tightening the rules even more, both on houses and farms. Offshore buyers will have to jump through hoops to get anything bigger than a lifestyle block.
Without the deep pockets of foreign buyers, it's probably true our houses and farms won't sell for quite as much. But it's a price worth paying in the long term. Homes are not commodities like shares or currency.
Yes, we can buy, sell and make profits off them. But, it's not as emotionless a transaction as divesting your portfolio of high-risk stock. Homes are places people live in. They're places people sleep in, entertain friends in and, if they're lucky enough, live out their dreams in. They're places into which people invest not just money, but the sweat of waterblasting the back deck, over-pruning the clivia and scrubbing the boat steps.
Homes are little carve-outs of our country that Kiwis — newly arrived or many generations in situ — get the privilege to call their own.
It should be harder for foreign money to buy our homes.
Ask any farming family that has sold off its inherited land. Once you chop it up and sell it off, it's impossible to stitch it back together again.