Life and Style columnist for the NZ Herald

The reality of renting in Auckland

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Finding a rental is like applying for jobs: you're excited and hopeful in the beginning, but come week three of rejections you think there's something seriously undesirable about you. Photo / Greg Bowker
Finding a rental is like applying for jobs: you're excited and hopeful in the beginning, but come week three of rejections you think there's something seriously undesirable about you. Photo / Greg Bowker

Every day, there's another story in the news about Auckland's housing problem. Usually, it's fuelled by a new report from a real estate agency, telling us house prices are again rising (which fuels the perception of demand and perpetuates the cycle).

What rarely makes the headlines, however, is how difficult it is to find a rental property in Auckland. Just as the modern generation has been locked out of the housing market, we're also being priced out of the rental market.

It's been more than three years since I was on the hunt for a rental in Auckland. Much has changed between 2011 and now. $450 a week used to get you a lovely renovated two-bedroom off Ponsonby Road. Now, $450 gets you one un-renovated bedroom in deepest darkest Sandringham.

Over the last six weeks, I've been to more than three dozen viewings. This TradeMe-driven process of house hunting is depressing, demoralising, and above all else, terribly disappointing.

At every viewing you'll be one of at least 20 people. You'll wait patiently outside, eyeing up the competition, then will line up like sheep, shoes off, ready to file in five-at-a-time.

The reality is never as good as what TradeMe presents - especially if the listing used overexposed real estate photos, complete with fisheye angles that make 50 square metres look like 80. If you're looking in a city-fringe suburb, you will be met with grottiness. Auckland landlords, you seriously need to have your houses professionally cleaned. Last time we checked, $500 a week didn't buy us mould.

Still, such filth seems not to deter most. Four or five people will fill out applications then and there, before greasing up to the agent to find out how they're going to "win" this grubby, fungus-friendly house.

The answer? Be a white couple (yes, it seems race matters in agents' eyes), not a group of potential flatmates. Come with no kids, no pets, your own whiteware, and full-time jobs in a stable industry like law. Good references are vital, and you can't have a current lease - you need to be able to move in, well, tomorrow, so the landlord doesn't lose any money.

If such qualifiers are not already ridiculous enough, you'll also need to be flexible on your budget. I started with a price range the $450-$500 vicinity. Every week, my husband and I renegotiated the ceiling on our accommodation allocation. Last week, the budget had reached $600 per week.

Oh, and you'll need $3500 in the bank to give away as move-in costs to seal the deal - inclusive of the ever-ridiculous "letting fee", which seldom exists outside of Auckland and goes straight into the agency's pocket alongside five or 10 per cent of your weekly rent.

Viewing after viewing, application after application, your spirits will sink low. Really low. Finding a rental is like applying for jobs: you're excited and hopeful in the beginning, but come week three of rejections you think there's something seriously undesirable about you.

Rental-hunting depression is also fuelled by the sheer lack of decent houses out there - those you'd never thought you'd live in, but now, somehow, are actually considering.

There are a lot of ugly suburbs in Auckland. A lot of neighbourhoods full of brick-and-tile units and pink Summerhill stone granny flats. A lot of 1960s kitchens and stained bathrooms. A lot of areas you still need to spend 30 minutes in your car every morning to get to work, or more than 45 on public transport.

This is fringe suburbs like Westmere, Mt Eden, Glendowie, and St Heliers we're talking. Not commuter towns.

The modern generation has experienced a very tough economic adulthood. We graduated from university in the later half of the 2000s, only to arrive at a financial crisis that crippled our post-graduation dreams. Over the last seven years, we've fought tooth and nail to do well at work, live on the cheap, and ferret away a house deposit.

Now, many of us (thanks to Kiwisaver) actually have that house deposit, and even the mortgage pre-approval is ready to go. Trouble is, we can't afford to buy a house in 2015. We can only afford to buy a house in 2005.

So, we're now 30, and unlike every generation before us, we will still be renting into our fourth decade. Our salaries aren't going up. Half a million (which used to seem exorbitant) doesn't buy squat anymore, unless you want to live in Papakura. And, unfortunately, $600 a week still buys you actual mould.

This isn't the Government's fault. This might be the price we pay for living in a desirable, international city. However, $600 a week (or $2400 a month) is also what you'd pay for a liveable apartment in New York.

Auckland, you're a cool town. But you're not that cool. Wise up to the needs of the modern generation or we will all flee to the Big Apple, or Toronto, or Singapore. Then all you'll be left with is unhappy people with mortgages they can't afford, and no disposable incomes to keep this wining, dining, cultured city thriving.

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Life and Style columnist for the NZ Herald

Writer Lee Suckling pens his opinionated thoughts every Wednesday, covering issues surrounding Generation Y, New Zealand's gay community, and the ethical dilemmas presented every day to those living in a tech-centric modern world. Outside of the New Zealand Herald, Lee writes for a range of magazines and newspapers across New Zealand, Australia, and the UK.

Read more by Lee Suckling

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