Deborah Hill Cone

Deborah Hill Cone is a Herald columnist

Deborah Hill Cone: Get real, young house hunters, you're not special

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This episode has made me even more bewildered by our so-called housing crisis and particularly the attitude of young people to housing. Photo / Dean Purcell
This episode has made me even more bewildered by our so-called housing crisis and particularly the attitude of young people to housing. Photo / Dean Purcell

Of all the things on my to-do list, I thought this one would be simple. The family home, which had been sitting rather forlorn and empty since my elderly father moved out, had been burgled. Bastards.

So my brother and sister and I thought we should organise to get some tenants in.

It's a deeply ordinary house, a sort of "decent" house, a one-storey red brick bungalow, boring but solid. It doesn't look like the setting for high kicks or wood-fired pizzas. They hadn't invented indoor-outdoor flow when it was built.

But my mum and dad didn't care when they bought it as new immigrants in 1975 for $45,000. They liked it because the large, secluded garden ran down to the lake and it was right by the hospital, where my dad worked. He used to walk home for lunch; every day the same, a sandwich and a glass of milk.

Inside, not much has changed since I was a kid, partly because of the fact dad liked to do everything himself. But I figured once we got rid of some of the "old people" accoutrements - watercolours of the African veldt, bookshelves loaded with mum's now-quaint feminist tracts and everything ever written about Nelson Mandela - we would need to paint inside. So I asked some estate agents what needed to be done to flossy it up. Their response was the kind of whistling through your teeth you get from mechanics telling you your transmission is stuffed.

They were reluctant to rent it at all. They said the house would need to be repiled - repiled - and to have extensive renovations for them to even consider it. Reducing the rent to reflect the fact it didn't have a Nigella-style kitchen would not make any difference, apparently.

One agent recited a treatise of the essentials young people are looking for: they do not want old traditional-style houses, they want modern townhouses with multiple bathrooms and heat pumps.

This agent conceded the setting was "magic" - it is possibly the only non-subdivided section on the lake - but they could not rent the house unless we extensively renovated. But Catch 22: the land is very valuable so if we later sold the property the new owners would most likely bowl the house.

This episode has made me even more bewildered by our so-called housing crisis and particularly the attitude of young people to housing. If it was possible, I am even less on board with the national handwringing over heteronormative young couples and their high lifestyle expectations.

There seems to be an almost worshipful adoration of the genus of "young home-buyers" as guardians of our national white-picket-fence dream. Why do young couples in particular deserve such special treatment? What about first-business buyers? Or young fullas wanting a loan to get into share-milking? What about ex-partners-of-bankrupt-ne'er-do-wells-cleaned-out-of-everything buyers? What about spinsters with aged rellies? Or old couples with disabled children? Or gay couples without children?

I just don't accept wholesome young middle-class families are a particularly virtuous group that is entitled to special sympathy. I have written before about our weird cult of home ownership. But there also seems to be a "where is my freaking pony?" level of entitlement lurking among pockets of the middle classes.

These expectations are possibly not helped by corporate-sponsored house porn like The Block, where homogeneous young couples compete to "live the dream", as if this is normal, not the fake world of television. I also question whether the supply-and-demand mechanism of the property market really works. If it did, you would think there would be someone out there grateful for a bargain no-frills house to rent.

The property investment business is structured to not only raise house prices but extract maximum rental fees from those who need or choose to rent.

A friend explained their rent went up the other day not because the landlord's costs had risen but because his analysis of rents in their area showed that rents for other, similar homes had increased.

Meanwhile, I'm strangely sentimental over my parents' house. Admittedly, I do have a terrible habit of anthropomorphising inanimate objects - "poor housie has hurt feelings" - so I have to remind myself it is not a personal insult that estate agents think my parents have lived in a slum for 40 years.

Will put it back on my to-do list.

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- NZ Herald

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