In My Opinion

Dita De Boni is a Herald business columnist

Dita De Boni: House buying is a battlefield

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Homeowners are over-stressed, over-indebted, and just plain over it.

Illustration / Anna Crichton
Illustration / Anna Crichton

Once, buying a house in Auckland City was probably an enjoyable, exciting experience - a rite of passage on the path to maturity. The official bits over, it was on to a lifetime of Saturday DIY, without too much thought about resale.

These days, buying a house is a battle: facing down a crowd of cashed-up speculators, engaging in pitched combat to see who can introduce the most stupid amount of money into the equation, then augmenting your debt in the hope of making another $200,000-$300,000 when you flick it off to the next desperate sap.

Sometimes it feels as though 99 per cent of house sales in the city are done by auction, a process surely designed to strip the participants of all dignity. You may win, after being outbid time and again, but you then have to ignore the sharp intake of breath from elderly relatives when they hear the purchase price, or the looks from those who can't believe you spent all that without getting within coo-ee of a top school zone.

All of which makes it hard to be romantic about buying a house any more. It is hard to "fall in love" with a place that has half of Auckland crawling over it on a wet Saturday afternoon. I went into the process with a resigned air and emerged with a hardened heart. But we have also finally won a battle and come away with a vastly over-priced home in the almost-central city. Praise be.

The reports I've seen in which real estate agents attempt Psychology 101 by describing the typical male and female homebuyer make interesting reading. Women, it is generally thought, drive the home-buying process because they make a gut or emotional decision based on their "feelings" about a place. Men, it is said, decide on the metrics: is it a good investment? can we afford the down payment? and how much will we be able to flick this baby off for in 10 years?

For us, this supposed gender difference was reversed. I saw old villas with numerous potential problems, and took to sending my husband in with a list of things to watch for: cupboards, storage space, laundry facilities ...

All unromantic - a bit like me, perhaps. My husband, in typical fashion, ignored my mitherings and simply felt each house's vibe. The house we eventually bought, just this week, he genuinely loves it. He forgot how to spell my name when signing the purchase document, but remembers the new place's every nook and cranny, even though he's only spent five minutes inside it.

My thoughts, I must confess, lie with the house we leave behind. Not because it is a palatial mansion, because it certainly is not. Old, small and quaint, it sits on an enormously noisy main road, cops more than its fair share of hawkers, charity workers and Jehovah's Witnesses, and features a weed-infested driveway that is constantly being blocked by thoughtless parkers.

But it is the first house we bought. Our children were babies in this house; one child's ashes lie under the palms in the back yard. It contained our very first, unformed hopes and aspirations. It may well be ploughed under for a parking lot or office building. Meanwhile, we take up our new residence poorer, older, a little more jaded, and up to our eyeballs in debt. As you do.

- NZ Herald

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