Housing and Living


Whilst writing this book my family and I rented a house in a Wellington suburb. It was high on a hilltop with delightful views of the surrounding hills and with a glimpse of Wellington Harbour. The views were great and so we thought was the house, for which we paid NZ$220 per week. It had a very generous sized lounge, with big windows facing the Harbour. It was 'U' shaped with a dining/kitchen facing the hills (at the back of the house).

The large attractive bathroom had all-day sun, with a separate toilet. The back bedroom which was only a single also saw the sun for most of the day, and overlooked the hills at the back. The middle (slightly larger) bedroom only saw the sun in the early morning and the large main bedroom had a small window that only caught the early morning sun, with a large window overlooking the Harbour which was totally sunless. The warmest place in this house was undoubtedly the bathroom, and on cold days I could often be found sitting in there warming myself! My eldest daughter had even tried it out for saxophone practice!

As a result of this experience, I would always check now to see how the sun affected a property.

The windows in this house were very badly warped and seldom fitted properly. This meant that when the wind blew – and that was fairly often – the curtains would billow without the windows being opened! Also, the house wasn't insulated. Consequently the rooms that saw the sun only briefly were cold and dampsmelling, especially in the winter, with mildew on the walls.

Never mind the view!

During the two years I sold real estate (houses only) I viewed literally hundreds of houses, and here are a few very important tips to bear in mind when you are buying:

  • Is the house insulated?
  • Does it face the sun – never mind the view!
  • Does it have heating? (Very important if you are buying in the cooler areas, i.e. from Auckland south.)
  • If you are buying in Wellington, especially, ensure that it isn't in the path of the prevailing wind, never mind the view!
  • Look for damp and mouldy patches inside and outside.
  • Make sure that building permits have been obtained where alterations or additions have been made.
  • A property which lies below the level of the road is not always desirable.
  • Make sure that the house isn't sheltered from the sun by the surrounding hills – a great possibility in Wellington.
  • Check that all windows open and close properly.
  • Check the house foundations, especially older houses built on piles. (Engage a builder or surveyor to check this out for you.)
  • If it has a weatherboard or wooden exterior, check to see that there are no rotten patches – a poke with a pencil will show weaknesses. (Again, it would be advisable to get an expert to check this out.)
  • Make sure that the house is above ground level. A house that is level with the footpaths will probably let rain in under floors.
  • Wellington has the most amazing selection of houses dotted around the numerous hills. Some of them appear to be hanging from sky hooks! Make sure they are not! A Building Inspector from the City Council will check out the foundations and retaining walls for you.

Rainy days are best!

Whilst selling real estate I acquired a client, a dear old lady, who had been looking for the 'right' place for some time, but was in no hurry. I rang her one day with news of a very nice property. The day was fine and sunny, a real estate agent's dream, and I conveyed the good news.

To my disappointment she said the day wasn't 'right'. I enquired why, and she said she would only go looking on rainy days! I was surprised at this response, and asked why. She told me that lots of houses looked good on warm, sunny days, but it took a special place to look good on a grey, wet day! I rang her the next 'bad' day, and along she came dressed in her gumboots and wet weather gear!

Who stole the third bedroom?

There have been many cases of people buying a house only to put it straight back on the market again. This may sound strange, but when people don't take the time to visit a property more than once, before buying, errors of judgment can occur.

One couple were in such a hurry to buy, the husband being a very busy man, that they only saw the property once and then bought it. Were their faces red when they couldn't find the all important third bedroom, as it was only a two-bedroomed house!

Single and double storey

Houses can be single or double storey. Double storey houses quite often have garages on the ground floor, with a laundry, rumpus room (games room), possibly a workshop and maybe one bedroom. All the living and sleeping areas are on the first floor.

  • If the advertisement just says 'house for sale' with no mention of two floors, then you can expect this to be a bungalow, i.e. with everything on one floor.
  • Units are semi-detached, or can be found in blocks of four or more, single or double storey, on small sections.
  • Townhouses can be one or two storey, free standing or attached by a garage on a small section. Some real estate agents advertise townhouses as being 'joined' (semi-detached). Townhouses are usually slightly more upmarket than units.


The older style homes, which are now referred to as 'villas', were built of wood, usually Kauri, which is now regarded as one of New Zealand's antique woods. They would typically have a corrugated iron roof which was painted.

They would also quite often have lovely ornate turn-ofthe-century verandahs, reminiscent of Scarlett O'Hara, where the early settler families would sit and relax out of the heat of the day.

These homes today are keenly sought after and highly regarded as they look wonderful when renovated. They have the advantage of large spacious rooms with high ceilings, and make excellent family homes. They usually have separate laundries, a definite advantage, especially if you have lived in a house with the clothes dryer in the kitchen: when the day is wet and cold, and all the doors are closed, the rest of the house ends up streaming in condensation.

There are many of these old villas in Wellington, and they have been painted in very interesting colour schemes, with modern drapes, and they look quite wonderful. It would be great fun to renovate an old villa.

The quarter acre paradise

New Zealand has always been referred to as 'the quarter acre paradise'. This refers to the size of the sections of land once normal throughout New Zealand.

Some houses can still be found on the quarter acre sized section, mainly in less popular areas. However, in the popular areas people have been able to cut their sections in half, just retaining enough land around the original house, and perhaps using the back half of their land to sell to someone who could then build a small unit or townhouse type of property. Of course, if the access around the sides of the original house is not wide enough, then this cannot be done, as driveways have to be considered when this type of sub-division is undertaken.

It got to a stage when everyone was rushing to sell off part of their land, and so the sections got smaller and smaller. The Government finally stepped in to ensure that homes still had an adequate amount of land around them and stipulated that sections had to be a minimum of 690 square metres.

There is another special way of buying a home in New Zealand, and that is to choose your piece of land, and then find a house, usually an older type villa, that has been moved from its land, and stored in a builder's yard. It is then advertised for sale, the cost of removal to your land being included in the price.

It is not unusual to see a whole house – or a house cut in half with one half on one transporter and the other on another transporter -moving slowly along the road, usually at night or on quiet days, to its new site. Houses have even been shipped out by barge to someone who has chosen to live on one of the islands around this coast.

wallpaper and curtains on full view going down the road, maybe half the kitchen with all its cupboard doors opening and banging shut, being driven down the main street of some small town.

Choosing building materials

The older style homes are quite often built of weatherboards with corrugated iron roofs. Modern houses are now being built of cheaper materials, i.e. sheets of composition materials which are then sprayed with fibre cement, and then painted, to give a Mediterranean look. Brick is used, but it is much more expensive; in lots of houses you will find perhaps one feature wall, usually the front door area, in brick. To build with brick would cost about NZ$130 per square metre against $110 per square metre for the sprayed finish. Wood, too, is now becoming too expensive to build with, and so this too is often used for a feature wall.

The insides of the houses comprise a 'shell' of wooden framework with sheets of plasterboard attached. Roofing materials can vary, with corrugated iron being the cheapest, followed by Decramastic (textured steel tiles) and concrete tiles with a baked enamel finish.


Obviously there are always exceptions to the rules, and with house prices there aren't even any rules. Where you want to live, and how popular an area is, sets the prices for houses. In Auckland, for instance, a three-bedroom house in South Auckland would cost a lot less than a three-bedroom house in Remuera. So the prices quoted here are only for average homes in the middle price range areas.

In Wellington the cost would be approximately NZ$200,000. Prices in Auckland would be roughly around $260,000. In Taranaki the prices are less, with an average of $125,000. Manawatu around $130,000. In the South Island prices are usually less, and a house in Christchurch would be $170,000 and in Dunedin even less at $110,000. Obviously, if you are a cash buyer, then you are in an admirable position to barter, and you could end up with a really good buy. Real estate sales have slowed down over the last few years, and it is certainly a buyers' market.

If you write to a New Zealand newspaper and request a copy every now and then, you will be able to see at a glance how prices vary. See Chapter 3 for the addresses of newspapers, and the cost involved.

Don't bring the kitchen sink!

It will probably be very hard to decide what you should bring with you. I can remember finding more and more belongings that I felt I just couldn't live without! My poor husband had to keep collecting yet another crate, with the strict instructions that this had to be the last! We did our own packing, and as the carrier was collecting the cases at 7a.m. my husband stayed up all night nailing down all the lids and painting names and addresses on the sides. We travelled here by sea and we were allowed a certain amount of luggage to be stored in the holds free of charge, so we took advantage of that!

Is it really worth it? For example, that lumpy old bed with the dip in the middle, that has always hurt your back, and that old wardrobe left to you by Grandma. Upgrade your bed: it could cost you as little as $800, and as I have already said, most homes here have built-in wardrobes.

You will need to change all the plugs on your electrical appliances when you arrive here, so you might as well give them to someone back home.

New Zealand power phase is 230 volts, 50 cycles. To ensure that your electrical appliances are compatible, consult an electrician in your own country, to save you the cost of bringing appliances to New Zealand that cannot be used.

Mortgage finance

Borrowing money on mortgage is a principal means of financing the building or purchase of houses and commercial buildings, and the purchase of farms. The main sources of mortgage finance for houses are registered banks and other institutions, i.e. saving institutions, finance companies and merchant banks.


Rental costs

There is plenty of property to rent in all newspapers. Prices vary according to areas, and style of house you want to rent. You can rent a fabulous 'mansion' style place with five bedrooms and five bathrooms, swimming pool and four-car garage if you have NZ$1,500-$2,000 per week to spend. A medium-priced three-bed home for the average family will cost approximately $320 per week in Auckland, $244 per week in Hamilton, $221 per week in New Plymouth, $207 per week in Palmerston North, $251 per week in Wellington, $258 per week in Christchurch and $249 per week in Dunedin.

If you are looking for a shared situation, you will pay around $80 to $120 per week, without costs, for a single room.

Bonds and fees

When you rent you will have to pay two weeks' bond, which is held by the Housing Corporation and returned to you when you leave the property, provided that it is left in the same condition in which you took it. If you find a property through the services of a real estate agent, then you will also have that fee to pay. It is usually one week's rent, i.e. if you are paying $200 per week rent, then you will pay $200 to the real estate agent.


Here are the names and addresses of the three largest real estate organisations in New Zealand.

Century 21

PB 1596, Palmerston North 5330. Tel: 64 6 356 4829.
PO Box 2506, Tauranga. Tel: 64 7 578 7000.
PO Box 21 087, Christchurch. Tel: 64 3 379 2121.
PO Box 68, Papakura, Auckland. Tel: 64 9 298 4209.
PO Box 35, Hamilton. Tel: 64 7 855 9013.
PO Box 2346, Rotorua. Tel: 64 7 347 7699.
PO Box 763, Invercargill. Tel: 64 3 218 6203.

Challenge Realty

PB 30 125, Lower Hutt. Tel: 64 4 569 9139.
PO Box 18, Greymouth. Tel: 64 3 768 4035.
PO Box 298, Wanaka 9192. Tel: 64 3 443 8511.
PO Box 21-158, Henderson, Auckland. Tel: 64 9 837 0726.
PB 1655, Dunedin. Tel: 64 3 477 4303.

Harcourts Group Ltd.

PB 5267, Dunedin. Tel: 64 3 477 5334.
PO Box 885, Tauranga 3015. Tel: 64 7 576 8770.
PO Box 33-114, Barrington, Christchurch. Tel: 64 3 332 1525.
PO Box 33-198, Takapuna, Auckland. Tel: 64 9 486 1029.
PO Box 10-777, Wellington. Tel: 64 4 473 7563.
PO Box 8054, Riccarton, Christchurch. Tel: 64 3 348 8784.
PO Box 396, Taupo 2730. Tel: 64 7 378 4170.
PO Box 610, New Plymouth 9999. Tel: 64 6 758 5206.


Is the quality of New Zealand clothing good? Yes, there is a very high standard, and a lot of emphasis on pure wool and cotton.

Are all the houses sold through estate agents?

No, there is some property on the market without the services of a real estate agent. Quite a lot of people try to sell their property themselves when first they decide, in order to avoid the real estate agent's fee.