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

By Lee Suckling

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.

Continued below.

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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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142 Comments

mshe

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12:21 pm Friday 15 May 2015
"Do you think property managers should work for free? On the evenings and weekends?"

(Yes. Its their job. or do you think they deserve a week's rent for unlocking the door and being on-site for 30 mins?)

"To those complaining about rental levels: Try building a house or apartment in Auckland as I have done...Try buying one ". (Hmm-and speaking of 'whinging, moaning, entitled brats'....)

katharine

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12:21 pm Friday 15 May 2015
I was a landlord looking for tenants and yes, it was very easy to find tenants... I would like to share the landlords point of view on prospective tenants.

The prospective tenants we took notice of where the ones that made it easy for us... they came complete with written references and a letter to remind us who they are - all in a folder. If you have a pet, offer an additional 'pet rent' and provide an information sheet on your pets 'personality'. Make yourself memorable and make it easy for the landlord/agent to choose you.
I hope this helps those looking for a rental.

Kiwimac

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12:21 pm Friday 15 May 2015
NZers have yet to grasp how this works.

The indigenous folks get qualified as lawyers and doctors, architects and accountants etc. and buy the good houses.

We then bring in cheap migrant labour to do the trade work, clean our pools and do our gardens, be our maids and nannies and so on.
See USA (cheap labour from Mexico, Philippines etc), UK/Germany/France (cheap labour from Romania, Poland, etc)
You're just aiming too low.

Jo

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12:21 pm Friday 15 May 2015
Agree renting is hard, also agree that buying a house is even more difficult. I think young peoples / first home buyers etc need to get smarter about how to go about this process. This is because the game / house prices / housing market is not going to change anytime soon (complain and moan as much as you like, but this is reality!!).

People need to get over the post code snobbery (ie I cant get up 30mins earlier to go to work, or ohh I could never live in South Auckland attitude) and either buy a cheaper property in outlying suburbs (ie south or west Auckland) where you get much better value. Or get smart and buy a rental in these areas, get the rent to pay /assist with the mortgage for 2 -3 years and then sell and use the equity to get into a better suburb. I have a friend who brought in Papakura 2 years ago and now has 200K more equity from capital gains. Now he is in a much better position and has more options. This could also work in other towns (ie Tauranga, Hamilton etc etc). This would be a much better plan than complaining about renting in deep darkest Sandringham.

e

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12:21 pm Friday 15 May 2015
Great piece. You highlight some pretty major issues facing our generation, beyond just finding a place to live. We have inherited a broken system from generations prior only to be told 'you just need to work hard to reap the rewards'. Unfortunately no amount of working hard can fix the years wasted after uni looking for a job during a hiring freeze, eating instant noodles to save up for a house we now have no hope of being able to afford, or the minds of landlords who think culturally different tentants are a threat to their investment.

Peter

- North Shore
12:21 pm Friday 15 May 2015
One other comment.

In Australia the Landlord pays the letting fee, not the tenant!
As a landlord I think this is right because I'm the one employing the letting agent, not the tenant. The tenant has enough expenses, what with moving expenses, 1 weeks let fee plus GST, 3-4 weeks bond and 2 weeks rent in advance, the average Auckland tenant is looking at up to $4290 up front on a $600 per week rental if done through an agent.

I also allow bond transfers, but many landlords don't as they can take a few weeks to come through after the tenancy has started, as most landlords won't sign the transfer until the water account is paid.

Howick boy

- New Zealand
12:20 pm Friday 15 May 2015
Express bus 550 takes 70 minutes from Cockle Bay to Britomart.

Tui911

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12:20 pm Friday 15 May 2015
We stopped renting in 2011 as we worked hard to be able to buy a house in the "deepest, darkest" parts of North Shore, where it now takes us 30 minutes to get into the city.

Prior to this we used to rent a two bedroom unrenovated, uninsulated, mould infested cottage in the deepest, darkest Sandringham for $450 per week. We thought we were lucky to get this, as we were one of 20 applicants to fill out an application form. Prior to that we rented an apartment in Ponsonby for $400 pw. So, really, what's changed?

My genuine recommendation to you would be to stop being so spoilt and reset your expectations. You may find that you actually enjoy Papakura, that its community cares about each other and provides you with a sense of real NZ. This is what we found in the suburb where we live now and we love it. A 30 minute commute is actually not that long in the scheme of things.

Peter

- North Shore
12:20 pm Friday 15 May 2015
" 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."

As a Landlord both here and in Australia, I would say the grottiness problem in NZ is caused by the Tenancy Act. But I don't let dirty houses.

In NZ you cannot make a tenant commercially clean the carpets or house when vacating, even if it is written into the Tenancy agreement, nor can you force them to clean the premises to a standard which is acceptable to most people. So it becomes yet another cost for the landlord.

Yet in Australia our rental managers (as here, it is mandatory to have one if an absent landlord), require the tenants to do a bond clean, which includes getting the carpets commercially cleaned, sugar soaping the walls if required, etc.

If the house is not up to scratch, the tenant pays for the house to be commercially cleaned, called a bond clean. Thus the house is left clean for the new tenant. Our rental manager is also very strict on gardens, lawns and edges too. We had one tenant who was made to partly re-turf the lawn from dog damage.

Michelle

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12:20 pm Friday 15 May 2015
Thank you. Totally agree with all of this - it's ridiculous especially considering there are plenty of other cities in the world you can live in for cheaper. Also agree on our generation having it harder than the previous - it's all very well for people to say "just save up for a house" when houses cost 20 times the price they did when our parents were kids. And oh, having to pay off a student loan that they didn't have.

Mandeep

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12:20 pm Friday 15 May 2015
Funny how it's only kiwi's complaining about the housing crisis. Migrants seem to be getting on with it.

NZer's have a reputation of poor saving, unrealistic expectations and their stubbornness with their commuting habits. Time to change the record, kiwi's - you're boring a lot of people.

jacko

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12:19 pm Friday 15 May 2015
Never been any different,back to 64,7pound a week behind the gasworks,share the bathroom with the tenants downstairs,average wage,blue collar worker,12-15pound. a week.Try for a renter in the better suburbs,forget it if you were Maori or PI.

The returns landlords were making then were out of sight.But we do not want to see a return to the key money scam.How to solve this problem? personally I think its just what it is,and will be forever more,unless you are willing to live in multi storey boxes,and we know what happens then,no thank you.

Tyke.

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12:19 pm Friday 15 May 2015
Your "This isn't the Government's fault" statement condemns you to deserve the situation you find yourself in. The current government has doggedly promoted policies to benefit homeowners and property developers, including overseas residents. If you want to change things, I suggest, you vote for a more "Kiwi Friendly: government at the next election.

SJC

- New Zealand
12:19 pm Friday 15 May 2015
I agree with almost all of this Lee, and reading it gives me anxiety! I'm 35 and not sure I'll ever own a home.

Although I'll point out that "deepest darkest" Sandringham is a great place to live, and my two bdrm rental is $480, partially renovated and has a good landlord so I'm going to have to hang onto it for dear life.

One thing I disagree with, though, is that this isn't the govt's fault. They (and their predecessors) can be held responsible for quite a few things but one really stands out for me right now: it should NOT be legal to rent out houses with mold.

The govt recently voted down a bill to have "warrants of fitness" for rental properties. This was simple idea that would improve living standards for so many people and having lived in damp, uninsulated Auckland houses I consider it a no-brainer. Makes me so mad that this didn't pass, and landlords can profit off these properties.

Moon

- Antarctica
12:19 pm Friday 15 May 2015
I'm in a crappy 2 bed old house, older than yours in West Auckland, major damp problems {landlords in denial about this, despite the obvious evidence}, no backyard or garden at all, no heating, I pay $380pw, and I think I'm lucky. You either live further out west or secured your rental a few years ago before the hikes, as a landlord is not allowed to raise the rent more than once a year, you have a good landlord.

But if you move, I bet the landlord would ask "market rent" of $400 pw.
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