We Bought A House

I thought about restarting Toast Floats for a long time and occasionally wrote an article. Pulling for, this archive for a few posts just because I can. From the archive then written in April 2012...

* * * 

The auctioner runs through the boilerplate first. The house is presented as is, no conditions. The council information is in this document called a limb which means something other than a body part and is probably an acronym for something important. The house is gods gift to happy, comfortable living with all these wonderful attributes. Yadda yadda yadda.

This was our third auction for the day, the fifth in two weeks. DrC and I are already sick to death of this insane process. The way houses are sold in New Zealand differs dramatically from the United States. While not universal, by far the majority of homes at least in Auckland are sold via auction. Basically, the house goes on the market. You have between three to four weeks to view the property, arrange for and accompany a building inspector to inspect the property, call the council and do all your other due diligence, then show up for the auction. During the auction – despite your substantial investment in time and resource – you may or may not be able to purchase the house depending on who shows up and how deep their pockets. There is no “purchase price.” There is just whatever people are willing to pay on the day of the auction.

Now to be fair, there is something called the CV. I believe this stands for Current Value. There is an odd tension on the current value as it is both the price you represent to the council for the purpose of taxes and simultaneously the price you represent to the insurance company as replacement value for your home in the event of a disaster. Since we live in a volcano zone and tsunami zone, it’s a good idea not to set the CV too low. On the other hand, for tax reasons you don’t want to set it too high. And in the Bayswater and Devonport subsurbs where we are house hunting, the CV is “absolutely worthless.” The housing values have been skyrocketing upwards so fast that it barely forms a baseline for valuation.

I hate this auction process. DrC hates the auction process. It sucks. You pay 10% down on the gavel down – unconditionally. Yes, Americans, you doubt. But you might have just committed a million plus for an unconditional purchase. Kiwis routinely end up hiring a building inspector at $250 to $500 a pop for a half dozen or more inspections each before the successful purchase, because god help you if you haven’t completed all your due diligence.

This auction, however, is an anamoly. It is, as I said, the third of the day in this neighborhood at this price range. The house is smaller than the previous two, probably not as ideally situated, and it’s late afternoon. We recongize some faces, and all of them look tired, frustrated, bored, and discouraged. The gavel goes down and no one has met the reserve price.

The auctioneer says, “We will now entertain conditional offers. Please approach me individually if anyone is interested in meeting the vendors reserve price.”

What the hell? DrC and I look at each other, the same thought clear in our eyes. “Did he just say ‘conditional’?” After weeks of house hunting, I’d frankly pay good money for a conditional offer. Which is probably what is about to happen as the good doctor and I walk up to the broker and auctioneer. 

"What does this mean?" DrC's posture is a bit agressive, his accent so American it almost makes me wince.  But he has the right question, "What does this mean?!?"

We sit down with the broker. It means what we think. We can make a conditional offer. We can say – just like they do in the States where we come from – I really like this house and I’m going to offer you X. BUT… but!... you only get X if a, b, and c happen.  Now this is more like it.

“What conditions do you have?” asks the broker oh so helpfully.

DrC and I share another 20-plus-years-together glance. “Our financing must be approved, we don’t close for 2 months, we get an inspector in here who doesn’t find anything we don’t like, we call the council and don’t find any bad stuff about the property that would prevent us from upgrades…” he trails off. The broker glances at me so I very helpfully play stupid chick, “What he said.” This lasts for about 10 seconds (as anyone who knows me probably already guessed) and I add, “And we have a week to move our money for the down payment from the States at favorable terms with the bank of our choice.” I try to look demur, but it’s hard to look too stupid when you just laid down the parameters of an international financing transaction.

Haggling, paperwork, and discussion of price ensue. Basically, the broker tells us what would make the vendor happy. We tell him that we’ll give the vendor in that vincinity, but no haggling. Full stop (which is a period here). We mean it. That’s another condition of the offer. No haggling. We’re not so interested in this particular house that we’re going to bat it back and forth over 10,000. It’s not worth our time or aggravation. This is the one and only offer.

Five hours later, we apparently own a house.


That was a few weeks ago. The shock hasn’t quite faded. Since then, all the conditions were handily met. The house more than passed the inspection; it passed with ridiculously high qualifications. It’s an extraordinarily well cared for little gem of an Edwardian residence within a short walking distance of one of the most highly sought-after suburbs of Auckland. Devonport is a 15 minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland. Yesterday, the New Zealand Herald estimates that property values will increase 12% during 2013 in our area. As they say around here, “No one is making more Devonport.” We have an outstanding view of Mt. Victoria out the back, quiet streets, a dishwasher, and a clawfoot bathtub.

It doesn’t move. There are no halyards banging in the night, no sound of shrimp clacking on the hull, and we can’t/won’t hear the cat running down a ramp towards us howling about her latest catch. Probably most notably, the house has one less bathroom than our current residence.

June 1st we move in. June, for those still northerly, is gobsmack in the middle of winter. Think January.

Maybe I’ll actually want to by then.