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Why cashing in your Auckland property is not as easy as you think

Before the fall: a snip at $160,000 less than we hoped. Photo/Greg Dixon

Fancy cashing in your Auckland property in the big smoke for a rural idyll? Don’t get your hopes up, says Greg Dixon.

It’s a year ago this week the Auckland property market curled up its toes and died like an old dog in the snow. Well, perhaps not the entire Auckland property market. But certainly our now-former bit of it.

On March 1 last year, our Auckland home – hardly the best in our central city suburb, but far from the worst either – was passed in at auction without a single bid being made.

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The shock of it was like a punch to the guts. In an airless side office at our real-estate agent’s premises, with the next home’s auction already under way on the other side of the door, Michele and I sat staring at each other, lost for words, but each silently willing the other to say something, anything, that would make this awful, unthinkable situation better.

After three tedious weekends of open homes, after assurance upon assurance from our agents that, despite what looked to us like sluggish interest and relatively low viewing numbers, all was well and, yes, they would absolutely sell the house, and for the figure they’d named, here we were on auction day with an unsold home and a growing sense of dread.

With settlement day on our new house just 30 days away and with the marketing of our old home a demonstrable failure on auction day, we were, our lawyer quietly informed us later that afternoon, facing losing our deposit if we couldn’t settle, then paying penalty interest on the unpaid portion of the purchase price, and being required to make good the difference if our new home was later sold to someone else for less than what had been agreed.

It’s as close as we’ve ever been to financial ruin. But worse still, our hopeful, possibly mad dream of leaving dreary, humid old Auckland for a gentler, better, more fulfilling life surrounded by green and animals and quietude was now mutating into a cruel chimera.

Buying and selling houses has long been something like a sport in our biggest city, of course, a game that everyone thinks they’ve already won because owning a house in Auckland now means, on paper at least, you’re probably a millionaire. And as a rule, many Aucklanders, at least the ones lucky enough to own a home, do little to disguise their smug sense that they have a golden ticket in life’s lottery and that cashing in that ticket is easy. I suppose we were no different.

Selling up in a slowing market can be a brutal, soul-eviscerating experience. Ours was one of unfulfilled promises and a series of humiliations that began with an early, insulting offer (as it happened, from another Auckland journalist who, excuse the schadenfreude, later faced something similar) $400,000 below the agents’ estimate and ended a week after auction day when, with the settlement clock ticking, we had no choice but to accept a price that was $160,000 below the figure that, a mere eight days before, our agents had said was a fair and expected price for our home. In our anger, we asked the agents to lower their fee; to their credit, they did.

And here we are, a year on from that stuffy, godawful office, now surrounded by green and animals and – excepting the terrible chooks – quietude. Auckland’s real-estate market failed to kill the dream; the sense of bitterness is fading; and so, too, is our Aucklanders’ sense of entitlement.

Slow Train, an Aucklander who is staying with us this week, rang before coming down to talk us through his Byzantine food requirements.

“Is there anything you want me to bring down?” he inquired of me, before I handed the phone to Michele.

Not a thing, I said, and walked outside into the hot, bright Wairarapa sun.

This article was first published in the March 3, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.