Sunday, September 28, 2014

Winning the Housing Lottery

Has it been a while since I last posted? Yes.
Was it because I didn't want to have negativity about the awful state of housing here in my posts? Yes.

Thankfully, things are looking up since last weekend we won the Christchurch housing lottery! Or, at least it feels like it.

After an unfortunate series of events around one application accepted at an unaffordable place earlier that week which we turned down because I was told we would get to see another place going up for rent before it was listed it online later that week....only to get a text at the end of the week apologizing because the outgoing owners had already promised to rent it to a "close relative" in a "predicament"... after which we were thoroughly depressed and anxious about how long this process was going to drag out.... I started looking up places online again on Friday night and found two places that had showings the following day.

The first was a house on the other side of town where we had been trying to avoid looking at since it's far from the university, and the second was an apartment north of town. We showed up at the house at our scheduled block of time and there were at least six other people milling about, talking to the owners and looking around. [The owners had set up a 90-minute viewing window and emailed everyone a time slot to avoid overcrowding because they said there was a lot of interest. I imagine there were at least 40-50 people at this showing like the others we have been to, they were just more spaced out.] We checked it out and it seemed pretty nice. After going to so many of these showings, I had tried to devise a strategy for marketing ourselves so as to be the best candidates possible. We had spent an hour that morning trying to figure out how to print the application on the university printer network, so I had already filled it out and, as there is no room on the forms to put anything personal, I had written in a short paragraph at the top about how responsible we were and some other nice things.

So after you look at the place, you approach the owners and get your 15-second chance to make a good impression and hand in your application. We introduced ourselves to the guy owner (his spouse was busy talking to someone else) and I expressed how difficult it was for us to find housing in this market. He was sympathetic and said he was sorry that they only had the one place to offer and could only pick one to offer it to. He asked if it would just be us staying there and here I had my chance to talk about our cat. Attempting a sad face, I talked about how he had come all this way and gone through quarantine but was stuck at a cattery until we could find a home. I'd like to think this was what won him over. He lamented that they were only supposed to have one cat too, but his spouse had found two sibling kittens that needed a home and taken them both. We handed in our application and then drove to the next place after stopping at KFC for lunch.

The apartment was small and completely crammed with people. There were probably 30-40 people there looking around and filling out applications. I filled one out, not hopeful of our chances, and then we did our obligatory talk with the owner. He was wasting his breath asking each of the people if they liked the place and if the move-in date suited them, as if any of us would be there if it didn't, and as if he should care if someone didn't like the terms. The fatty stack of applications on the kitchen counter meant that he didn't have to bother with people who needed special requests. At least he took the time to email everyone who didn't get the place the next week.

That evening, I got a text from the lady at the house saying they had chosen us as one of three short-listed applicants and would try to make a decision by the next day. She asked if we would be okay with having to split some utilities with the person that lives in a separate unit on the property and I said we were used to it, having had to do it at our last place. It's not ideal, but we don't have the leverage to be fussy.

The next day, we were meeting with another homestay host to see if we could get out of our current situation (wasn't working and after a month there, tensions were increasing) when I got a text from the lady - they had chosen to offer the house to us!!! I was super excited, D not so much because of the distance from the school, but I said we don't really have a choice and I'm sick of the search so I accepted after we attended a lecture by his professor on some cool historical scrolls at the library.

We met with them early that week and got to meet the two kittens who were adorable - I cradled one in my arms for about 15 minutes while we were talking. We signed a one-year agreement and knew we had to wait three weeks to move in (now two weeks left). Here you put up a bond of 2-4 weeks' rent but it goes into a national trust reserve account to protect tenants. I think you're more likely to get it back at the end of the tenancy unlike the U.S. where landlords love keeping the deposit to pay for cleaning. We'll see how it works out.

So last Tuesday we moved out of our first homestay and are now staying with someone who we might have stayed with originally if I hadn't already confirmed the first place. He's a really laid-back guy with hundreds of board games who has a background in political science and history, so we talk a lot with him about mutual interests. His young kids stay over on weekends and they are pretty adorable (with accents too!). They are mostly absorbed in their iPad games, but the girl likes drawing cats and asking which of two things are your favorite, and the boy occasionally will ask us questions and seem interested in the answers about stuff in the U.S. Most of their info comes from Simpsons and Futurama which I think they are too young to be watching. It scares me that all some people know of the U.S. comes from our mass-distributed television shows and movies.

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