Monday, September 25, 2006

House buying, New Zealand style

We recently bought our first house in New Zealand. During this process, we've been learning about subtle differences in the procedures compared to buying a house in the US.

Just like in America, it was pretty easy to shop for houses using the newspaper ads and internet. But their Open Houses are scheduled differently: A house would be open only from 12:00-12:45. Then the realtor would rush off to a 1:00-1:45 showing. But each house would be open Sat and Sun, week after week. So there's actually more houses available to see at any given time. In the US a house would be open one day from 1-4 and if you missed it that day, you needed to contact the realtor to see it at another time. Evidently the New Zealand system prefers the buyer to do more of the preliminary shopping themselves and to rely less on the realtor which was fine with us.

Another difference is that there's only one realtor involved and she represents the seller. There is no realtor to represent the buyer. This might seem like a conflict of interest, but because they want the house sold, they end up helping both sides. The realtor we dealt with handled our original offer, a counter-offer by the sellers, and our acceptance in 24 hours. It was relatively easy. She said, however, that different nationalities often have different styles of negotiating. For instance, Asian buyers may bicker back and forth many times over all sorts of little things, all in an effort to save face.

Overall, the process seems pretty streamlined. We put in an offer on a Thursday and the paperwork could have been completed within a few days. In fact, if both parties had wanted to, we could have taken possession of the house on Monday. In reality, we didn't want to move until the school holidays between terms so we set a date about 4 weeks in the future. But in the US, it seems like it takes 6 weeks to process even a "rush" sale.

We used a mortgage broker (who works for the realty company) to find the best rate on a home loan. Interest rates are different here, too. Even though we have a 25-year mortgage, the interest rate only is fixed for 5 years at which time you lock in a new rate (or sooner). He was surprised to hear that in America, we lock in a rate for 25 years! He asked, "What do people do if the rates go down during that time?" Our answer: Everyone re-finances. Whatever the differences, the system seems to work here because NZ has one of the highest ratios of home ownership in the world.

There's no title company/title search because the city gives out all the legal info when the house goes on the market and the realtors distribute it to interested buyers. We got a 20 page document/maps including legal description, liens, zoning, drainage, permits, assessment rates, soil issues, flood risk, wind zone, contamination, etc. Curt especially liked to read its soil report which is a civil engineer thing.

We did need to hire a barrister, however. I guess there's 2 levels of lawyers here: barristers and solicitors. Don't ask me yet which is better. I'm still learning. As far as I can tell, his job is to collect info from us and the bank, and he makes the sale legal.

At this point, we're packing boxes, arranging movers, and filling out a gazillion change-of-address forms. It seems like I just did all this a few months ago. And we need a piano mover AGAIN. Curt says that piano has been moved more times than it's been played. On a slightly different subject, we had an interesting problem with the piano keys over the winter. The glue that holds the ivory onto the wooden base of each key was disintegrating for some reason, and about 30 pieces came unglued. As I checked for more loose ones, 10 more fell off. It was weird. I don't know if it was caused by the trauma of being in a container for 8 weeks crossing the ocean and crossing the equator, or if it has to do with the humid climate here or what. Nobody seems to have heard of this phenomenon before. Anyway, we had a piano tuner come and reglue them all, but 2 more have fallen off since then. That poor piano sure had been through a lot lately. I think it misses Carlin, who was its primary user.

As for the house we chose, it's a little bigger than our rental and only 7 years old. I'd had enough of older houses needing remodeling. I wanted one that was all done and ready to live in without major work. It will also be the first house we've ever lived in that had a master bedroom suite. There's also 2 guest bedrooms (hint, hint), an office and a double garage (which in Kiwi is pronounced GAIR-idge, rhymes with carriage). In addition, this house is in a better neighbourhood, and closer to both our jobs. We'll be sorry to leave our rental's view of the water, our nice neighbours, and the convenient location. It's been a nice experience living here. But we're really looking forward to moving to our own home, and feeling more permanent. It'll be a good move.


Sunday, September 10, 2006

General Update: work, house, death

Things are going well in spite of the imminent death of my father back in America.

My job is so perfect that it's hard to believe that I get paid to do this all day. Curt calls it my EASY job as in "Have a nice day at your EASY job!" My colleagues are still exceptional. I recently attended a workshop on New Zealand historical fiction, which was really helpful for me because I know lots about US historical fiction, but nothing about NZ historical fiction. Many of the titles were books that my fellow librarians grew up reading – and I am missing that background experience. So now I have loads more books on my nightstand that I want to read.

I am in charge of giving book talks to every English class that comes in for their silent reading period. All I have to do is open my mouth and the students know where I'm from. But they seem to listen attentively because they like my accent. It's funny ... I wish I could speak more Kiwi-ish and they wish they could speak more American-ish.

It is finals week at my school so the girls are studying really hard and really quietly but the library has been packed. Besides every chair and every couch being occupied, there have been girls on the floor between the shelves and in the corners. The library is a popular place!

The school is closed for three weeks between terms (Sept 16-Oct 9) but the library stays open so I still work for part of that time. It'll be a nice opportunity to get some big projects done without interruption.

In addition, Curt and I will be moving to our new house between terms so in theory I should be packing boxes right now. Ha. We started house-hunting a few weeks ago and quickly found one we like. It's a little bigger, and newer than our current rental house. Curt's looking forward to having his own yard to putter in and a jungle of potted plants on the deck. And we'll have 2 spare bedrooms and will be ready for guests soon! We are scheduled to move in Sept 30.

Amid all this, there's a constant reminder that I may be going back to America at any time. My dad is weaker and frailer but he's quite a fighter, and about the time we think he's ready to go, he rallies again. My brother and sister-in-law from Kansas City are taking turns flying back and forth to Bellingham every week to be with my mom. They're doing such a good job that it's going to make me and my other brother look bad. Oh well. I lived in the same town as my parents for 22 years (and even lived next door to them for 15 years!) so I feel like I did a pretty good job looking after my parents, too.

I'm very thankful that I went back to see them in July while Dad was still somewhat alert. At least I had a chance to say goodbye. At this point we're just waiting for the phone call from my mom telling us that he's died. I feel like I should be more emotional about his impending death, but he's been so frail since the stroke five years ago that his death is not unexpected. I guess we've all had plenty of time to prepare ourselves for it. Perhaps the emotions will hit me later.