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Real Life

Last laugh: House of cards

Once the rose-tinted real-estate glasses come off in New Zealand's tough property market, our writer starts to develop a little postcode envy.

Like Lorde, I’m not proud of my address – mind you, these days she could simply choose a new one. Here, in Dunedin’s crime triangle, there are many feral cats. People collect washing machines, tractors, and bits of corrugated iron and use these to decorate reeking yards that look like something out of Britain’s Biggest Hoarders. They don’t have lawns.
Once upon a time living here was fun, even a little dangerous (literally: the Mongrel Mob were just down the road. “Wanna buy some marijuana?” they’d ask. “Got any Botox?” I’d reply). The economist and I derived a certain cache from inhabiting a street so insalubrious. Look at us, we said, refusing to surrender to our middle-class roots, down with the hood. Living in a gangster’s paradise. Did you lock the back door? But I can’t stand it anymore. I AM middle class. Or some kind of class, anyway, and this street doesn’t have any. Our friends don’t live like this, washing cat pee off their outside furniture, side-stepping torn rubbish bags and broken bottles to get to the mailbox.
These feelings of extreme dissatisfaction came to a head last weekend, when my friend Tall Gorgeous Blonde (TGB) had the most fabulous birthday party. It was so good noise control turned up. Sure, the volume at which Prince was being played was the result of the ageing participants’ collective deafness, but it was a win for coolness.
TGB is a marvellous hostess, her house striking envy and fleeting feelings of hatred and despair into the hearts of all who enter it, but you wouldn’t want to mess with her. Think Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. There’s a pull bar fixed to the hallway lintel (for chin-ups) and her thighs are so strong, she could kick you through a wall. If someone trimmed TGB’s hedge without asking, she’d punch him in the face. Me, I just whinge about it.
On this particular evening, TGB’s beautifully appointed kitchen was filled with hot single women; I mean seriously hot. “Extremely hot, extremely flexible women,” said the economist. True. Bikram yoga aficionados, most were taking part in a challenge that would see them do 30 classes in 30 days.
“Yoga, yoga, yoga,” they said, and “kale”. While the rest of us danced like the electrocuted, the yoga ladies drank coconut water and left early. They had a class in the morning. Not for a second did I envy them their lithe figures and zealous dedication to things healthy. Frankly, I thought they were all a little nuts (that would be, possibly, because of the coconuts). No, I coveted the house.
Henvy, or House Envy, might not be an actual disorder, but it’s the reason why TV shows such as The Block and Grand Designs, and magazines with ‘Home’ in their title, do so well. Symptoms include the feeling one’s living conditions are mean and squalid. Desperation dawns with the realisation there are no giant words in your kitchen reminding you to EAT, and the absence of a recessed fire pit fills you with an untrammelled rage, usually taken out on nearest and dearest.
“We’re moving,” I said to the economist.“But it’s great here,” he said, ever blind to reality. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as circling likely candidates in the Property Press then just choosing one. House hunting is horrible. If I hear one more place described as a ‘handyman’s dream’, I’ll scream. I have never met more accomplished spin doctors than real-estate agents. Private sales, though, are quite possibly even worse, one couple ‘interesting’ to say the least. She smelt like crazy and I could see him cheerfully burying the economist and I under the patio. Seriously frightened, we trembled while they talked for hours about the second coming. Fleeing, “My hands are still shaking,” said the economist, trying to get the key in the ignition. I kept expecting one of them to smash up against the car window, horror-movie style.
Also, houses are unbelievably expensive. Not just in Auckland, where prices have reached ludicrous levels, but here in the provinces too. Sell your soul to the Devil, win Millionaire Hot Seat, and you would still need a stonkingly huge mortgage.
“And so the moral of the story is you decided to stay right where you were, happy with your loving boyfriend.”
“No,” I said, seething with thwarted reality.
“You need to relax,” said the economist. “Maybe you should take up yoga?”
Words by: Lisa Scott
Photographs by: Getty Images

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