Kelly Den­nett spent the sec­ond half of her 20s fo­cus­ing on her ca­reer and her sav­ings spread­sheet, while the dream of home own­er­ship in Auck­land be­came ever more laugh­able. Then, just as she was about to throw it all in and travel, life took a turn in the

Sunday Star-Times - Sunday Magazine - - FIRST PERSON - Pho­to­graphs: Vic­to­ria Birkin­shaw

The tiles in my bath­room are a dis­coloured yel­low, cracked in cor­ners. The putty on the out­side of the bath is so old it re­sem­bles al­gae and I’m too short to see my­self in the old, but not an­cient enough to be con­sid­ered an­tique, van­ity mir­ror. The wash­ing ma­chine and drier, left by the pre­vi­ous owner, take up too much space, so there’s nowhere to store tow­els.

Used too long, the fan smells like it’s go­ing to catch fire, but you can’t leave the door open when show­er­ing be­cause the steam sets off the smoke alarm. In­stead, I leave the two win­dows open day and night. The view is of a hill­side, steeped in fo­liage and the oc­ca­sional kerer . At night when it’s dark and still but for the sound of the oc­ca­sional bird tit­ter or rain, I run a bath, turn off the lights, sink back into the hot wa­ter and think, I’m so happy to be here.

In June I fled Auck­land for the cap­i­tal with a small suit­case, mis­guid­edly think­ing I’d re­turn for my things once I’d found a home. On my first day at work, the wind and rain howled, launch­ing a months-long strug­gle with dry skin and knotty hair that con­vinced me I looked like a troll.

That first af­ter­noon I launched my house hunt, and I Ubered to a sub­urb I’d never heard of: Khandallah, mean­ing “the home of God”, or more sim­ply “hills and val­leys”; the roads so nar­row cars parked on the foot­path and the homes perched con­fi­dently on the hills as if they’d been there for­ever.

A one-bed­room unit on the top floor of a three-storey 1960s block was for sale, over­look­ing a park and the har­bour.

The young real es­tate agent told me it was his first sale. He knew lit­tle else, but was friendly and oddly ex­cited for me, a first home hunter. There was al­ready an of­fer on the place, he said, and all others were be­ing called for in the morn­ing.

I de­cided not to bother. The unit – new grey car­pet, ugly cur­tains, odd stucco wall­pa­per, and cracked tiles – was sweet, lovely even, its orig­i­nal kitchen with pale pink wall­pa­per and peach cab­i­netry a par­tic­u­lar high­light.

The view was the draw­card: the hills of Wainuiomata, Somes Is­land, Welling­ton air­port, and the har­bour. A view like that, in Auck­land, was un­af­ford­able. In Welling­ton? The place was $100,000 un­der my bud­get.

Fickle be­ing that I am, some­thing felt wrong about de­cid­ing on “the one” so soon. The agent drove me back to my rental, giv­ing me tips on what I pre­dicted would be a long search for a home.

But some­thing the next morn­ing spurred me to fill out the pa­per­work, sans lawyer. I filed an of­fer min­utes be­fore dead­line; in the ab­sence of a re­cent val­u­a­tion mak­ing an awk­ward guess about how much the unit was worth, and how much I was pre­pared to pay.

The si­lence af­ter­wards was deaf­en­ing. Hours went by, and then, a phone call: Con­grat­u­la­tions. It was my 30th birth­day. I’d been in Welling­ton two days.

It had made no sense for me to leave Auck­land. I had a good job, a busy social life, my fam­ily lived nearby and I knew the city like the back of my hand. I was in a deeply com­mit­ted re­la­tion­ship with my hair­dresser.

I knew where to buy a dozen frozen dumplings for a few bucks in Mt Al­bert. I lived in a beau­ti­ful big bun­ga­low with flat­mates who’d be­come friends. I’d lived my whole life in Auck­land and things, os­ten­si­bly, were per­fect.

But, I was ter­ri­bly bored – a first-world prob­lem I was ashamed of. How could you be

Airbnbs I’d used in Lon­don and Zurich were owned by suc­cess­ful women my age and I was qui­etly jeal­ous of their in­de­pen­dent lives, each home a cor­ner of the world they’d made their own.

bored in a city like Auck­land, with its black sand beaches and vol­ca­noes, its world-class cafes and its cul­ture?

The prob­lem for me al­ways came back to the road. I couldn’t drive an hour in an any di­rec­tion and not recog­nise ev­ery turn-off, ev­ery bump, ev­ery coastal wind. I felt trapped. It seemed like you couldn’t go any­where with­out labour­ing for hours just to ar­rive. Week­end get­aways were al­ways cut short by traf­fic. By early af­ter­noon on a Sun­day the mo­tor­way was grid­locked. The slow crawl home was bruis­ing.

As a high school stu­dent liv­ing on the ru­ral out­skirts of Auck­land I had once loved tak­ing the train into the city, watch­ing bro­ken and tagged fenc­ing in Pa­pakura be­come glam­orous New­mar­ket and the ex­cit­ing CBD. Walk­ing the length of Queen St with its suited busi­ness­men and cafes on ev­ery cor­ner, soak­ing up the pulse of metropoli­tan life, was thrilling to a coun­try bump­kin like me. This was where life hap­pened, this was where my life would hap­pen, I thought.

Things changed. I took off for Lon­don for a few years and on my re­turn Auck­land seemed dull. I vowed to leave but I scored a good job, which led to a pro­mo­tion, and so it con­tin­ued. There was al­ways a wed­ding, a birth, a sig­nif­i­cant birth­day to stick around for.

Week­ends spent see­ing friends for brunch, shop­ping for the lat­est must-have item and go­ing to par­ties be­came mind-numb­ingly rou­tine and I yearned for my own home where I could paint the walls, hang pic­tures and plant a gar­den. On a pre­vi­ous Euro­pean trip, Airbnbs I’d used in Lon­don and Zurich were owned by suc­cess­ful women my age and I was qui­etly jeal­ous of their in­de­pen­dent lives, each home a cor­ner of the world they’d made their own.

In the mean­time, I was sav­ing stu­diously. Ek­ing out dol­lars and count­ing cents was one of my favourite pas­times af­ter learn­ing how to man­age on a very, very broke ex­is­tence in Lon­don (while still trav­el­ling reg­u­larly). When I turned 25 it be­came a quiet ob­ses­sion.

I cre­ated a spread­sheet which tracked an ar­bi­trary goal of sav­ing $50,000 by the time I turned 30. Back then, I thought this was an ap­pro­pri­ate amount for a house de­posit, not know­ing that house prices in Auck­land were about to spi­ral out of con­trol.

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