SO THIS IS 30
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
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.