The Robertson family moved out to New Zealand in late 2002. Steven (39), Hayley (38) and their two daughters Samantha (11) and Charlotte (8) had been based in Sussex. Hayley had worked and lived in Spain in her early twenties and loved to travel and Steven had a yearning to find a “better life” for the family.
Fed up of long hours and “chasing his tail” to pay the mortgage, Steven had been trying to persuade Hayley to move abroad. Steven had heard about New Zealand from a Kiwi friend and had fallen in love with the look of the country after having seen television footage of the country some years ago when NZ hosted the Commonwealth games.
Hayley had trained as a Montessori teacher and knew that this held an open ticket into many countries, as this was a profession with not enough trained teachers. Hayley found the recruitment site of the NZ national organisation for her profession online and soon had established contacts with schools in New Zealand looking for staff.
After checking the NZ immigration website for entry requirements, she knew that she would qualify for a work visa. However, she was reluctant to confirm a job offer before she had visited the country to see if she liked it enough to stay. Determined to have a lifestyle change, whether or not NZ suited them, the Robertsons put their UK house on the market. They arranged a flight with a changeable return ticket so that they could come back again if they didn’t like it. Their house quickly sold, so they packed all of their belongings into a container so that it could either be shipped if they decided to stay or safely stored until they came back home.
The children were upset at having to leave the family pets behind. The two cats had been found good homes with family friends but they could not bear to be departed from their English Springer Spaniel dog who was despatched down to granny’s in Devon for dog-sitting until they had reached a decision about where they wanted to be.
Hayley had decided that as they were coming out initially to see if they liked the country, they would not apply immediately for a work permit. A visitor permit was stamped into their passports, enabling them to stay for six months but this meant that they could not be employed. After staying in a central Auckland hotel for a few days to get over their jet-lag, they hired a camper van to tour around in. Steven was relieved to find that Yellow Pages also published in NZ and that he was able to shop around for quotes for the camper van hire and for better hotel accommodation, seeing as the initial motel booked over the Internet before they left was a disappointment.
“It was quite unnerving, arriving in a country with our two children and all of our worldly possessions left behind in a container. However, it was also quite liberating – not having a fixed home address and being able to travel around at our own pace, choosing our destiny rather than following our normal humdrum routines,” Hayley told us.
She had decided to home school the children whilst they were travelling around New Zealand but also felt that travel was an education in itself and made the most of the opportunities in each place of stay, taking in museums, cultural performances and volcanos. The children even experienced their first mild earthquake, which they mistook for feeling “woozy” with jetlag until a local Kiwi pointed out what the slight swaying motion actually was.
Before setting off for NZ, Hayley had secured a job offer from a pre-school in Hamilton and had arranged two interviews in Auckland and Wellington. “Touring around the country in the camper van gave us the opportunity to see where best suited us as a family.” Steven is a tradesperson and knew that he should be able to pick up work fairly easily if based near a large enough town.
Whilst touring around the Waikato area, the Robertsons stayed at a small seaside community on the West Coast called Raglan. They fell in love with the beautiful scenery. Raglan is famous for its left-hand surfing break and attracts a young surfy crowd during the summer months and has quite a lot of artists and musicians based there. It was a 45-minute drive into Hamilton so Hayley decided that she would accept the Hamilton job and she would commute each day.
“My boss couldn’t believe that I was willing to travel the 40km into work each day but after being brought up in London, the drive sure beats being crammed onto a tube train with somebody’s sweaty armpit in your face. The drive is relaxing – over a stunning hill top, a natural reserve with views on the way home to Karioi mountain. It’s only when I hit Hamilton that I experience the 15 minutes of traffic and this is nothing compared to what I was used to even doing the school run in the UK,” Hayley said.
After six weeks in a camper van, the family felt that they needed a base and to make some decisions. The choice of Hamilton also meant that Hayley was virtually guaranteed a work visa as her profession was listed under the immigration “job skill shortage” list for that region. She located the local immigration office and, supported with a written job offer, applied for a work visa. This however took several weeks to be issued and she was unable to work during this time as her visa was not valid. They rented a small house right on the beach for around $250 a week.
“We were quite shocked at the standard of the accommodation as this was an original 1950s ‘bach’ or beach house and it was very basic, although in an amazing position with beach access. We found most agencies were only interested in longer term lets and we only wanted to rent for a few weeks whilst we were looking for a house to buy.”
House hunting was a slightly different experience from that in the UK. In Britain, you may see an advert or picture of a house in the estate agent’s window, go in and get comprehensive house details and after reading them, make an appointment to view the property. In New Zealand they pride themselves in how “easy” it is to buy a house, but the Robertsons were quite shocked at the difference in the buying process. “We walked into a real estate agent’s office and asked for the details of one particular house we liked the look of. They looked at us as though we were slightly mad. They do not usually have much printed information or details of the property available and the chances are that the agent you deal with may never have even visited the property before unless it is one of their personal listings.”
In New Zealand, in many real estate offices, each person is an individual salesperson and the way the commission usually works means that they would benefit far more financially from selling a house that they have personally taken onto their books rather than selling a listing from one of their colleagues from the same company. However, the industry is regulated with each office having to be licensed and a principal for each branch holding the AREINZ qualification.
It would pay to build up a rapport with one good, well-established agent, as they do have the same reputation as second-hand car salespersons in the UK. “We were shown around several houses where the agent had never been inside before and had no knowledge about but were just showing us everything they had on their books in that price range.”
Advice on buying a home can be found through the Real Estate industry website but in general, do not sign a contract until you have had a solicitor check it over. Houses here are negotiated by way of contract. An initial contract may have clauses such as “subject to you securing finance” or “a satisfactory LIM and building report”.
Once these matters have been resolved the contract goes “unconditional” and you are tied in to buy the property. Buying at auction is becoming more popular in New Zealand but you must make sure that all of the necessary pre-checks and reports are done and your finance is in place before raising your hand to bid. Solicitors’ costs vary and average between $800 – $1500 for straightforward conveyancing for buying a property.
Real estate agents have seen house prices pushed up with high immigration, particularly from the Asian market, and although immigration has dropped over the last eighteen months the real estate prices are still buoyant. “Being able to get more for our money was a huge attraction. We were lucky that the exchange rate was very favourable when we arrived, although the NZ dollar has since strengthened. This meant we could buy a house outright with no mortgage with the money we had made on our UK property. Our home cost $296,000 two years ago and is now valued at $490,000 as the town we bought in hit a price boom. We have since been able to borrow against this property and have taken a large mortgage to buy a second “rental” home in the city so we can get a footing into the right high school catchment zone for our eldest daughter.”
© Alison Harlow 2005