We Just Live Together: Hunting for Housing in Wellington

Wellington, New ZealandKitchen: Not clean or tidy

Men complain about how complicated and dramatic women are; but I still can’t get a handle on the opposite sex.  After exchanging a few delightful emails with someone that I met online, we decided to take our virtual relationship to the next level and meet in person.  Even though I found his suggestion to have coffee at his apartment to be a bit forward for a first encounter, I accepted his invitation.

The day of our date, I anguished over what to wear like I was debating the best tactic for dealing with the Cuban missile crisis.  I wanted him to find me attractive; but I didn’t want to appear to be trying too hard (especially given the location of our rendezvous).  I wanted my clothes to reflect my personality and style, without scaring him off or giving too much away.  Finally content with my outfit, I made my way to his building.  I announced my presence with a nervous ring of the buzzer; and a few seconds later, the front door opened to reveal a handsome, strapping young man: bald and muscular with a big smile.

Inside, we drank hot beverages and talked.  Just as I expected, we had a lot in common: we both speak Spanish (he’s planning his first trip to Argentina in July); we both studied economics and international relations; and we’re both non-hippie vegetarians.  At the end of the evening, he promised to be in touch; and I believed him.

Days went by with no word, text, or email.  After passing through all five stages of mourning – denial (maybe he dropped his phone in the toilet), anger (how rude!) bargaining (if only I’d worn more makeup), depression (it’s not him, it’s me), and, acceptance (whatever) – I took to the Internet to search for something better.  In my experience, men possess a sixth sense for when a woman is about to move on; and sure enough, just as I finished arranging to meet someone else, Bruce Willis’s gay doppelgänger texted me: “Sorry didn’t get back to u yet about flat.  Need to talk w flatmate b4 we make our decision…will let u know soon.”  I swear, finding the father of my children will be easier than finding housing in Wellington.

Argentina was my first experience outside of college with real estate and randoms.  My initial roommate (or in Kiwi speak: flatmate) was a French girl that I found on Craigslist.  She quickly became not only one of my best friend’s in Buenos Aires, but one of my best friends, literally, in the world.  I was devastated when she returned to Paris, not least of all because it fell on me to retrieve our security deposit from our Latin American landlord, a feat akin to stealing gold from a leprechaun. The good thing about the whole affair is that I learned how to threaten to break someone’s legs in Spanish.

A string of apartments and roommates followed, none as glorious as the first.  For a few months, I lived with an Italian man who was such a cultural stereotype that we shall call him Luigi.  He was a photographer from Milan and wore Burberry scarves, tight black Armani t-shirts, and even tighter jeans (not that I’m complaining).  He drank water from silver Dansk vodka bottles. The only thing I ever saw him eat was pasta with sheep’s milk cheese (cow milk bothered his stomach), which he cooked while complaining about Italy. This, I found amusing, endearing even.  What I found annoying was how he insisted on removing my vegetables from their plastic bags and arranging them in the refrigerator by color and shape.  Then there was the sex.  One night, I was disturbed from slumber by the unmistakable sound of heavy breathing.  I was still half-asleep and the noise was so loud, I thought that Luigi and his girlfriend were having sex on my bedroom floor.  Finally I understood why he ate so many carbohydrates: he was preparing for a marathon.

At some point, I lived with an Argentine girl.  I’m not sure if she was high all the time or just morally opposed to speaking with her mouth open.  Either way, I never understood a single word she said.  Unemployed, she spent all of her time watching videos on YouTube and smoking weed.  She also refused to throw away rotten food or wash her dishes (there are hungry and thirsty children in Africa after all).  When I returned home after a four-day silent retreat to discover the kitchen resembling a preschooler’s found-object art project, I was in such a state of awe and disbelief that I took a picture.

Because I never intended to stay in Buenos Aires longer than a few months, I preferred to rent rooms in furnished flats rather than get my own place.  If I had known then that I was to be there for over three years, I would have done things differently.  What I learned is that your home life heavily impacts your overall quality of life.  Unnecessary roommate drama; depressing rooms with no natural light; and pipes that clog and flood the kitchen with sewage only serve to bring you down, especially when you’re new in town, spend a lot of time at home, and have nowhere else to go.

Unfortunately, since arriving in New Zealand, I have slept on floors, pullout couches, bunk beds, and air mattresses.  I have shared my bedroom with seven other girls, none of whom were relatives. While house sitting has been wonderful for my financial stability and personal freedom, it’s too much house for one person and it’s too far away from the action; isolation is killing my social life.  More than anything, after a while, being a guest in someone else’s home begins to wear out its welcome.

Like Goldilocks, I wanted my next living situation to be just right, as it will likely influence how I feel about Wellington and how long I stay here.  Because desperation does for apartments what beer goggles do for ugly people in bars, I began looking for housing weeks ago.  I sifted through hundreds of listings, setting aside those with promise while dismissing those that mentioned chore rosters, rotating dinner schedules, or vegans who only eat raw produce sourced from their own gardens.  I went to see a few places with little potential because I thought window shopping with no pressure to buy would help me define exactly what it was that I was looking for.

I compiled a list of criteria: location (within walking distance of town); cost (I have a part-time job and earn minimum wage); physical space (nothing too cold, damp, dark, cramped, dirty, or reminiscent of an attic); “clean- and tidy-ness” (hygienic but not obsessive); and most importantly, flatmates (single- and two-bedroom apartments are uncommon in New Zealand, as most people prefer to live in houses or large flats with multiple flatmates).

In the past, who I lived with was less important than where I lived.  I didn’t need or necessarily want for the people I lived with to be my best friends; all that mattered was how well we co-existed.  However, given my current circumstance, I now want to live with people whose company I genuinely enjoy; who have similar interests, lifestyles, and personalities; who are “social but also have their own social lives”; and who make me feel welcome and comfortable.

With such specific conditions, I knew that finding exactly what I wanted would be a challenge; but I hadn’t anticipated how difficult it would be to actually acquire it.  In Buenos Aires, securing a flat was as easy as showing up, having a look around, and handing over a large sum of cash.  In Wellington, the (unofficial) application process involves multiple rounds, including an introductory email (I copied and pasted part of my cover letter); one or two visits to the flat (to which some people brought baked goods); and the final decision.  The pressure to impress (and the awkward questions about your income, intentions, and plans for the future) is similar to that experienced when meeting your boyfriend’s parents for the first time.  One girl asked us about our favorite book and our personal policy on energy conversation, at which point I panicked: I had left my swimwear at home and had nothing rehearsed for the talent portion of the evening.

Some flats turned me down (or blew me off); and I did some rejecting of my own (including of the aforementioned indecisive flat).  I began to wonder if I shouldn’t lower my standards; if maybe my dream flat didn’t exist; or worse, if maybe it was out of my league.  I had all but given up hope and resigned myself to living in the suburbs in a converted basement with eight university students, when Prince Charming came along to rescue me.  A few days ago, I found the perfect flat; and this time the feeling was mutual. On Sunday, I move into my new home: a spacious, six-bedroom apartment located in the epicenter of my personal universe.  My room is the perfect size; the price is reasonable; and the flatmates seem great: three Kiwi blokes, a French girl, and one as yet to be determined. There’s just one minor problem: now that I have to pay rent, I need to find a job (other than handing out promotional ice cream cones at movie premieres).

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2 Responses to “We Just Live Together: Hunting for Housing in Wellington”


  1. 1 Zach June 8, 2009 at 2:11 am

    That dirty kitchen looked mildly familiar somehow but i couldnt place it… until i imagined the picture as it would be if there were an inch of water on the floor. this looks much more like i remember it.

    http://picasaweb.google.com/ZGFriedman/EndOfTheRoadBackInBa#5235396941992212050

    also might have been easier to place if there were someone getting electrocuted while trying to open the refrigerator.

  2. 2 david February 13, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    Perhaps your thinking of purchasing a house in Wellington??
    Visit my blog for regularly updated news and stats

    http://unconditional.co.nz/northwellington/


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