If you want to live in a flat and have a semblance of urban life in Aotearoa, downtown Wellington is one of your two options. Since there is currently no downtown Christchurch, the other option is Auckland, and – let’s face it, you’re not reading “It’s An Auckland Life,” are you?
It’s with downtown residences that Wellington is at its most Janus-faced, either awful or wonderful. Living in downtown Wellington is delightful – walking to work, or driving with a reverse commute! Going to weekend markets! Friends coming to visit, all the time! Being So Close To Things! But finding that downtown place to live is sheer hell. Due to demand, finding a desirable centre city residence in Wellington, whether to rent or buy, is as demanding as finding one in New York City. So get all the coffee, put your checkbook in your bag, and set the alarms…
Before last year, choosing a downtown flat in Wellington was simple. Avoid shouting distance of Courtenay Place (real estate agents save these flats for new migrants, who think being near Courtenay Place is a good idea). Then, pick an older building, constructed when builders had, if not the grandest materials, acceptable ideas about personal space and window placement. But the Christchurch quake a year ago changed that. Those gracious 1920s and 1930s buildings turned out to be some of the most quake-vulnerable in town. Rent there if you dare, and don’t buy. IAWL has friends who have bought there and are now dealing with the worst possible results short of the actual quake – huge disputes with insurers and building associations.
New buildings advertise themselves widely as being quake-proof. Unfortunately, they are also cramped, poorly soundproofed, and boxy. They are livable only if you want to live downtown because you’re never home anyway and your flat is destined to be a less expensive hotel room. Your best two options are either a free-standing house (wooden, not brick or concrete) or a flat in a converted industrial building. There are not that many of either option, so good luck.
Renting? We’ll tell you our secret. Grab the printed newspaper on Saturday morning. Who still puts an ad in the Saturday paper? Older landlords who can’t be bothered with putting ads online. Make calls at 9 AM, preferably from a cafe table nearby, and show up to view with your checkbook in hand ASAP. Yeah, you’re getting up early to do this. No grumbling. You’ll be able to sleep in once you’re ensconced in town.
Once you do find the downtown place that will amaze everyone for years to come, buying or renting, lock it in as quickly as you can. Then get an air mattress for when your friends descend.