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Flat Hunting In Wellington

March 17th, 2010 by the_lifer

Flat hunting in Wellington. The sheer hell of it.

Several days after their arrival, Will cases the To Rent ads on TradeMe while Winona rustles the paper (thrust upon her by her mother.) Pretty soon Will’s cellphone rings. It is a former colleague of his. What’s he been up to? Has he got a CV? Can he come around for coffee?

Within twenty minutes of this, Will is gone, and it is now Winona’s job to try and find them a tolerable two-bedroom apartment. Luckily, she is no tyro, and she uses all the tools at her disposal over the next week.

As soon as she gets a flat’s address, she checks it out on Google Maps, using the Terrain view. This saves her from arriving at a flat and finding out that it is down, or up, half a kilometer of slippery hillside stairs. She has lived in those flats.  At thirty-four, she considers that she has paid her dues and is completely over it.

Even after winnowing prospects down like this, when she does show up at rentals, she is invariably dismayed. Downtown apartments have peculiar angles, harsh spars bisecting the ceilings, and bathrooms better not spoken of. Flats in the first ring of convenient neighborhoods circling downtown are, inevitably, basement flats, with clog-dancing landlords living overhead. They would be the Income part of the owners’ Home and Income.

Further out in the suburbs, the flats are spacious and quiet, but they haven’t been renovated since, on average, 1973. Some are dark and damp enough to evoke Cthulu; others, full of views and light, rattle in ceaseless wind.

Many of them have the current residents still in situ. A group of overseas students, smoking cigarettes and sitting down to a late luncheon of whole grilled fish. The place that smells like sour milk, with a cradle jammed into the spare room. Or, worse, somewhere tidy, half-empty of furniture, with divorce paperwork laid out neatly on a desk.

Finally, she finds a decent place. Unfortunately others have found it too. The landlords, knowing a good thing when they have it, have held an open home, and hordes of potential residents have shown up. Winona has a quiet word with one of the landlords, offering $20 more a week than they are asking. She gets a call on her cellphone later saying that the flat has gone to someone else who offered $50 a week more.

On the bus, having rejected yet another strange basement flat, she sinks back in her seat and sighs. A friend’s words ring in her mind. “In Wellington, either you live in squalor, or you live in the suburbs.”

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