On the hunt

Saturday, 16 February 2008

We have been in New Zealand for almost 3 weeks now. Fitting into a new city is full of excitement, mainly because it is also full of discouragement, confusion, guilt and sometimes desperation. That’s what makes it an adventure.

Our biggest, and main, challenge over our first few weeks here has been to find a place to live. Seemingly an easy thing is a big cosmopolitan city such as Wellington. But, not so when you want to live with a dog – even the most wonderful dog Mango. No exaggeration: about 3% of rental places allow dogs. This has severely limited our options. Most places that do allow dogs are serious holes. Smelly of mildew, dark, creepy, terrible. I called up one place and asked if they would allow a dog and the response was “Sure, its just an old cottage.” And that it was. It was just an awful, old cottage. When leaving this place a woman walked in with her 9-year old daughter who said “But, Mommy, it’s broken.” Sure enough.

We want to live in ‘Wellington Central’, not in the suburbs where rent goes down and dog possibilities go up but the commute goes up and the hills get bigger and steeper. Not a bad thing necessarily but Todd and I quickly realized that we wanted to be closer to the water. We wanted a water view rather than a mountain view. Plus the hills make the biking much more challenging and potentially life threatening considering the windy roads and speedy cars. We are hoping to not buy a car for commuting (maybe in a few months for traveling around the country – buying a used Japanese car here is very cheap) and just get around by bike and bus. Anyway, these factors limited our search radius some more.

So, we have been addicted to Trademe, the online community in New Zealand similar to E-bay or Craig’s List where everyone buys and sells everything. Every few minutes we would hit refresh and hunt down our prospects. The bottom of 90% of Trademe listings would say “No pets, ok smokers”. The other 10% that happen to say “Pets OK” (and got our heart beating faster) would have written in the description “Cats OK, no dogs”. Cats, not dogs?!? I don’t get it. Don’t get me wrong, I like cats, but they typically cause more damage than a dog. They are much more apt to claw at furniture and if they pee inside the smell is around forever.

Our other option was the “Dominion Post” classified listings that come out on Wednesday and Saturday. Rarely did a listing say whether pets were allowed so we had to painstakingly call up about each potential flat to ask the deal ending question: “Would you allow a dog?” Besides the one fellow with the old cottage the answer was, almost always without fail “No, the place is just not suitable.” Not suitable? What does that mean? We eventually got used to this response but at first we were confused. What does this really mean? People would say absurd things like “No, the flat is not suitable. It’s on a hill.” What? The dog has legs. She can walk. Or, “No, the house is not suitable. The yard is only half fenced.” We would patiently explain that our dog has lived with us on a boat for 3 years and now lives on the 10th floor of a condominium so she really does not need a yard. We take her for long walks in the morning and evening. She is an inside dog. Clean, well-behaved, smart, etc. But no go. The best (or worst) was at the beginning of our search when I called up about an apartment. The man I spoke with basically shouted in response to my ludicrous question “No. No dogs. That’s a city ordinance. No dogs in apartments. It’s not the landlord’s fault.” Oh, I see. Good to know. Then this man continued, “I mean, what would the dog do all day while you were gone? Roam around the apartment building?” I patiently replied, “We would close the door and leave her inside where she would wait for us to come home again.” What else?!? Anyway, as you can see, we were up against a big challenge here.

But we did snag a lead…

Todd bought a bike on Trademe. A really good deal, in fact. Turns out that the couple we bought the bike from were Americans like us who had been in Wellington for 7 years. In a bizarre twist of fate, the woman, Elizabeth, went to Duke as an undergrad, spent a semester at the Duke Marine Lab, and her family is the Styron family – a historic Beaufort family. Crazy! So, when we went to pick up the bike they welcomed us into their beautiful 2 story flat for a cup of tea. Before we were through the doorway they asked us to house and cat sit while they went on holiday for a 5 days. After a look around their amazing flat we said ‘no problem’. Mostly with a secondary motive: They told us that the flat below was about to come up for rent. A small place (1 bedroom) but fully furnished, a reasonable price, great location close to town and spectacular views of the harbor and city. View from Lindum Terrace Lindum Terrace deckAnd, they seemed to think the landlords would allow a dog. “The landlords are very cool people, they like pets. They live next door.” So, we hoped to bump into them during our house sitting time, make a good impression and ask the big ‘dog question’.

Our plan went perfectly according to plan. Well, almost. The stay at the flat was splendid and comfortable. And, in passing, we met the landlords, expressed our interest in the lower flat and found out the rent. In our price range! Cool. We did not ask the dog question right away. We could bring that up in the more formal negotiations. But, they use a realty agency call Quinovic so we had to do the dealings with their agent. Unfortunately the agent is notoriously bad at responding to emails. So despite our emails we heard no response. So, we continued to search Trademe and the papers. One desperate night on Trademe I up-ed our rent range and found a place that caught my eye. Simply because the listing said, “Pets OK. No Cats.” A Garden Cottage in the city. I dropped an email asking about the possibilities of a clam dog. And wouldn’t you know it. A clam dog was just fine. So, Todd and I went to check this place out.

We met Janey, a quirky little lady who wanted us to bring pictures of Mango with us. What a refreshing change! The property is in an area called Newtown. A very cool neighborhood – cosmopolitan, bohemian, multi-cultural. Close to where I work and close to town. Despite its city setting, the cottage is in the bush. The property literally abuts the “town belt”, a large tract of forested green area that runs throughout Wellington. Much like Rock Creek Park in Washington DC. Perfect Mango walking habitat. Endless trails through the bush. The cottage also sits in the backyard of Janey’s house. One of 2 gardener’s cottages that were built in the 1880’s. Nestled far back from the roads and in the middle of a well maintained garden area. Pathway to Garden CottageThe cottage itself was pretty nice. Listed as a 2 bedroom place but the second bedroom is pretty small. The main bedroom upstairs is larger and nice, wood floors. The whole cottage was not very moldy and pretty clean. Todd in the KitchenBut not furniture and no ‘whiteware’. This is how the kiwis refer to a refrigerator, washing machine and drying machine. So, despite being out of our price range to begin with we would have to fork out more $ for furniture and whiteware. But the setting was perfect: Mango heaven!

So, we had to decide. What to decide? We decided I had to phone up the landlords of the flat with the water view and ask if they would allow a dog. I called. I apologized for interrupting but we had a pressing situation. We had to decide on another place. So, I popped the big question. I told her Mango would be joining us in June. Would they allow a dog? “Sure, I don’t think that would be a problem.” REALLY?!?! COOL!?!?! She went on to talk about how the place could accommodate a dog and the convenient walks nearby. Great! Todd and I had found the gem. Todd phoned up Janey and apologized but said the garden cottage was out of our price range and we’d found a cheaper place. She was disappointed but understood. Todd and I toasted a glass of wine that night. A relief. A place to live.

So, all that was left were the Quinovic realty folk. We faxed our application in to them. No word back for 4 days. Our “freetime” at an apartment that NIWA provided for 2 weeks upon arrival in Wellington was about to run out. We had to know what was going on. I finally got the Quinovic agent on the phone and explained the situation. She said she had to talk with the owners. “Fine. Please call me back when you hear from them.’ Fifteen minutes later the phone rings and the agent diplomatically tells me “The owners really like you and your husband but they are not happy with the dog.” What! But we talked about it. They said it was ok. We let other places slip away! No! That’s not fair. Corey was right on this one: “Kiwis will tell you what you want to hear.” Why couldn’t they just tell us the truth? Needless to say we were very frustrated and disappointed. We had one more night at the apartment before we were out on our own. No place to stay. To a hostel with us? To the hobbit hovels in the town belt? I was despondent. Back to the drawing board.

Luckily, my supervisor said he could pay for another week at the apartment for us. Thank you! A little breathing room, but the pressure was on. We searched, called, looked, searched, contemplated short term options, and then discovered the re-listing of the “sexy, stunning garden cottage” in the paper. Front door to Garden CottageWe gave Janey a call. The garden cottage was still available. We managed to talk her down a bit in rent. But, could we swing it? We’d have to think about it.

Great location, perfect for Mango, close to my work, quite, cozy, a garden. But, oh the money! But, do we really have another option? We had not seen one other place in 3 weeks that compared. No where that would allow a dog was also livable. We agonized. We debated. We continued to search.

It was Valentine’s Day. We went to the zoo for an ‘adult’s night’. Zoo keeper talks about the mating habits of the red pandas, baboons, cheetahs. Free music, free wine. Blissful. We called Janey. We told her we’d take it. She told Todd “Good Boy.” Smiles. red-panda.jpg

That’s our house saga. Now our hunt continues but has shifted to beds, refrigerators, couches, tables, and the rest of those things you need in a house. We will soon be living in a cute garden cottage and Mango will be oh so happy upon arrival. We do have a second bedroom so come visit us! It may not be very big, but the location is unbeatable. We may even have furniture and a few home grown tomatoes to go with the place by then. See you then!The Living Area Garden Cottage front yard

Kiwi fact of the day: Did you know that Kiwis call bell peppers ‘capsicoms’? Strange.


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