The easiest option is to visit an estate agent (or a number). There are ‘family’ estate agents and a number of large national chains, including Bayleys (www.bayleys.co.nz) and Harcourts (www.harcourts.co.nz). If you wish to see what’s available before you arrive in New Zealand, the vast majority of agents have websites. The Real Estate Institute of New Zealand includes on its website (www.reinz.org.nz) details from a number of agents in different parts of the country. The larger estate agencies also publish property newspapers or magazines advertising properties for sale. For example, Harcourts publish a ‘Blue Book’ series, which you can buy in a number of countries or download from their website.
All estate agents in New Zealand must be licensed and registered with the Real Estate Agents Licensing Board. You can check by contacting them at PO Box 1247, Wellington (Tel. 04-520 6949). Don’t deal with anyone who isn’t registered, because if they cannot meet the standards for registration it’s unlikely that they will abide by any other standards either. However, the fact that an agent is licensed shouldn’t be taken as a guarantee that he’s reputable. It’s illegal for an estate agent to mislead you deliberately, but as in other countries, there are lots of little tricks of the trade which are perfectly legal, such as exaggerating the desirability of an area or suggesting that other people are clamouring to buy a house that has been up for sale for months.
In New Zealand, estate agents’ fees are entirely the responsibility of the vendor, and the buyer doesn’t pay anything (although the fees are in effect ‘built in’ to the price of the property). This underlines the fact that the agent is working for the seller, not for you, so you cannot expect him to do you any favours. (In fact, most estate agents are working for themselves, i.e. trying to earn as much money as possible!).
Before visiting an agent you should have an idea of the kind of property you’re looking for (e.g. a house or an apartment), the price you can afford to pay and where you wish to live. The agent should then be able to give you a list of properties which fit that description. You should avoid the temptation to look at properties which are outside the areas you’ve chosen or which cost more than you can afford (agents will always send you details of properties outside your stated price range!). If a property you view seems suitable, you will be pressed to make a decision quickly.
When you see a property you like, don’t hesitate to haggle over the price, which is standard practice, even when the seller or an agent suggests the price is firm or gives the impression that other buyers are keen to snap up a bargain. Usually, an offer of between 3 and 8 per cent below the asking price is ‘acceptable’, but there’s nothing to say you cannot offer less if you think the price is too high or the vendor is anxious to sell. To get an idea of whether asking prices are realistic, you can check with Quotable Value (www.qv.co.nz), New Zealand’s largest valuation and property information company, which publishes monthly tables of average property prices on a region-by-region basis.
Some estate agents also publish regular surveys and reports on the state of the New Zealand property market and current prices. For information, contact the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand (www.reinz.org.nz).
When looking at estate agents’ details, you will find a number of obscure terms and incomprehensible abbreviations, which the following list will help you decipher:
- B+T - Built from brick with a tiled roof
- Bach - A holiday home (North Island)
- Back section - A property built behind another with no road frontage
- Brs - Bedrooms
- Corr - Corrugated iron roof
- Crib - A holiday home (South Island)
- Dbrs - Double bedrooms
- Ens - En suite bathroom
- Rumpus room - Playroom
- Sleepout - A garden room, similar in concept to a conservatory
- TLC - Tender loving care required (estate agent-speak for derelict!)
- T/H - Townhouse
- Villa - Usually an older house, made of wood with a corrugated iron roof
- Whiteware - Domestic appliances (often included in the price of new homes or offered for sale at a separate price in older houses)
- Section - A plot with a house or to build on
- X-lease - Cross lease, i.e. a home built on part of a section (usually half)
- X-leasable - A section which could be divided and partly sold or leased for another property