The Unknown

So here’s the thing…I haven’t decided yet if I like living in New Zealand.

It’s been nearly 9 months and I have a daily struggle to decide if I like it here or not. Last night Ben and I had a long talk about some of the things that we are experiencing in New Zealand, and we realized that part of the problem is what he calls the unknown unknown. Let me explain.

Before any big change you expect that there are going to be a lot of unknowns. Some people let the fear of the unknown keep them from doing things. When we decided to move to New Zealand we realized there were A LOT of unknowns. We kind of embraced the idea and just took a leap of faith.

Now that we’ve been here for about 9 months, we realize that there are (at least) two types of unknowns: the known unknown and the unknown unknown. The first is something you realize you don’t know, but have every intention of getting to know. For example: I did not spend a lot of time reading up about what the process will be like for Patrick to get his driver’s license eventually. I know that it’s something I need to learn about, but for now it isn’t a high priority so I plan to learn about it at some point. It is a known unknown to me. On the other hand, Ben recently got a ticket for $200 because his car’s registration had expired by 4 days. That lead us down the rabbit hole of the unknown unknown. The system is slightly different in this country for verifying your car is fit to drive. It has to have an inspection (and pass) to receive a Warrant of Fitness (or WOF – a sticker on the car), and then it has to be registered (another sticker, usually on the windshield). Seems simple enough. Well, when we purchased our cars the WOF sticker was already on the car and we just had to register it. I literally had no idea that we would have to get a WOF ever again. Is that something that I could (and probably should) have looked into after buying a car? Yes. But unless you know to ask the question, how would you know to ask the question? That’s the idea of the known unknown vs. the unknown unknown.

So how do I find answers to questions I don’t even know I’m supposed to ask? Where are good resources for these kinds of things?

This has mostly come up because we have started looking into the process of buying a house here. In the states, between Ben and myself, we had purchased 3 homes. Here, the rules are different and we are not citizens, so we have additional restrictions placed on us that we’d never even had to consider in the US. One of the biggest differences is the down payment. In the US, lenders typically include the amount for the down payment in your loan. Whereas here you are expected to contribute the down payment on your own. Some people save, some people use their 401k (known as KiwiSaver here), but a lot of people never buy, because the down payments here can be OUTRAGEOUS. Because we are not New Zealand citizens we are expected to provide 20% as a down payment. That is a lot of moolah. And one final, but VERY important difference is that housing prices here are much, much, much higher. Prices are similarly higher when the location is considered better (close to shops, on a main road, easy access to the motorway, good schools nearby). However, here it seems that newer houses are generally more affordable. This is likely due to the fact that older houses already exist in the preferred neighborhoods. New houses and new developments are further away from the desirable locations by definition. I am a fan of the newer builds because this country is only recently imposing standards such as double paned windows and heating/cooling systems to be built into homes. Older homes are cold and usually have a fireplace and not much else for heat. So I am happy to buy a newer home in a new area. But that will also require us to live further from Ben’s job (right now his commute is literally a 5 minute drive).

It’s all a trade. A compromise. You make a list of your needs. Then your wants. You talk to the bank and find out how much they will loan you (generally 5 times your salary) and then you save up the money for the down payment. Once everything is ready, you have your down payment funds available you have to find a house. I won’t say THE house. Because home buying here is a little nuts. Some homes are sold by receiving multiple offers and then going thru each one until you find the one you like. Some are sold at auction. Some are sold the more traditional US way of just accepting offers until you receive one you like. But it means that if you find a house you like, they may receive literally hundreds of other offers. And because the housing market here is NUTS, those offers can sometimes be HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS HIGHER THAN THE VALUE OF THE HOME.

Oh, wait, I haven’t talked about that part yet, have I? The house that we had in Castle Rock would easily go for 2-3 times as much as we paid for it here. That means a house that was approx $350,000 in the US would be $700,000 – $1,000,000 here. And even though the US dollar is worth approximately 1.51 NZD right how, it’s still incredibly daunting to try to save up 20% cash before we can even make an offer on a $500,000 house. For those that aren’t good at math, that means we need $100,00 NZD in order to have the down payment for a house (or $66,000 USD). That’s a lot of money for the three of us to try to save up before we can buy a house.

Which brings me back to my first statement. I haven’t decided if I like it here yet or not. The idea that I don’t know the things I don’t know combined with the idea that we could literally be saving for YEARS before we can even afford to buy a house, all the while the prices of houses keeps going up (as it has for the last decade). I just don’t know yet. But Ben made a good point last night. I’ll share it with you all and then bid you goodnight.

The thing about this place is that it is what you make of it. That’s true no matter where you are. I guess I need to just keep this in mind before I start getting too bogged down in any negative.

Cheers to you all!




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