The joys of renting in Auckland

What's it like trying to rent a house in Auckland at the moment? Is it still insanely competitive and expensive, or are things calming down a bit?

Relations of mine have just bought a rental property on the Shore and they've been asking me lots of questions about the rental market. Some I can answer, but many I feel out of touch on, because before buying our place in January we had an unbelievably sweet streak of easy, fair rentals.

For about three years we flatted with two friends in a four-bedroom villa in Kingsland. From memory we paid $500 total. David Shearer was our landlord, but there's zero goss to pass on - he was overseas most of the time, and the only thing we could possibly complain about was that he kept his sweet little MG in the garage but we weren't allowed to drive it. So grabby. So elitist, David. Go hang your head in shame.

Next up was a stand-alone two bedroom unit in Mt Albert, on a posh street lined with huge mansions and huge pohutukawa, right across the road from where those guys were murdered last January.

Husband and I paid $400 there, I think, and had no competition when we applied for it, because it was that lovely week between Christmas and New Years when Auckland is a ghost city.

By the time we tried for our next place things were more competitive, so again we waited for that quiet holiday week. Against my better instincts ("but, but, it's on the other side of the bridge!") this time we ended up on the Shore. On the upside, this townhouse was about 100m from the water, and had the most incredible views. We saw dolphins from our bedroom window, and the sunsets were so intense we had to lower the blinds when we sat down for dinner. Ridiculously cheap, in hindsight: two bedrooms (one double, one single, plus study) two loos, big decks and a little garden, for $420. That one was run by property managers, and they were difficult when we were signing up for the place - the guy kept not turning up for meetings we'd booked, and had taken time off work to attend - but fine once we were in.

When it started to seem like we weren't going to be able to buy a house before that lease ran out, I was pretty panicky about having to find somewhere new to rent. We were hearing stories about each listing attracting hundreds of wannabe tenants, about property managers demanding bribes, and perfect tenants - with pets - having no luck at all. (We have one beautifully housetrained cat. He's a better tenant than a toddler or a teenager, any day. The unfairness of it all!)

It seemed like tenants were at a massive disadvantage, and that no-one was really listening or doing anything about it. In fact the tone of some of the coverage was not "wow, that's tough on people who just want somewhere to live" - it was more, "Brilliant! Bump rents up! Milk it!".

So, renters, has the "crisis" passed in the rental market? Did it take ages for you to get into a place? Did you have to pay any extra, or present your references on the spot, or anything? Are you still looking and starting to panic?

Catherine Woulfe is the deputy editor of Sunday magazine.

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