Location still king as rental pressure eases

HOUSE HUNTING: Reporter Ashleigh Stewart tries her luck at another vacant rental.
HOUSE HUNTING: Reporter Ashleigh Stewart tries her luck at another vacant rental.

How is it that a rundown three-bedroom house in Addington can command just $20 less per week than a brand-new property of the same size in Burwood?

Answer: Location, location, location.

Tension on Christchurch's strained post-quake rental market seems to be easing.

But finding a nest is still difficult.

Ten minutes before a property viewing is scheduled to begin in Papanui, more than a dozen people queue outside a modest three-bedroom townhouse.

In Hornby, five minutes after a viewing is due to start, the property manager still sits in her car, waiting for prospective renters to arrive.

The Papanui home was advertised for $490 a week; over in Hornby the asking price is $440 per week.

The former was "under offer" immediately; the latter held another viewing yesterday.

I visited 15 properties during two weeks of traipsing across the city, posing as a prospective renter.

My story was simple - my tradesman partner and I were moving to Christchurch for the rebuild and needed an affordable place to live, two or three bedrooms, nothing too fancy, and were considering our options in the $350 to $500 price range.

A year ago others in the same boat would have laughed and wished us "good luck".

But anecdotal evidence, and a rising number of properties on the rental market, suggests the pressure cooker rental environment has eased.

In January, Trade Me released figures that showed in the last three months of 2013 there were 1000 more rental listings in Canterbury than at the same time in 2012.

However, the market is still tight.

The Press recently reported on the city's fast-growing room-by-room rental market.

The story said demand for accommodation was so high, many landlords were renting bedrooms as individual tenancies which prompted me to hit the streets to provide some insight into what's going on.

Starting off in the quake-hit east, I first wandered around a small semi-detached two-bedroom property in Sumner on the market for $475pw.

I was only the second person shown around after five days on the market- something almost unheard of in the city since February 22.

I was unsurprised when the property manager told me interest had been "a bit slow".

I was even less surprised when he said I could probably negotiate the rent down to about $460.

"Two or three days and you get nothing, and as soon as you get someone interested everyone wants it," he said.

Next on the list was a three-bedroom place in now trendy Addington. From the outside it looked a little scruffy.

The rooms were undeniably big but the paint job was shoddy, the carpet shabby in places and everything was outdated. And, interestingly enough the earthquake repairs were all complete.

"It didn't come out that good, but it had to be done," was all the property manager, who looked younger than me by a good few years, could offer. Right you are.

Outside, the lawns were unkempt, the garden a mess, which begged the question: is Addington in such demand that real estate agents don't need to try any more?

The house was commanding $420pw, and of the three families and two singles there, at least two people were filling out application forms as I departed without a second glance.

I was met with a similar situation at a viewing in Papanui, where a crowd was milling in anticipation. Being 10 minutes before it was due to start, more people arrived until there were about 15 of us hovering in the street waiting for someone to let us in.

And while it was certainly a nice property, nothing amazing stood out to me.

However, the smiling property manager knew he had a winner on his hands.

Almost all of the properties available in Merivale or St Albans I inquired about were already under offer. What was left were small flats or attached townhouses. Patricia Bowden, of Harcourts, said it was typical of the area.

"If there's anything there, it's gone straight away. People like to live where they consider it to be reasonably safe.

"They're sick of looking at road cones [in the east]. The roads are shocking, and the houses are badly affected.

"I think a lot of people are able to choose now. They come in here in a panic and I just say: Don't jump into anything, there are places out there."

So as I ventured over to Upper Riccarton, I expected to be fighting people through the door for a squat two-bedroom flat going for $360pw. But there was just one other person there filling out an application form, and one other who had turned on his heel shortly after arrival.

Perhaps the reason for this was the greeting in the lounge. A glaringly bright orange "feature wall" welcomed me, and blurred my vision, spoiling the rest of the viewing.

"The tenants did it . . . it needed to be painted anyway but preferably not that colour, but it's done now," the property manager proffered. Indeed it was.

A welcome breath of fresh air was offered in Burwood, where a near brand-new three-bedroom house was advertised for $440pw.

Even the zealous security check I got when inquiring on the phone - the property manager asked for my name and phone number before even telling me the address - was worth it.

The home was lovely, open-plan with beautiful french doors extending to a garden, three decent-sized bedrooms with a garage, fully-insulated, double-glazing and heatpump.

How this could be cheaper than the flat in Sumner half its size, and about the same as the the ramshackle house in Addington was anyone's guess. I hoped it had nothing to do with the property manager's answer when I asked why the house had not been advertised.

"Basically, for security reasons. I've been ripped off a number of times - even had an arson. Yeah, it's quite common for hot water cylinders to go missing."

Over the course of the week I also looked in Beckenham, Hornby, St Albans, Linwood and Wigram. I even looked at one-bedroom places (glorified motel rooms) with one unimpressive unit in Riccarton asking $450pw. A newly built property in Linwood offering six single rooms and a shared kitchen was more reasonable at $195pw, and had just one left. If it didn't remind me of a hospital ward, I might have been more receptive to the idea.

While there were undoubtedly examples of price gouging in some places, there are still landlords trying to do right by their tenants. I fell in love with a two-bedroom property on Knowles St in Mairehau - so much so I was on the verge of blowing my cover and screaming "I'll take it".

The varnished wood floors, large tidy lawn and beautifully crafted kitchen did not reflect its reasonably affordable $375pw asking price. The true clincher was the outdoor bath.

The hands-on landlord told me he wanted the right tenants rather than the right price.

"I put it on late on Monday night and my phone was ringing off the hook the next day. I wasn't prepared for that," he chuckled.

When I got the text later asking whether I was interested in the property because I was "top of his list", it actually broke my heart having to decline.

The fact that I was offered two properties outright suggested that the strain on the rental market could be easing. However, it does not seem like it is that simple, or easy for everybody. Landlords have their pick of a large volume of applicants, meaning the less-attractive, and possibly more vulnerable, renters are the ones who are struggling. Whittle Knight and Boatwood team leader property management division Tania Ellis, said agents tended to be "very particular about who goes into the properties".

"Sometimes you can get lots of people that come through but it's about the quality of the applications. You get the opportunity to choose the absolute best person on the day."

And quality homes in good locations were "always going to go quickly", she said. Perhaps more so now.

"Northwest Christchurch is certainly a lot more popular and Riccarton has definitely come of age, but it's generally more about price range then location.

"It is a little bit quieter, it's calmed down and we will go in to those winter months much the same as any other year."

She cautioned renters to "present yourself like you're going to a job interview" to get ahead.

"If you're going to turn up with an attitude and looking scruffy its going to work against you. It is just like a job interview."


Listings advertised on Trade Me with two or three bedrooms this month:

0-$350 51

$350-400 74

$400-450 79

$450-500 86

$500-$550 39

$600+ 24

Total: 353

Total advertised in Christchurch, any bedrooms: 956

The median Canterbury rental is $453 as of January, according to Trade Me listings