Renting a flat in Christchurch has become like winning New Zealand's Got Talent.
There are many applicants, but few places. You have to convince picky landlords that you are worthy of success, and they can eliminate you at any moment.
Our guide through the talent contest was a former winner that I will call Paddy to protect his identity - and because he is Irish. He and his girlfriend found a flat last year after dozens of visits - he'd learned all the tricks.
Our first task was to set a budget. We initially thought $350 a week would be plenty, but we soon realised this would not get us much more than a wooden shack. So we added another $50 a week and later considered raising it still further to $450. As Paddy said, "that's why you have a budget - so you can fly right by it".
He said we should offer to pay $10 to $50 above the offered price if we really liked the place. We would have gladly paid more in some cases but were not assertive enough to initiate the haggling. Why not label the flat as an auction if that's what it is? Paddy's second tip was to go for quantity rather than quality. "It's super to win New Zealand's Got Talent. But better to enter all the shows. The winner of Solomon Islands Got Talent is still a winner."
The more houses we would visit, the higher the chance to find something decent.
This led us to all sorts of places. Some idyllic: two bedrooms in Merivale right next to the park with roses in the backyard, warm, light. Others horrendous: small two bedrooms with only one electric heater, a relentless dead guinea-pig smell and months-old cereal leftovers lying on the stained carpet.
We applied to several flats, but got rejected several times.
Once, we thought we had a good chance, but the landlords decided to give the flat to an old lady in need. "She probably has 50 cats," Paddy said, "but a good backstory - made them cry. Also, the owners probably read your column. Too much whingeing."
Not all judges are as mean as Simon Cowell. Some of the landlords who didn't choose us wrote long, heartfelt emails explaining their decision. Others could have charged more for their property but said they wanted to be fair to attract good tenants.
It took us two months to learn the tricks, but with Paddy's relentless coaching we finally managed to impress some landlords for a lovely apartment within biking distance of Cathedral Square.
We saw the ad online within minutes of its publication, thanks to obsessive checking. Nick texted the owner right away to ask for a viewing. We made up our minds on the spot - no time to think about it when five people had seen the place just before us and the owner's phone was ringing non-stop. We took the time to chat with the landlords (or as Paddy puts it, to "seduce" them) and sent detailed application forms within a couple of hours.
We're happy about our new flat and relieved to be out of the contest. But finding a place to live should not be as difficult as winning a talent show.
- Your Weekend