In Auckland we were paying $200/week (not including internet or utilities) for one room in a three bedroom house in a suburb north of the city. Originally were hoping to find a place of our own in Christchurch for somewhere under $280/week; something at least partially furnished, or cheap enough to justify the extra cost of furniture. You wouldn't think it would be too terrible a feat to pull off--I mean, we spent the last six years living in a place within spitting distance of Manhattan and we were paying less than that. (Ok, I exaggerate. But possibly very long tin can phone distance or creepy binocular staring distance, definitely swimming distance. Either way, you'd expect it to be more expensive there than in a small city like Christchurch.) The reason that isn't the case seems complicated, but from what I gathered it's the result of a few factors:
1. Chinese buyers have been coming to New Zealand in droves for investment properties, outbidding locals and driving property costs up. (One reason for the racial tension there, although if you're long time homeowner and selling your place now, well, those Chinese buyers have definitely done those guys a favor!) Most of this is happening in bigger cities like Auckland, Wellington and...dun dad da dum...Christchurch!
2. A lot of properties were destroyed in the big earthquake, and rules of supply and demand being what they are, prices go up.
3. New post-earthquake housing regulations require that new construction meet certain standards, meaning higher building costs, higher rents needed for landlords to make a return on their investment.
Here's another problem: all we wanted was a simple one bedroom apartment, but there just aren't as many of those since the 2011 earthquake. Even finding a two or three bedroom place with flatmates wasn't as easy as I thought it might be. Instead the new big thing is room by room rentals--usually five or six bedrooms with a shared living space and kitchen. Most of the rooms have a private ensuite bathroom, which is nice, but sharing a kitchen with up to twelve people sounds like mealtime chaos. It's a lot like living in a dorm, but with a wider age range. The ones we saw ran between $150-$330/week including utilities and internet access, and in defense of the more expensive ones, some of them were really nice. Just not nice enough for us to feel it was worth paying so much for a shared living situation.
We did find some single apartments at our price point, but in general they tended to be dark, damaged, in bad neighborhoods, and/or smell aggressively of mold.
Our landlords live in the main house and they seem like nice people. They have a few kids, and sometimes we hear them practicing the violin or yelling at their new puppy, who is appropriately named Happy, and who is not really so much a dog as pure joy stuffed into the tiniest fur coat known to man. He is completely oblivious to their shouting; he's just too excited to be in the world. At first this just increased the yelling, but I think we've moved past that stage now.
Our neighborhood is much too fancy for us, as evidenced by the upscale McDonald's, women with fashionably cool-blonde hair and leather boots, and shops filled with beautiful things we can't afford. The grocery store has a gelato shop, and our bus line has luxurious sounding destinations like "Princess Margaret" and "Cashmere." The only clothes I can afford on our street are at the thrift shop, which I don't mind. It's all very beautiful, and we feel a bit like we've been let into an exclusive club, accidentally. Shhh, don't spoil our cover!