A plug for the provinces

A reader writes in:

I’ve been reading the various Wgtn vs Akl vs ChCh posts and thought I’d put a plug in for the provincial centres. I live in Christchurch but come from Blenheim and have an interest in the various property mini-bubbles that arise. This interest has been intensified recently by my brother and I trying to sell our Mum’s house since she shifted into a resthome (http://wyber.com/housead/ if you’ll excuse the ad).

I went to uni in Christchurch then lived in Wellington for nearly three years, returning to Blenheim for six years before settling in Christchurch. My brother has lived in central Auckland for the last 15 years and I have visited him regularly, often staying with friends on the North Shore. My wife and I bought our first home in Blenheim, selling to move to Christchurch where we rented for a year then bought in Avonhead, Christchurch. After five years we considered renovation and instead sold and bought a few blocks away. We bought a flat near central Christchurch with a friend as business partner five years ago: she lives in it as tenant and co-owner. 18 months ago my brother and I found ourselves as trustees trying to sell, then rent out, then sell again our Mum’s house.

I gave this brief background to give some validity to my observations. I would consider my family fairly typical middle-class NZ: I started in admin then accounting and now work in IT. My wife is an immigrant, studied here to get her law degree and has worked on and off as we raised our two sons, both now teenagers.

Buy The House Your Parents Bought When They Started Out, Not The One You Left Home From

This is one of my bigger gripes with the housing market. Teenagers and young adults should ask their parents to show them the house their parents first bought (or similar if that house doesn’t exist or is too far away). Our first house was a smallish two-bedroom dwelling on a cross-lease, with the drive on the corner near a busy suburban Blenheim shopping centre. To our Wellington eyes it looked fine, but our Blenheim friends thought we had gone way down-market. We scraped for the deposit, focused on paying off the mortgage and were debt-free after five years. Our next house in Avonhead Christchurch was still simple with one bathroom and three bedrooms and was cold in Winter, apart from the lounge heated by the woodburner. Again we focused on the mortgage and were again debt-free after five years. We looked at renovating and worked out the cost to add a bedroom, second lounge and second bathroom. Instead we found another house close by which had been upgraded by the previous owners for around the same cost. We are now debt-free again after five years.

I get really slacked off with people who want to buy a four-bedroom house in a nice suburb soon after they get their first job or permanent relationship. Be realistic. Your best bet is to buy a unit or flat or apartment, pay most of it off then upgrade. Kids nowadays want the same comfort they grew up in.

Consider The Provinces

For graduates this should be their first consideration. Anyone with a professional qualification is going to be snapped up by provincial employers and doing real work, seeing clients from the start of their career. Contrast this with the “lucky few” who get jobs in the “factory” law/accounting/engineering/etc firms in the big cities. They will be lucky if they see a client for the first three years of employment and will instead get locked up doing boring work as a test to see if they are committed. At the same time they will be suffering high costs of living especially housing.

For people with young families or recent retirees I have thought they should consider moving to a provincial centre as an extended family. The couple with the young children could find a job in a provincial centre and persuade the Mum and Dads’ parents to move with them. Their housing costs would drop dramatically and the grandparents would enjoy a better climate moving with their children and grandchildren.

People complain it’s not possible to earn the same amount in a provincial centre. They seem unable to do the budget on the reduced cost of living side. If your pay drops but your mortgage drops even more then you are likely better off. It is likely your travel times will be negligible and your family will only need one vehicle. You may go home for lunch and save on cafe costs.

Even if you don’t have a qualification that gives you good job prospects try the provinces. It’s important to get a job and then work your way up. Many provincial centres will provide agricultural and horticultural jobs within easy biking or driving of the town. Often it is easier to get casual work in retail or small-scale industry as well. There is an upside to everyone knowing who you are. This can also mediate the lowering of income for the primary earner if a family moves from Akl/Wgtn/ChCh to a provincial centre: the main caregiver can often find part-time employment close to the home, especially with hours that fit in with school.

Climate

I’m generalising here as I don’t know every provincial centre well. I can guarantee that anyone shifting from Akl/Wgtn/ChCh to Blenheim or Nelson will find a marked improvement in climate. We had neighbours in Blenheim who retired from Christchurch and said their lifestyle and well-being improved. They needed firewood for two or three fewer months over Winter as Blenheim has glorious sunny days throughout Winter.

Traffic

This one should be obvious. When I lived in Blenheim it would amuse me to hear people grumping at having to wait a couple of minutes at an intersection.

Shopping (For Blokes)

I’m sure people that love shopping find provincial living a bit limiting. However they can turn this into a holiday: driving to the nearest big city to get their retail fix as a weekend outing. For people who don’t love shopping (blokes like me I guess) provincial living is ideal. Parking near (or biking to) shops is easy and there’s only a couple of retailers to choose from for most things. Almost all the shops are in the town centre making necessary shopping a quick and relatively pain-free exercise.

Outdoors Lifestyle

Parents worry less about their children in provincial centres. There are more outdoor activities. Schools can link up with the surrounding rural community and have easy access to rivers and beaches. People have more time to volunteer for sports clubs and social clubs. There’s less expectation to work weekends. Parents can take their children to activities.

Rural Connection

This one also bugs me. Most of NZ’s foreign earnings come from farming yet most city dwellers are ignorant of the rural community. Living in provincial centres keeps people in touch with the farming and horticultural industry that powers our economy. It’s great to get out in the country and to be able to buy fruit, vegetables, eggs and other produce direct from the growers.

 

Anyway, that’s some thoughts on this. I guess I should make my excuse for why I live in Christchurch and not in a provincial centre. I work at a University in IT and have a job I enjoy which would be difficult to replicate in a provincial centre. My sons thrive at independent schools with the assistance of scholarships they earned through hard work. I don’t think they would have the same educational opportunities at a state school, certainly not at the one I went to.

However living in Avonhead on the western edge of Christchurch gives the next best experience. I bike to work most days and the countryside is within biking distance of home. In the end people make choices. I do wish they would consider provincial centres as another option instead of focusing on the cost of living and housing in the bigger cities.

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