Saturday, March 31, 2012

Auckland real estate - the value of lists #1, school zones

Now one thing you'll quickly learn in the property market is that everyone you deal with is nice but it's likely you'll be seen as a walking wallet.  The only thing distinguishing most companies from one another is their ability to keep the information from you and ration it out in exchange for either your custom or your cash.

So do it yourself, it's not hard...

First - a quick look at the market will show you a huge amount is based on school zones.  

Real estate agents crow that a particular house is within a certain school zone but why can't you do a search on their site or on any site for houses by school zone?  Because although that would benefit you as a buyer, it doesn't benefit the real estate agent (who wants you to rely on them for "keeping an eye out" in the right zones) and it doesn't really benefit the schools.  Yes you could check for this information but only on a property-by-property basis.  

You could try, the government site that shows online maps of school zones, but the information isn't downloadable and it's hard to print out the images.  And you'll need to manually search for each address.

Or try this site -  Back in 2010 someone made an Official Information Act request to the Ministry of Education and now you can download a handy list of ALL school zones in NZ that you can open in Google Earth and play with.  Yes it's a single alphabetical list and yes school zones vary very slightly over time but hey, it's free.

So... download it (it's free), open in Google Earth and save the .kml in a new folder.

Next, go to this site - - and download the schools directory.  Open in Excel and turn on autofilter, then sort schools by what's important to you (demographics, roll, level, decile, location, gender, etc etc).  Thin it down to a list of schools you like.

Next go to Google Maps and create some folders (e.g. "primary"/"intermediate"/"secondary") then just drop and drag the school .kml's into these folders which you can then turn on & off.

You can now surf and print satellite and street maps of anywhere in NZ, turn on and off different school zones and look at where the overlaps are.

Good thing for us is that many house prices are based on the decile rating of secondary schools, but the most important thing for us at the moment is a good primary school.  Have a think about what's important for you in terms of the school.

Auckland real estate - some tips and tricks I'm learning

Now we have started looking for a house.  There's nothing wrong with our one - it's a great house, a bit small but we'd stay if it was in the right area.  Yep, living practically next door to the official "best pie shop in Auckland" has its benefits, but we are about 50 metres out of zone for the good high schools and the only primary school we are zoned for is a Decile 2.  And yeah, it matters.  Hayley is 2 and a half, and if we've got the choice to send her to a better school we're going to go for it.

Problem is we've got to start dealing with real estate agents again.  I don't like to tar a whole profession but I'd like to know from someone what these agents do for their money.  That is, what justifies the percentage commission they charge for selling your house on top of making you pay for everything from the LIM to the advertising to the freaking board and flag they put up for an open home.

So I'm learning a few things from this experience that I want to pass on to the one or two people who may read this... from a complete non-expert... (take everything I say with a grain of salt and do your own research - I'm learning all this as I go...)

- First, banks are being held a lot more to account when it comes to leaky home sales.  That means they need to cover themselves and by extension you.  They may ask for the address of a home you want to bid for, and in some cases won't give prior approval for a loan if there are weathertightness issues.  This means use it.  Banks have access to information about residential buildings that you and I don't have.  Talk to the bank manager about a house you're looking at - they may come back with info for free that you would otherwise pay tens or hundreds of dollars for from QV or the council.

- "Is there anything else about this property I need to know?" is an important statement.  You'll find a lot of tips of questions to ask real estate agents on the internet.  Important thing to know is the agent has no incentive to tell you the truth (if they can get you to purcha$e before finding the problem what do they care?) but they can't knowingly withhold information.

We saw a house last week, nice old house, about 80yrs old, on top of a hill, but the downstairs had clearly been done illegally.  Also, the home advertisement didn't match the number of rooms that were in the house - shady.  I asked the agent at the open home about this and he gave me a copy of the LIM.  I asked him directly "what's the status of the renovations downstairs?".  He told me he hadn't read through the LIM so he didn't know.

That night I read through the LIM and sent a formal email through to him (if it isn't in writing it didn't happen), asking "what's the status of this bathroom, has the house had a code compliance certificate, council approvals, etc etc.  He emailed back to say "the information you have is the same information that I got from the vendor" and recommended I pay almost $100 to go to the council with the question.


1. Nobody in the industry is employed to be on the side of the buyer.  Do your homework but this doesn't mean you have to fork out the money (which is limitless if you want to run QV and council reports, and builder inspections for every property you really like).

2. If a real estate agent says "I don't know" to a question, you should probably be wary.  "I don't know but I'll find out" is a good answer, but "I don't know I haven't bothered to ask my clients" isn't.

3. Don't be afraid to put the agent on the spot.  I was at an open home today, looking at a reasonably new house with obvious "leaky home" risks.  I asked the agent what the status was of the house weathertightness and he said he wasn't sure for certain but some recent clients had taken a builder round and the builder wasn't happy with the moisture readings on one or two of the rooms.  Thanks dude!  you've just saved us $400 on a building inspection unless we want to get someone new round to have another detailed look through.

4. Not all real estate agents are corrupt, but when you find a good one don't lose them!  We're still massively grateful to the agent who bent over backwards for us with our current house.