It is with just the smallest frisson of alarm that I report to you that we have just passed the seventh anniversary of our arrival in the New Zealand countryside. Where these years have fled I cannot say, but they have and that fact cannot be avoided.
Of course, some things have changed in that time. We've grown older, for one thing. We also are watching this town of what was once 20,000 people undergoing its own maturation process. There is land surrounding the town, and inside it, which has been prepared and one day will be occupied by new houses and new people. The transformation has no doubt slowed while the recession has been dominating economic activity, but as in other countries the downturn is passed and life is returning to the property market. Another sign of the maturation is the growth of shops, and especially those belonging to nation-wide chains -- and there are always rumours of others to come. Those already here are no doubt swallowing the retail downturn because their investment is long-term, but as life gradually returns to the marketplace it probably will be worth the wait.
The underlying change is interesting too, because it is becoming clear that many people can work using the Internet wherever they happen to be, and so the lure of open space and clean air are proving highly attractive to people in the big cities. So marked is this movement that some real estate companies are now mounting promotional campaigns in places like Auckland and Wellington, hoping to lure even more "immigrants" by the same price differentials which have always existed between country towns and cities. It may be that these differentials are shrinking, but you can still sell your house in Wellington and move to the Wairarapa with a pocket full of change. That's what we did seven years ago, but in those days we were still comparatively rare.
Complicating the climb out of the real estate recession is an injunction from the governor of the Reserve Bank -- his umpteenth -- that New Zealanders should not put all their eggs in the property basket. The usual reasons were given -- distortion of the investment market; borrowing from overseas to create mortgage funding; a high exchange rate hurting exporters if there is competition to buy $NZ. Well, my answer to the governor is that he'd better try and think up some better investments than property. The collapse of several dozen finance companies wiped out significant numbers of investors who had lent them the capital on the security of (what turned out to be) worthless debentures; much New Zealand manufacturing is done off-shore, and why not, it's a lot cheaper. Furthermore, a lot of expatriate Kiwis are coming home and new house building has gone through the floor. So what happens when demand is greater than supply?
Of course, well all wish the governor well, but . . .
After the misery of the winter just ended, spring has started and at last colour and warmth are returning. The prunus and the plum tree have flowered and dropped their blossoms on the ground already -- they are always the first -- and now the cherry trees are pregnant with blossoms. It's only a matter of days before our back garden will be a profusion of colour and bees, and the leaves on the big silver birches will pop out and get ready to provide summer shade.
The question then is,"will we be in this property to see it?" We certainly have come nowhere near getting anyone interested in buying our house, and we've appointed an extra agent whose firm is conducting one of those campaigns in the big cities which I spoke about earlier.
At the risk of repeating myself, watch this space.
Louis the Cat is about 18 months old now, and probably full grown. I say "probably" because he's quite small in stature though his brain works well. He no longer suffers bullying from the neighbourhood cats who are all fatter than he is and therefore very slightly slower when he's shooing them off his territory. He may also be a dog. I say this because he loves to play Fetch -- bowl a reel of Sellotape down the hall and he will dash after it, pick it up, and bring it back for another round. Best of all is when my wife stands at one end of the hall and I stand at the other. He tears back and forth endlessly, never tiring for a moment. And then he makes us retrieve the reel ourselves.
He's no fool.
Country Bumpkin is my cousin, a bibliophile and man of the world who lives in New Zealand.
He is the author of Return to the Schilderwald -- A Jew Comes Home After Sixty-Eight Years. Among his other guest blogs are Country Cooing & Cooling, Country Feasts & Festivities, Country Reminiscences, Country Climate Change, Country Reintegration, Country Castles, Country Travel, Country Polikarpovs, Country History, The Country Way of All Flesh, Country Images, Country Winter and Country Ice.