I’m pretty sure this is a worry that everyone has on their mind before arriving in New Zealand. Sadly, it’s a worry that will continue to haunt you throughout your entire stay (assuming that you do move from town to town, staying at different parts of the country).
In this entry, I will be sharing with you my experiences I have (to date; I’m 5 months in) and update accordingly as time goes by.
Alright, so let’s begin.
When do I start looking for accommodation?
For majority of the accommodations here, you’re not really able to make a booking way ahead in advance. You can enquiry but most landlords will not be able to ‘hold’ the property way few months ahead of time. Most people just book their first week accommodation in a hostel (to get the address for IRD) and for my case I found a HelpX host (work-exchange) about one to two months before I arrive.
The first week accommodation is just for you to settle your paperwork – phone number, bank account and IRD and possibly time for you to look for a car and think of your next steps – job or where you want to ‘settle down’ in.
Where do I go?
- Friends Recommendation
This is the most reliable option, especially if your friend or friend’s friend stayed in the place before. You will get an insight of the landlord habits/weird rules (no cooking after certain timing) or extent of saving electricity/water. The bad part of this is your friends recommendation, if it is super good, is often fully booked and could possibly have a long waiting list.
- Facebook Groups/Marketplace
Most cities or towns have groups dedicated to the search for flatmates or perhaps even just a buy/sell page. Just some examples, Christchurch rentals, Wanaka Winter Season Accommodation & Work You just got to search these groups on facebook and join them.
- TradeMe – Flatmates Wanted
Here’s the link: TradeMe and basically you just use the filter and viola, you can just email/call the person to arrange for a house viewing. Just sharing, TradeMe is an option more for the local New Zealand people so the likelihood of you living with a fellow asian would be rather low. I tried this option out once and (PLEASE REMEMBER YOUR SELF INTRODUCTION which is extremely vital and I will write about it below) I ended up staying in a place for 3 weeks but I had to move out later on.
- Chinese Website: Backpackers.com.tw
I found this website (https://www.backpackers.com.tw/forum/forumdisplay.php?f=209) really useful but the catch is you need to be able to read traditional chinese. In this website, you will be able to find Sharehouses with fellow working holiday or backpackers and after staying for 5 months, I still prefer to hang out and stay with asians. The prices of sharehouses are usually cheaper and often you will be required to share a room which can be a good and bad thing.
- Social Media Group Chats: LINE, WeChat, WhatsApp
There are many options depending on which country you are from and whether you can understand mandarin or not. For Singaporeans, we do have a whatsapp group and the admins even organize meetups in Singapore for new and old WHVers to meet up and share their experiences. If you are keen, join the Facebook group and request for the whatsapp group invite.LINE Groups: this is the most active one of it all but I was totally clueless on figuring out how to join them apart from having a friend already inside the group. When I first arrive, I was pretty lonely and clueless about how I should be finding friends but then this girl added me in and I went on one meetup and found a good friend who I hanged out with every weekend after the first meetup. The groups are mainly taiwanese people and apart from asking for accommodation recommendation, they also share job opportunities and car share info. It’s also useful to just see where and what everyone is up to. They are many different groups created by different individuals. Some goes by the year 18-19; 19-20 while there are christchurch and auckland groups and the people kind of overlaps everywhere so.. I just join as many as I can but of course I can’t keep track with every conversation.
WeChat: I was invited to 1 WeChat group in Christchurch and the people inside the group are more diverse – including students and work visa people who are staying here on long term. Haven’t use it really much but the group is very active and I think the people inside are mainly Chinese.
Telegram: I tried to build a chat group but it’s failing. Probably an average of one message per week but surprisingly still have 50+ members despite it being so quiet. You can join here and start talking.
Join the Telegram Chat Group for NZ Working Holiday Visa 2019/2020: https://t.me/NZWHV2019
- Grocery Store ‘Notice Board’
This is such a traditional method but oh my gawd it’s something that actually works! You can find such notice boards in grocery stores – Pak n Save, New World, Countdown and they will even provide pen and paper for you! Apart from accommodation, you can post anything you want – from your car, to anything you want to sell. I will always drop by to take a look whenever I’m shopping cause it’s pretty interesting.
This method is more commonly used in the less crowded towns like Wanaka, Alexandra, Central Otago area. For whatever reason, the people here tend to like things the traditional way and I have friends that received many good matches from this notice board!
What you do is that you will have to SMS or call the person and give a DAMN GOOD SELF INTRODUCTION or risk getting snapped at (or perhaps I was unlucky).
What is a self introduction?
Okay, this is kind of an unspoken rule but if you’re looking for a house/room and the owner is not asian, you got to prepare your self introduction speech/message/email, even if you’re contacting them for the very first time. For local landlords, they do not see tenants as just a tenant. They see you as a housemate, someone that will be interacting with long term which is why they would like to know more about you even before meeting you. The search for a good room feels like an interview process, well in fact it possibly is an interview.
So, the first time I messaged someone on TradeMe asking if his room had heater, duvets and how equipped was his kitchen and his reply was.. ‘Can you tell me about yourself please’ and I was like.. errr? I’m not even like matchmaking or something what do you want to know? I asked my friend for advice and she said it was a pretty basic thing to do a self introduction and.. whoever teaches you things like this? (To be fair, I have not searched for my own accommodation before, apart from booking online)
The second time was worse. This guy was advertising his room and I wanted to ask if he was open to short-term rentals before I do my self introduction and his reply was ‘Probably not, your telling me nothing about yourself, pretty basic really, which makes me wonder!!!’ exactly the way it was quoted.
Yep so treat the landlords as if you were treating your interviewer. In places like Wanaka and Queenstown, properties are in such a huge demand that the landlord gets to pick and choose who to stay. I heard that my friend’s room (which was really lovely) had up to 8 candidates and some landlords even require reference check. Which means that they will call your previous landlord and ask how you were like and I’m like.. are you seriously kidding me? Oh wells, we are here to stay temporarily and we only got to adapt to their interesting practices.
Alright, so what do you say for your self introduction? You have to share your name, age, country of origin, purpose you are here for, whether you have a job and where you work, how long you intend to stay, whether you are a non-smoker or not etc. You can also add on your hobbies and interests if you feel like it.
(Please note that the above is usually more relevant to staying with local hosts/landlords. The share houses I stayed in don’t really have that much fuss, at least for my case so far)
What are the options available for accommodation?
Private Room – You have your own room and you do not need to share it with anyone else (apart from your friend or partner). The rooms here usually come with a closet/cabinet with no table and chair. So far, I only had one room with a table/chair and most of the time, I just have to use the laptop on my bed or in the dining area. Sometimes, landlords are willing to give you a queen/king bed even if you’re alone so I guess it’s a demand/supply or just pure luck.
Shared Room – This option is more common in sharehouses. When I say sharehouses, it is usually an accommodation that is built for backpackers. They usually squeeze many people in the house and it comes equipped with sufficient refrigerators, pantry area and it will get pretty crowded. But that’s where the fun lies. I did stay in a 3-bed ensuite room before and oh my, it was a lovely stay as I had good room mates! The downside of a shared room is that you have less privacy – you need to use earphones to be respectful and urm; the snoring. Most probably I snore too (slightly, not that bad) and they say I occasionally mumble in my sleep too. The good part? If you and your roomies get along, it feels so fun to talk to someone till you fall asleep!
Entire House – This option is only kind of feasible if you’re with a group of friends. The good thing is you don’t live with your landlord which means that there will be lesser rules you have to adhere to. The best part is you can invite friends over as well. Half of the landlords I lived with generally don’t allow friends; the other half do but I just find it a hassle having to ensure that we are not too loud or disturbing.
Hostel – I do know of working holiday people who choose to stay in Hostel on a long-term basis (a few weeks). Some of them do a work exchange for free stay. They help out with the reception and housekeeping in exchange for the week’s rent. Also, I do have a friend who stayed for one month in the YHA as she found the price similar to a private room and she’s more than happy that she does not need to do any cleaning.
Campervan – I know nothing much about this as I have no intention to do it but a lot of backpackers choose to buy a self-contained or 7-seater MVP and choose to sleep in the car. I’ve heard of this Spanish couple who slept in their car for 9 months and mainly the europeans/americans choose this option. You may have to find holiday parks for your showers, laundry and kitchen and the rent for holiday parks in popular destinations can be quite pricey too. In summer, you can even pitch your tents at campsite and the list goes on but I have no idea.
Things to take note in the pricing
Price is usually weekly
In Singapore, most rental prices are calculate monthly but nope in New Zealand it is calculated weekly, just like your wages. The cheapest I’ve paid so far is $125/week (all-in with wifi and power) in a shared room in a sharehouse in Christchurch while the most expensive one I had was in Wanaka at $215/week (shared bills about $21/week) in a single room. Wanaka and Queenstown has one of the most expensive housing and sharehouses are close to non-existent over there.
With or without bills?
It is important to check whether the quoted rental price is bills inclusive or exclusive. If bills are exclusive, do ask them how much are you expected to pay on average. Back in my wanaka house, wifi was included in the rental but not power. In winter, it worked out to be about $3/day each person which is slightly on the high side.
Also, if you are intending to rent the entire house, there might be a chance that you have to settle your own wifi which is quite annoying so I haven’t stayed in any that requires me to do so. WiFi is not really cheap here so.. just be wary about what you are getting yourself into.
Security bond may be required
I’ve stayed in 5 properties so far and only one required a security deposit of 2 weeks. This is up to the landlord’s discretion but most places require you to pay the rent upfront (at least one week). If you do give a security deposit/bond, please make sure you have some black and white agreement in case of dispute.
Interesting House Rules/Complications
Thought I compile a list of this because.. you should know what you’re getting yourself into right?
- No cooking after a certain timing (e.g. 10PM)
This rule may be imposed if your landlord needs to wake up early in the morning.
- Shared responsibility for cleaning
In my Wanaka house (yes the one with the expensive rent), there was a schedule for us to do the general cleaning – toilets, kitchen and vacuuming. I took about 1.5 hours to complete the task and it was once a month duty for us. In my share house (the $125/week rental), they cleaned our toilets about once a week and replenished the toilet rolls and washing detergent for us. In my current house, I’m the only one using the toilets so I’m expected to clean it once a week.
- Do not wash dishes using running water
I’m still feeling really puzzled because this is the way they was their dishes are so different from us! What (one house) did was that they will fill the sink with really hot water and add dishwashing liquid to it such that it has a lot of bubbles. Then, they will dip the dirty dishes, pots and pans etc. into the sink and let it soak. After that, they will use the brush thing to scrap off any remnants which were not soaked away. Then, they will remove the dishes and place it out to dry.. WITHOUT RINSING THE SOAP OFF. They said that this method saves water and I’m that the hot water is able to make the dishes clean? Anyway, whatever it was, I’m still alive after using potentially contaminated detergent bubbles dishes, pots and pans. I feel totally clueless but.. this was their preferred way of washing which they asked me to follow.
- Wiping all dishes dry with a tea towel
A little different to the method above, this involves the wiping dry of all your wet dishes; often using the same tea towel which.. I have no idea how often they condemn it as being too dirty and replace it. Many times, it feels like wiping the wet dishes with tea towel makes the dish dirtier? I can’t accept it but.. I just have to do it as I don’t want to be labeled as the foreigner who can’t listen.
- Using blankets instead of heaters to keep warm
If you’re living with a local, chances are that there may not be a heater in the room. During winter time, they may provide you with thick duvet covers, allowing you to stay warm from within. Even if there’s a heater in the room, they will advise/ask you to switch it off before you sleep or after the room is warmed up cause electricity is expensive. Even if you are given an electric blanket, it may come with a timer function as well. It was a little difficult for me to survive the winter cold but I slowly got used to it. Then again, if you’re not staying with the landlord, it could be a different story.
- Limited Hot Water if you’re staying with a lot of people
Depending on what hot water system they use – water tank or gas or I have no idea what other options, there may be a limited amount of hot water at any given interval. In my largest share house (9 people; 2 toilets), we calculated that within a 2 hour interval, only 5 people could shower (not long baths) before the water start turning cold. Everyone kinds of need to get cooperative otherwise the last person will risk having a cold bath which.. sucks.
- There may not be keys for your rooms
Of all the 5 houses I stayed in, I only had keys to 2 of my rooms. There has to be a lot of trust going on among your housemates. I did felt a little insecure in the beginning but as usual, there’s not much of a choice for me? I even stayed in houses that don’t have keys to their main door cause they don’t lock it either. Low crime doesn’t mean no crime but sometimes trust overarches everything?
Okay that’s it for now but I’m pretty sure the list will add on as I continue on my stay here.
(Why am I writing so much lately? I’m currently forced to be unemployed for three days cause my car broke down and it is in the workshop. The ‘best’ part of it was that I didn’t crash it, the engine just failed and insurance was pretty much useless for my case. No car = No transport to work = No income This is the most unlucky three days of my entire WHNZ experience and I hope the bad luck streak will end today. Wish me all the best for my bill tomorrow. I’m just praying that it will be 3 digits and not 4. Adios for now)