What is keeping me awake at night, you may ask? For most nights this week, absolutely nothing…. Though that is down to a feeling of constantly treading water at the moment. I’m tired from a lack of downtime over the last week, and that tiredness has me sleeping like a baby. The reason for my good sleep? The house I’ve rented for 12 years has recently been sold. After work I’ve been busy packing my life into boxes, and preparing to move across town…. a very bittersweet feeling if being honest.
One of the thoughts which has occupied my mind; as I sort through books, DVD cases, and product warranties for various household items is just how Quixotic a dream it has become to actually own property in late-stage capitalist New Zealand. Yes, I have more or less paid one mortgage of late – that of my soon to be ex-landlords. The property records show they bought this beaten up old bungalow in 1998 for $220,000. After four years they left to rent in a fancy school zone themselves, so their son could attend a Grammar school. They then moved back to Cape Town in 2006. I have no idea how much of a deposit they paid for the house. For 18 years though, myself and others have contributed a considerable sum to their mortgage.
Of course we live with an economy which needs must maintain growth, in an age of shrinking productive sectors. Added value has come from other places – including allowing asset values to grow beyond the reach of most first time buyers. Plenty of cashed up opportunists; house flippers, land bankers, unscrupulous slum lords, in search of a quick buck, bear some responsibility – but to be fair, responsibility for the insane rise in house prices rests squarely, systemically with Neo-liberalism. The opportunists could not have gamed the system if the system had not been built to be gamed that way.
Baby boomers, in their youth, could have bought an average property for four times the average wage before tax. Ask any boomer, they will tell you paying the mortgage was still a struggle. It took sacrifice – but in the end it was all worth it. Personally I have no doubt this is true… That only 60% of Baby Boomers managed to own property is testament to this. That a quarter of boomers still need to work in their retirement speaks volumes.
The market prior to COVID? The most recent statistics I came across had average house prices at 12 times the average wage. To complicate matters, wage inequality had also risen, so less than 10 percent of New Zealanders even earn the average wage, or higher anymore. Coronavirus feels like a massive juncture. It comes on the heels of a crashing long economic wave (a Kondratieff wave) in 2008; and an awkward start to the next one. Democracies just printed out more and more fiat money and pretended as best they could nothing radical ever happened. If we’re on the edge of a post-capitalist world I have no idea if what’s next will be better… but I do know the neoliberal experiment was a bitch to most people.
So, yes, if something were keeping me awake at night it could well be a wish to lay down roots – thwarted by a seven figure price tag.
Except, that wouldn’t be the only thought to keep me awake.
We imbue houses with all kinds of totemic, and metaphysical power. When the tempest rages outside your home protects you from the storm. It is your castle. Your sanctuary. It holds all kinds of memories, both bad and good – of friends and celebrations, trials and tragedy. “If only these walls could talk” right? Even a rental becomes, by virtue of the things you collect in it, an outwards representation of your very self. At the very least, it is nice to live in a place long enough that when you get up to use the rest room in the middle of the night, you can find your way without having to turn on the lights. As much as we take those memories with us, we pack our treasures in boxes, and we will hang our paintings on walls that look as good as the old walls – I think there is a level of present hedonism – in me at least, that struggles to see the new place will soon feel like home too.
* Note, not my actual house in the featured image. The picture below is my home office however, how I will miss my office…