Reader Mail on Property

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How about some reader mail on housing?

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Having lived through the collapse of the Irish property market & returning to Australia after 14 years in Europe I am alarmed that the same blinkered approach to housing and the obsession with home ownership & the use of the asset to purchase consumer items that I saw there is being repeated here – while its highly unlikely that we will see anything like the complete collapse of housing prices that occurred in Ireland since the peak in 2007 the present price regime particularly Sydney is unsustainable – a lot of people are going to be savaged…

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–Dear DR,

I’ve returned to Australia recently, and what I see here is exactly what I experienced living in the US and the UK for thirteen years. The key observations are:

(1) Excessive personal debt with loans and credit cards.

(2) Very large mortgages due in part to the cost of housing.

(3) The belief that housing always goes up.

(4) Main stream media and banks hyping the process.

On the housing front I’ve heard that Australia is different and the immigration is driving the housing, and that was the case in the UK until many found jobs hard to get, and the cost of living forced people to vote with their feet. That is another point as it’s not just Australian homes that are expensive it much more and the cost of living is a key factor. I’m not sure how many people coming now return to their countries due to cost, but it may be a factor here eventually.

While Australia seems to have weathered the GFC better I’m not sure it has if you look at the banks foreign debt to support their lending portfolios. The RBA says that banks are safe, but what would an independent audit find? Who pays for the stimulus packages? What economic risk analysis is going on at the RBA, and can someone show it’s valid if a China pullback occurs?

How many current mortgage holders are under stress, and I suspect that is a lot more than we know, but in true Australian tradition families work harder to pay the mortgage rather than loose the family home.

The danger I see is that there is very little manufacturing or science/engineering companies. I’ve written to the Labour party since I’ve returned but the response showed they don’t understand. I’m not sure if they feel a service economy are all we need, but that failed in the UK. Additionally, if the resources boom slows down due to China punning back then what has the country got to fall back on?

I have worked in Australia and overseas developing mobile phone modem software and there are no jobs for me in my profession here, and in the 90’s there were. I’m sure it’s the same for others. Furthermore, with universities producing students for say Industrial Design, how many can get jobs in Australia? I spoke to an under grad a few weeks ago, and I was told that only two of the hundred students in her year got jobs in that profession. What does that say about the health of the economy and country?

Summary:

Housing is just one issue that needs a resolution, however, with the Real Estate agents under quoting, and other vested interests in pushing prices up I’m not sure anything sensible will happen, and we will get a correction at some point.

There needs to be urgent government planning/policies to get a bigger manufacturing base here (look at the carbon footprint given that almost everything is imported). Also, develop science / engineering and offer conditions where technology companies will return to Australia rather than always finding the staff outside this country.

Manufacturing can also help balance the economy, and provide valuable jobs for our citizen’s. The tax base needs people to work. What is the real unemployment? Someone is not employed if they are only able to get two days a week outside their profession, yet the statistics don’t show you that.

There are very severe economic conditions outside Australia (UK/US/Europe and others) that we have no control over, and it’s possible the banks will have to pay higher rates for their foreign debt, and that will be passed on plus some to consumers.

The main stream spin says things are getting better, but are they really, and how long will it be before some countries can pay back the stimulus, the bank bail outs, and other foreign debt let alone any maturing debt obligations that we’ve not aware of?

Regards

Adrian

Dan Denning
Dan Denning examines the geopolitical and economic events that can affect your investments domestically. He raises the questions you need to answer, in order to survive financially in these turbulent times.
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Comments

  1. Australia is on the same slippy slope as the US and GB, just a year or two behind, your $ is overvalued, your houses are too expensive, and your population is ageing. Mass immigration is always an option, but it will take years, to install the necessary infrastructure to accomodate all the people the politicians intend to “import”. Did you not learn ANYTHING from the last two years, and the global recession.

    Reply
  2. JP, and the other reader comments are spot on, tho I would add to jp’s comment that our immigration policy was set at the end of an unusually wet half century (approx 1940 – 1990 ish), at a time where we could not realize that it had been unusual. Our policy is vigorous immigration to alleviate demographic disaster (like Japan today – too many pensioners, not enough taxpayers), but we will never have the water to support the numbers that plan calls for. All I can say is, the next 20 years are going to be bloody interesting…or maybe just bloody awful LOL.

    Reply
  3. I lived through some very hard times in country Victoria as a young boy in the early 90’s, i have a vivid memory as to what it is like to miss meals, wear second hand clothes and in general live within a very confined financial space.

    The unfortunate part of Australia today is most if not all of the so called mom and dad ‘property developers/investors”‘ have not been touched by times like this. It is so far removed from their psyche it gives them a sense that it never even happened and therefore a false sense of being infallible has set in.

    It’s almost like we are in the perfect storm, the fundamentals seem to be at a point of redefinition (to the Australian audience anyway) and they are guided by very basic simpleton queue’s e.g. stock market keeps heading up, auction prices and clearance rates keep growing, unemployment is low and anyone can find work very very easily, immigration is high, China’s flying and hosing supply is low.

    The ins and outs of even one of these topics are far more complexed than what our mainstream media are feeding to the masses but the reality is the masses are lapping this information up like it’s free gold. They are blissfully unaware they are creating their own financial demise based on poor unchallenged information.

    I had dinner on Tuesday with a large group of what i would deem to be average middle class decent people. The topic that had everyone going was housing. These are people on incomes of (at most) $85,000pa committing to $480,000+ mortgages (in the last few months) and spurring others at the table on to do the same, they are instilling a real fear to others that if they don’t jump in now they will never ever ever own an apartment let alone a home.

    I internalized my real feelings but it scared the crap out of me that this genuine feeling of perpetual growth and infallibility has become cemented in our minds as a statistical fact. We know history (and i am not talking about the last 6 years) tells a very different story.

    My gut feel is that the market has cooked itself and we are going to se the last few explosive burst’s before we head into a downward spiral. I pin this on my circle of influence where 3 couples have jumped into 30+ year mortgages ‘interest only’ and for amounts $480,000+.

    They are not stupid people they are all educated and for the best part earn $70k+ but the underlying issue of the lack of sustainability and longevity is very disconcerting

    Reply
  4. Very interesting US spelling in all these posts, above: ‘mom’, ‘realized’, ‘internalized’, for example. Yet these are ‘Australians’ commenting on property in Australia. This is careless, Dan. Why bother?! There’s enough genuine support for your keensian view that Australian property is doomed without these highly-creative posts.

    DRA usually presents an accurate, if biased view. Why contaminate it with highly fictional posts like these? ‘Mom and dad investors(?)’ Laughable…

    Biker Pete
    April 17, 2010
    Reply
  5. Get off your high horse Biker Pete.

    There’s nothing wrong with those comments.

    Yours on the other hand are self-service smart alec nonsense.

    Go away, the grown-ups are speaking.

    Reply
  6. “Go away, the grown-ups are speaking.”

    Ah, the grown-up who called a 50% property crash… and voted for the PM who prevented it… . ;)

    Biker Pete
    April 17, 2010
    Reply
  7. I don’t think the Rudd/Henry/Swan have prevented anything… delayed yes, prevented no.. bigger bubble, bigger bang

    Stillgotshoeson
    April 17, 2010
    Reply
  8. “I don’t think the Rudd/Henry/Swan have prevented anything… delayed yes, prevented no.. bigger bubble, bigger bang…”

    Like a kid on fireworks night :)

    Biker Pete
    April 17, 2010
    Reply
  9. From article: “The danger I see is that there is very little manufacturing or science/engineering companies”

    Indeed it would be nice to have a more diversified economy.
    The problem is, how do you keep manufacturing/science/engineering companies in Australia? We used to have much more of them, but they could not compete for talent with banking and mining, and could not compete internationally due to our high dollar.

    The proposals of resources rent tax to subsidize other industries, in some form or shape, are clearly against the spirit of free market. I am not surprised the major parties don’t want these subsidies.

    Any clues anyone as to how Oz can do anything other than dig earth and build houses?

    Reply
  10. Hi SV
    Here are some, (BTW I am typing this on MS Word , US localization , excuse the ‘Z’s).
    -> Reduce universities dependence on fees and make them government funded. Almost Free tertiary education would stop students from doing a cost benefit analysis and run to TAFE.

    ->Stimulate university and industry partnership. Huge tax breaks for indigenously developed products for companies that used/funded university partnerships/resources.

    ->Fast track improvements in northern parts of Australia with special economic zones. Due to proximity with Asia this is a good place for improved supply chain for specialized manufactured products.

    ->Super high speed train links between cities in the east coast connecting regional towns. This will take the pressure of cities and improve the livability of these towns , some might even become university towns.

    ->As for property phase out negative gearing for properties that don’t break after three years. Introduce land tax, review stamp duty. Remove foreign ownership of Australian homes.

    Reply
  11. Nirvan,
    I am looking for something that can work within the free market system, without government intervention and market distortion. Your suggestions look very much like “let’s spend some money and see what happens”. Like NBN, they could be good initiatives, but without clear business case. And look, we already have tax breaks for R&D, as well as grants for R&D.

    Come to think of it, I should remove “building houses” from my list, as this clearly happens with government intervention and market distortion.

    Reply
  12. “Come to think of it, I should remove “building houses” from my list, as this clearly happens with government intervention and market distortion.”

    You should definitely remove ‘building houses’ from your get rich quick list, SV. Remember that the FHOGs built many tens of thousands of homes. We really don’t need any more built to cope with the next two decades. ;)

    “…government intervention…” (?) Interesting to see the amount one may write-off in CGT through Super already halved during Kevin Rudd’s term, to be halved again (75% reduction) by 2013. You should definitely _not_ be building houses, if you believe it’s the easy, quick road to riches. :)

    Biker Pete
    April 19, 2010
    Reply
  13. Easy SV, the government needs to end its monopoly on the issuance of [bad] debt as money. This is what creates your market distortions.

    Which it won’t do voluntarily, so it must be forced to do so by the people, who won’t do it because they like easy ‘money’ too.

    But one day, in the not to distant future at that, the last fool will accept the unpayable debt of others as ‘payment’ for his/her time & effort.

    That’s the day gold takes no prisoners.

    Reply
  14. That graph says a great deal, Ned. Add to that all we know about the dodgy-nodoc-lowdoc-NINJA-loans in the US and you can see why we haven’t followed them down the septic well… . :)

    Biker Pete
    May 28, 2010
    Reply
  15. Tah Biker – Yeh, one possible interpretation might be that if ya’ll spend 25 years leveraged at 33% and then decide that was fun so ya’ll see how it goes at 43%, after 15 years it could disappoint? Although I look forward to hearing the alternate grown-ups’ thoughts.

    This gold is funny stuff – My punt would be that it’s performed about as well as Oz housing over the last decade or so – Although with no rental return; And with a requirement that CGT is paid before one can get a feed off it; Irrespective, I must admit it’s fooled me! :)

    Reply
  16. How does a bloke mispell Ta? :)

    Reply
  17. Or misspell “misspell” maybe? :) Bedtime.

    Reply
  18. Bill’s latest write-up on China is a humdinger, folks. It’s possibly the best piece he has ever written. Makes me wonder why DR picked Japan as their ‘Buy of the Decade’. Watch for it in ADR, or visit the US site for an informative and entertaining read. Priceless.

    We’ve added China to our Long Ride List. :)

    Biker Pete
    May 29, 2010
    Reply
  19. Steve’s quote of the day

    “”No matter what the circumstances so called “property experts” will always tell you NOW is the best time to buy

    When prices are rising “Hurry up you better get in now before you miss out”

    When prices are falling “Quick you better get in now before they start to rise again””

    Reply
  20. Yes BB’s article was an interesting read. Especially given his trade of the decade as you say.

    I think you follow the international property markets more than me Biker, so remind me again, which nations have had significant property price corrections as part of the GFC – The only ones I can actually think of are the US, Spain and Ireland (apart from the likes of Latvia and Estonia and the UAE) – Even the UK is apparently only down by about 7% now after having gone up about 10% last year (depending which of the following stats one quotes):

    http://www.housepricecrash.co.uk/

    Those Yanks are a shocker hey?; Give them a nice shiny toy and it’s like they can’t help themselves but see how far and fast and hard they need to push it to make the wheels fall off! :)

    Reply
  21. No, Steve, it will _never_ be the right time for you to buy, I’m afraid.

    You’ll never buy when homes are high…
    When they plateau you’ll still say no…
    And if they crash… you’ll stay in cash.
    That favour that you asked of me
    just proves you want a house for _free_!

    :)

    Biker Pete
    May 29, 2010
    Reply
  22. I confess I don’t understand the UK property markets at all, Ned. To me, everything I saw during our last two trips (2005, 2010) seemed ludicrously overpriced. A relative’s home in Crawley, London, valued at A$1,200,000 just seemed silly. Yes, I know Britain’s population is over 40 million greater than ours, which may help explain house prices; but we saw nothing whatsover which seemed like good value between London and Edinburgh. If prices are stabilising, I’m pleased for friends and relatives there, but I think our future economic refugees will include more Brits and other Europeans.

    There may be Australian suburbs which seem extraordinarily high to Aussies, too. We have Perth suburbs with median prices well over five million… and I recently posted a link indicating there are over 1500 Perth streets with medians above a million… but frankly, most of these homes are luxurious palaces in comparison to million dollar homes we’ve stayed in, throughout England and Scotland.

    Location, location, location… the first, second and third rules in realty, I guess. Population, population, population too, I guess; although these must lag well behind the first three… .

    Biker Pete
    May 29, 2010
    Reply
  23. And if they crash… you’ll stay in cash.

    Arrr I don’t think so

    Reply
  24. It’ll be fun to see what the Brit pollies get up to Biker – Sounds like they are gunna up CGT; And give both their recovering housing and stock markets a whack in the process. Pollies in the West are doing a darn good good of figuring out how to give the term “political risk” a whole new meaning! :)

    Reply
  25. The number of tradesmen who have multiple properties here is astonishing, Ned. Yes, I know our miners all have a couple, but it seems that every tradie who comes to do a job on our latest project has at least three.
    Yet the vacancy rate in our focus area remains near zero!~

    Had dinner with our architect, who explained the UK situation to us a little better last night. He claims UK rents are so high… and interest rates so low… that if you have just a little cash, you’re positively geared immediately. That’s why UK prices remain high. He was able to demonstrate that theory closer to home. He buys Perth units ‘off-the-plan’ in Perth. Picked up the latest two in Perth for $400K each, gets $550pw in rent.

    Units have never been our thing, but the returns seem to be improving.

    “It’ll be fun to see what the Brit pollies get up to Biker – Sounds like they are gunna up CGT”

    Probably smoke and mirrors, Ned…. although their economic situation must call for a long spell in the intensive care unit!~

    Biker Pete
    May 30, 2010
    Reply
  26. “Arrr I don’t think so…”

    You’re a pirate, Steve? Now, don’t you go committing any piracy on travellers’ baggage to boost your ca$h re$erve$, you nautical fella! ;)

    Biker Pete
    May 30, 2010
    Reply
  27. According to the link you posted, my architect mate is wrong, Ned:

    http://www.numbeo.com/property-investment/rankings.jsp

    Missing from the comparison? Perth and Vancouver.
    But check out the Montreal figures. Maybe our youngest is right, after all!!~

    Biker Pete
    May 30, 2010
    Reply
  28. Steve’s quote of the day

    “People from Darwin are seriously deluded and need to go and seek mental help ASAP

    For a state/Territory with a population of 220 000 (some Local governments in Sydney have more people than this) in an area about 11 times bigger than England if these people seriously think there is any shortage of land they need to go to a mental home to be prepared to pay more than a house in London or New York

    But then again people from The Northern Territory are Australians after all so it wouldn’t surprise me”

    Reply
  29. Bangladesh has lots of people. And no real shortage of land.

    Reply
  30. Remind me to ask why you use granosite when we catch up Biker – Must admit I’m curious.

    Reply
  31. Granosite: We actually use Bitkote No 3 or K10 Plus, Ned… and we only use it where moisture collects against building materials: water features, window boxes, planter boxes, or garden areas facing onto brick, or concrete rendering. The yanks and canucks use a stucco spray applied onto chickenwire over ply or chipboard. Stucco is pretty weather resistant, but my first impressions, back in the mid-70s, weren’t favourable. I couldn’t believe they were creating mock-concrete out of papier-mache… !! Having said that, I’ve seen minimal deterioration of three storey homes, coated with the stuff, after nearly four decades. I’ve only seen one ‘failed’ job, with major cracking along ply joins (looked awful) but it may have been applied by amateurs… .

    We’re fairly conservative… brick and colourbond; but we’ve built a couple of SRE homes… one of which has walls 600mm thick, up to 10m high in places.

    Biker Pete
    May 30, 2010
    Reply
  32. Compare apples to apples, Steven.

    You want to do a fair comparison, compare Perth to Seattle. Both great little cities, very similar in numerous ways:

    http://www.numbeo.com/property-investment/compare_cities.jsp?country1=Australia&country2=United+States&city1=Perth&city2=Seattle%2C+WA

    Biker Pete
    May 30, 2010
    Reply
  33. “The yanks and canucks use a stucco spray applied onto chickenwire over ply or chipboard. Stucco is pretty weather resistant, but my first impressions, back in the mid-70s, weren’t favourable. I couldn’t believe they were creating mock-concrete out of papier-mache… !! Having said that, I’ve seen minimal deterioration of three storey homes, coated with the stuff, after nearly four decades.”

    Reason I asked is that my feelings towards same have been negative; As your’s obviously are – But Yes, given you’d mentioned it, I thought I’d ask – Given I’ve been contemplating cutting a few corners here. ;)

    Reply
  34. I reckon I’ve got termites (white ants) under the 95 m2 about 600 mm above ground level I call my home/hovel – Termite treatment will cost $2.5K plus. Must admit I lean towards the thought of drilling 4 holes in the floorboards and tipping a 210 L barrel of oil in each at under $100 each ($400 total) and seeing how the insects cope. (Used sump oil should be WAY cheaper of course?)
    I like the cleansing and pergative aromour of oil! :)

    Reply
  35. Ned, we use a brilliant product. It has wiped out three immense colonies very systematically. It’s called Termite Trap:

    http://www.termitetrap.com.au

    We had a whiteant problem at two of our houses, called in professional pest controllers, but they failed to do the job properly. Had to be called back, repeatedly: $$$$$$$$$$$$!!!! :(

    Then we had an infestation in two of our three orchards, where we couldn’t use poisons. Saw an ad in the paper, phoned them… ordered some traps and almost instantly had multiple hits in them. Made up the ‘special porridge’ (harmless to humans because we don’t have exo-skeletons) and WHAM(!) took out three separate underground colonies. The inventor, Ion Staunton, is based in your home state…. Sanctuary Cove, QLD: 1800 20 30 20.

    Apparently Ion has sold thousands of these traps, which look like green posts with a clear see-through cap, in WA… where we have more termites than you can shake a stick at. They’d eat the bloody stick!

    We now have these little green posts at several houses. A quick glance at the clear top immediately tells you if there’s activity, so you can make the little marri-munchers breakfast!! :)

    Biker Pete
    May 31, 2010
    Reply
  36. Thanks mate. I haven’t been panicking because I know this joint is made of some pretty tough hardhood – Which has withstood termite visitations in the past. But we’ve had a heck of a lot of rain here lately and I actually had a termite swarm inside the house – So Yep, they are about/here. Time to kick their little bottoms again I guess … :)

    Reply
  37. Comment by bi-ker peat;

    “You want to do a fair comparison, compare Perth to Seattle. Both great little cities, very similar in numerous ways:”

    Numbeo is a collection of Web pages containing numerical data, designed to enable any arsehole with an email addy to contribute or modify content. Numbeo provides statistical analysis of collected data from arseholes worldwide, mainly delusional baby boomers with much-spare-time. Numbeo calculates various indexes using aggregate data from any arsehole with an email addy and periodically publishes analysis of collected data from any arsehole with-an-email-addy and much-spare-time.
    Gee fucking whiz and holy frootloops batman, from now on Numbeo will be my numbeo one site since any-arsehole or delusional-baby-boomer with an email addy can edit. It must be true.

    Reply
  38. Comment by bi-ker peat;
    “You want to do a fair comparison, compare Perth to Seattle. Both great little cities, very similar in numerous ways:”
    Numbeo is a collection of Web pages containing numerical data, designed to enable any a@%$*#!e with an email addy to contribute or modify content. Numbeo provides statistical analysis of collected data from a@%$*#!es worldwide, mainly delusional baby boomers with much-spare-time. Numbeo calculates various indexes using aggregate data from any a@%$*#!e with an email addy and periodically publishes analysis of collected data from any a@%$*#!e with-an-email-addy and much-spare-time.
    Gee f@%$*!g whiz and holy frootloops batman, from now on Numbeo will be my numbeo one site since any-a@%$*#!e or delusional-baby-boomer with an email addy can edit. It must be true.

    Reply
  39. Just the stats, NV. Just check the stats. The comparison of Darwin to NY to Darwin is ludicrous. Comparison of Perth and Seattle is more appropriate… although Mercer recently rated Perth No. 21 and Seattle No. 50, in the ‘best cities in the world’ survey.

    This myth that US realty is cheap, as opposed to Australian property, is a good “it must happen here” theme to replay ad infinitum, but it’s just that, a myth. Yes, there are some US cities dramatically affected by the GFC… and other locations where speculators were leveraged to the hilt when it hit; but only the demise of the US buck would ever convince me to actually buy there. And note that I didn’t say “live there”… .

    I see we’re back to intergenerational slangin’. Good luck with that! ;)

    Biker Pete
    May 31, 2010
    Reply
  40. Intergenerational slangin’ ?

    Dad (66) and I went to the mall the other day to buy some new shoes.

    We decided to grab a bite at the food court.

    I noticed he was watching a teenager sitting at the next table.

    The teenager had spiked hair in four different colours; green, red, orange, and blue.

    My dad kept staring at her.

    The teenager kept looking and would find my dad staring every time.

    When the teenager had had enough, she sarcastically asked:

    “What’s the matter old man, never done anything wild in your life?”

    Knowing my Dad, I quickly swallowed my food so that I would not choke on his response; and sure enough, in classic style he responded without batting an eyelid…

    “Got stoned once and had sex with a peacock. I was just wondering if you were my daughter.”

    Reply
  41. This lot have had a crack at comparing 120 square meter apartments in various international cities:

    http://www.globalpropertyguide.com/most-expensive-cities

    Reply
  42. Another great link. Thanks, Ned. I’ll send it on to The Montreal Kid! :)

    Biker Pete
    May 31, 2010
    Reply
  43. Ned
    Interesting link but “all figures are based on the average for a 120 square metre apartment in a prime inner city area”. So it makes sense that those cities with the big money makers and that are “playgrounds” of the rich would take the top spots. Not sure it says anything other than the richest people live in Monaco, London and New York.

    Reply
  44. Good point Macca! For what it may be worth I notice that if you click on the prices per m2 there is some sort of apparent attempt made to drill down and suburbs are mentioned. But are those suburbs the ones the prices are actually based on? It would seem a reasonable assumption to make, but assumptions have a nasty tendency to be wrong.

    There’s certainly issues with trying to compare prices across countries though. Berlin being on a par with Auckland in that report – Maybe? Dunno.

    But it’s an interesting site regardless. One article seriously questioned the government stats that indicate prices in Spain have been holding up recently. And a commentor noted that a crackdown on using “black” money to pay part of the purchase price would contribute to that.

    Reply
  45. Steve’s quote of the day

    “”Australia is different”
    yes I agree Australia is different, it is a country full of morons so easy to mislead, manipulate, misinform and to fool, far far to easy, thats why it is different here in Australia.””

    Reply
  46. “…those cities with the big money makers and that are “playgrounds” of the rich would take the top spots…”

    And of course the rich are _forBIDden_ to bid for Australia’s hot spots, too, Ned. ;)

    That unwritten law which states that only morons may bid for property must mean that Steven really does have a chance! In a nation comprised completely of idiots, those few like Steven, with far to (sic) much intellect and education, must quickly triumph… . :)

    (You have missed some other wonderful Quotes of the Day, Ned!)

    Biker Pete
    May 31, 2010
    Reply
  47. Well I thought you needed encouragement, Steve; so I gave you a Gold Star.

    John,
    Vice-Moron

    Reply
  48. Auckland? Beautiful city with some delightful suburbs. Saw no bargains (2006) but really enjoyed the place. Can easily believe the ‘on par’ with Berlin…

    Biker Pete
    May 31, 2010
    Reply
  49. “Auckland? Beautiful city with some delightful suburbs”

    Auckland is a sewer…. Christchurch, Dunedin, Wellington are all much nicer places than Auckland…

    Ex grew up in NZ, has family there, we went over there many times while we were together.. Quite liked NZ but could/would never live there.. South Island is similiar to Ireland in some ways.. (Tassie too for that matter)

    Stillgotshoeson
    June 1, 2010
    Reply

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