Friday 10 October 2014

For sale in Christchurch: one excellent house near the beach

Our house in Christchurch is now for sale. While it's up for auction 1 November, sufficiently interesting offers prior to that would be entertained.

Here's the story of our house. And it could be your house.

When we moved to Christchurch in 2003, we wanted an apartment in town or by the beach. Not being able to find either, we rented a house in Bryndwyr. We wanted to buy a house in 2004 when the one-year lease was coming due; we hoped to go month-to-month while searching. Alas, the owners moved back from Dubai and so had only a month to search. So we rented again, this time in St. Albans. We hit the property market in earnest in the spring of 2005 (August), hoping to find a great place by the beach. And we did, so we bought it.

Before buying, we asked a friend in the Geology department at Canterbury where we should be buying if we were worried about earthquakes and tsunamis and if we wanted to be near the beach. She drew a little horseshoe on the map for us encompassing the spot where our house in South Brighton is. Because it's on about a 2 meter rise from street-level, it's that much higher above the water table, protecting against liquifaction and making it that much safer in any kind of tsunami event. It's also across the street from South Brighton elementary, and consequently that much farther from the water in the Estuary: this also reduces the risk from any tsunami.

While we were focusing our search on that location, we'd have bought this house just about anywhere, had it been elsewhere. The wood panelling and old wooden floors, well, we fell in love.

From 2005 through 2014, we loved the place. We still love it. One of the upstairs bedrooms became a nursery for Ira in 2008. Then the second upstairs bedroom stopped being my office and became Eleanor's room in 2010. The downstairs bedroom then served jointly as home office in the winter, and guest bedroom when my parents visited in the summers. Dad and I put the extra insulation into the attic; Dad put the boards down over the joists in the attic making an excellent huge storage space. He also put the coils up on the roof of the garage to help heat the pool. He built the self-contained sandbox in the back yard too, with lid that keeps the cats out before folding up into benches for use.

The house is great for entertaining. The kids can run off into the living room while the adults stay back in the kitchen and dining room. We've hosted huge dinner parties there, and especially around U.S. Thanksgiving, Guy Fawkes' Day, and Christmas, for our friends in the Economics Department, visitors, and transplanted North Americans.

In the summers, we'd get home from work around 5:30, then run off to the beach with the kids - a five minute walk from the door - with one of us staying back to cook dinner. Post-dinner romps through the dunes were also great.

We were paranoid when we bought; I doubt anybody else in town in 2005 consulted a geologist before buying. We also had a thorough building inspection. The place is great. And, the work paid off when the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes hit. Our property saw no liquifaction and no real land damage. The piles shifted a bit, the decorative brick chimney needed to come down, and there was cracking to the paint, but the house was entirely liveable while we waited until May 2014 for our opt-out repairs to begin.

The house has great indoor-outdoor flow for entertaining. We had a dozen people scheduled to come over for a pre-Christmas event on 23 December, 2011, when the large aftershocks hit. We swept up the broken glass, moved the dining table outside along with the chairs, and turned it into an outdoor dinner, serving from inside, with the double french doors wide open on a perfect, but shaky, summer's afternoon.

The quake taught us a lot too about our local community. In short, it's superb. You won't find better. Our neighbours are all excellent. We miss them; you'll appreciate them.

All of our repair work was done by our opt-out contractor, Character Homes. You are not getting some shoddy "Who knows which contractor Fletcher's picked" job here. We chose a contractor who specialises in old wooden character homes because we love our house and couldn't bear to see it fixed poorly. We booked in with them shortly after the February 2011 earthquakes, back when we all had such optimistic dreams of speedy EQC assessment and repairs. Repair work started May 2014 and finished in September. And so it's fresh and new for you, but with repairs set before we knew we were going to move to Wellington: we've done it as though we were doing it for ourselves.

And rather than use the AMI/Southern Response payout for the minor cracking to the driveway to replace the driveway, we put it all into making sure that every weatherboard was sound and every wall and windowframe was painted. The prior owner built that driveway to double the existing specs, or at least that's what he told us when we bought, with double the re-bar and far thicker cement pads. I couldn't imagine that any replacement, on insurance, would be as good as what's there, so we made the house as close to perfect as we could instead.

There's one remaining insurance claim - the lining on the pool twisted in the quakes; we've yet to see a Southern Response assessor on it. The claim will transfer, but the pool is perfectly fine to use. The twisting means that the lining will deteriorate more quickly than it otherwise would, but we've had two great summers of swimming since the quakes. Our four year old swims like a fish because of it, as does our six year old.

Real estate sites are always a bit dry. It's hard to get a sense of how a house *works* from a set of pictures. When we were buying in Wellington, where we've moved because I've taken a new job, I had no end of frustration in trying to understand what a house was *like* from a set of pictures. How does one room flow into the next? So I took this video as walk-through. It's far longer than is reasonable for somebody who just wants a quick feel for the place, but if you're weighing up whether the open home is worth your time and the auction worth your bidding, you should watch it. Eleanor, our four year old, provides the tour. The repair work wasn't quite done when I took the video back in August: there's a pile of curtains on the kitchen island that are now back up on the windows, and there's blue tape marking the spots that Character Homes still needed to tidy up. But you'll get a feel for the place.

I wish we could have brought the house with us to Wellington. Our loss is your gain; I hope you'll love the house as much as we have.

Here's Eleanor to take you through. Enjoy.


  1. Now that's advertising :)

    Nice house, love all the wood. Good luck with the sale.

  2. Sounds lovely. Only two problems.

    1. I already have a house I'm fond of, with lots of fruit trees that I planted, although not on a beach.

    2. In California.

  3. Well, if you're ever looking to escape, New Zealand's rather nice. It's less crazy than most places.

  4. Agreed. I visited a few years ago and enjoyed it.