Buying a house in New Zealand is a bit of a different experience than buying in the UK.
I will not attempt to give you a complete guide to house buying in NZ (as I am no expert!) but will share our experience.
Firstly, and most importantly, it is a lot easier to be nosy and view far more houses than you can in the UK, thanks to the wonderful world of "Open Homes". On a Saturday or Sunday hopeful home sellers will allow their castles to be viewed by nosy neighbours and the odd genuine potential buyer. This is a brilliant idea as you can view many properties in an area that you are interested in and get a really good idea of whats available. It also means that you can view a property without being scrutinised by the anxious owners desperately trying to gauge whether you are genuinely interested or just come round for a bit of a jolly and a good old nose around!
The other confusing thing for us was the way in which houses are advertised. They are not all priced clearly. Some have "open to tender" which means that you can place a sealed bid on the property and the owner will accept the highest bid or the one with the best conditions. Others are advertised as "offers over" and you are open to offering an amount above the one stated. This is a silly idea as we found out when we offered the amount stated and were told they were looking for 30 thousand more. Well why not state that to start with!
Other properties go to Auction. We did not consider these as the whole idea of making a purchase for that amount of money on the spur of the moment just seemed a bit to scary for us. However other people I have spoken too have bought they houses through Auctions and apparently it is actually not that frightening on the day!
Once you have chosen your future dream home you can put in an offer (if it is advertised as "offers over") and you do this by contacting the Real Estate Agent advertising the property. They then take your offer to the owners and get back to you, much the same as in the UK.
With our property this involved a very anxious wait whilst at a 6 years old's birthday party and then having to sit on our hands for a few hours to prevent us ringing back immediately with our slightly higher offer. We did not want to seem too keen.
Once your offer has been accepted you then have to actually sign a conditional contract. This is obviously very different to the UK were you are free to drop out at any point if you change your mind on the purchase. In NZ you sign a contract stating you promise to buy the house providing certain conditions are met. Normally these conditions will include getting a LIM report done (the equivalent of a local authority search in the UK), a builders report and possibly an engineers report.
Unsurprisingly Kiwis have a very different and relatively relaxed approach to making the biggest purchase of their lives. Some friends I have spoken to did not bother getting a LIM report on their property, never mind a builders report! This horrified me as the thought of purchasing some of the wooden shacks and interestingly designed buildings around here (in an earthquake zone!) without getting them thoroughly checked seemed bizarre and mightily risky. However perhaps this more relaxed attitude it something I could do with occasionally.
We put a LIM report and builders report and an engineers report in our conditions. These are not cheap but as our house is somewhat unique and standing on very long poles we thought it would be a good idea to get it thoroughly checked.
All the reports came back okay. The builders report came back with a fairly long list of things highlighted in red (indicating they were things we really should consider carefully!). Luckily none of the things they highlighted were items that we hadn't already spotted as potential problems.
The Engineer thankfully said that the house was not going to go anywhere and that is had already been earthquake strengthened but the garage could probably do with a few extra strengthening struts. The very nice Engineer appeared to be in his sixties (every other one was currently in Christchurch working on the reconstruction) and very kindly climbed down a very dangerous slope to view underneath the house. I felt very guilt making this fragile looking man slide down a muddy slope on his bottom just to reassure me the house was not going to collapse in the near future.
Once all the conditions have been met you then sign a unconditional contract which if you back out of requires you to pay the owners your deposit in full. So do not sign this one unless you are absolutely certain this is the house you want.
Once you have decided on a date for completion and moving you will find that the estate agent will actually deliver the keys to you personally and usually with a gift of some sort! Estate agents make a lot of money over here and are therefore very grateful to the purchasers! When we complered our estate agent appeared on our doorstep with the keys and a big box done up with a beautiful bow. He had bought us a rather beautiful woolen blanket. A friend of ours recieved crystal glasses when they moved. Very surprising, but very welcome tradition!
So this was the house we wanted, despite the scary poles and dodgy looking roof. It is our shed in the wood and will hopefully be our family home for a long time to come. All we have to do now is put our own stamp on it. Give it the love and care it needs and bring it back to being the family home it once was.