Everyone wants to know why New Zealand? Why now? We’ve fielded this question a hundred times in the last year and most recently in the interview with our New Zealand Immigration Services case officer (although our answer to NZIS was somewhere between the short and long versions below).
The short answer: Well, because it’s there and why not! We’re ready for a change; we’re looking for a better quality of life; we’ve got nothing to lose; and damnit, I’m in my 40’s and am in need of an adventure (read jokingly: middle-life crisis)!
A better (and way more lengthier) answer:
Convergence and Quality of Life.
During the last four years Bruce and I have gone round and round about what lay next on the horizon for us. Something was stirring inside of me – I was feeling done with San Francisco, stifled in my job, tired of my scene, and really annoyed with the rapid inflation of housing prices which was preventing us from ‘trading up’ without sacrificing our current quality of life (ie: nicer & more expensive house = working a lot more and harder to pay for the mortgage). The Bay Area was seeming more and more congested; we avoided travelling anywhere outside the city which would take us over traffic-jammed bridges. Rapid housing development along the entire SF to Sacramento corridor and beyond made it virtually impossible to get out of the city for an enjoyable weekend to Tahoe or beyond without spending five or six hours on the road. This beautiful city was looking rather bleak to me. This was not how I wanted to live. I’ve loved San Francisco and suddenly my soul was screaming to get out. I hated feeling ‘stuck’.
Bruce loves San Francisco too and was not prepared to bail out. However his involvement in the SF real estate market (buying, renovating, and selling small buildings) was slowly dwindling – the opportunities for finding ‘value’ were drying up, the chances for turning a profit were becoming much more riskier. We spent some time expanding our search for good real estate value to the broader Bay Area; we were looking for something within a two hour radius of San Francisco. Again, it was not to be found without some quality of life sacrifice which we were not prepared to make. And then came the 2004 elections. The thought of another four years of GWB and his administration and the slow, quiet erosion of our civil liberties under the auspices of homeland security was too much to bear. On top of that, Bruce, through his diligent and copious research of the global markets felt that the United States was heading for a fall – unprecedented debt, rising inflation — the dollar was sure to tumble. He started looking outside the United States for investment opportunities.
And the convergence began. Slowly, coming from different points on the spectrum, our feelings aligned and we both realized it would be a good time to leave. We figured we still had a good 40 to 50 years of life left to live and we wanted to live it creatively and adventurously. Each of us had always dreamed of living abroad. We had traveled to New Zealand on our honeymoon in March 2003 and had the wonderful pleasure of spending five weeks in what I would call heaven on earth. We loved it – the beauty, the people, the low density, the seemingly more open-minded and progressive politics, the slower paced life style. We always said we’d return.
We started talking about leaving the US somewhere around the summer of 2004. “If GW wins the election, we’re leaving” we and our friends started saying. Where would we go? The requirements were for an English-speaking, developed country – Canada, the U.K., and New Zealand all came to mind. The choice was easy. New Zealand was enjoying an unprecedented economic boom and they were running a severe shortage of qualified people – there just weren’t enough people in the country to support its growth. The immigration requirements were fairly easy and the categories under the skilled shortages list ran the gamut from blue-collar crane operators and brick layers to white-collar microbiologists and I.T. specialists — I could qualify under the I.T. umbrella.
We started our research. Bruce went on a solo fact-finding mission in December 2004 to explore real estate investment opportunities. We had connected with a realtor in Christchurch beforehand and had set up appointments for him to meet with her. Bruce also had some contacts lined up in Auckland. Initially he was looking for opportunities in commercial properties but his few days in Auckland proved that there was little upside in the commercial realm. He next went to Christchurch, the third largest city in the country, and a place which we had not been to previously. He fell in love with it. It seemed to offer everything we were looking for: urban enough (population only 300,000), bike-friendly, quaint neighborhoods, low-density, good vibe, and inexpensive housing (at least relative to San Francisco). He was shown residential properties all around Christchurch and called me excitedly one night to say he’d seen a house that offered some upside potential and would be a cool place to live for a while. It had a GIANT yard, room for a garden, and lots of space for us to spread out into so we could pursue our various hobbies. We discussed it over the phone, and sight-unseen, I gave my okay to bid on the property. Bruce flew home, we got the property and within sixty days, he was the proud owner of a property in Christchurch, New Zealand.
We did more research on immigration, stumbled onto the NuKiwi website, signed up for their free monthly newsletter, and read everything we could about the country. Our initial target for moving was in the 18 to 24 month timeframe; we had a whole life to unravel and disentangle from in the states. In January 2005 we started the disengagement process. For the last five years I’d owned and been running a lovely vacation rental property on the north shore of Kauai. It was barely covering itself; I was dependent on my current job in San Francisco to help cover its cost. If we were going to move abroad, I was going to have to not have any significant financial burdens and so the decision was made to sell it. It was time anyway as it was starting to wear me down – managing it from afar had started to take its toll on me. I loved the property though and had dreams of it being my sanctuary. I’d hoped to set up my life so I could spend a few months a year there but that never quite happened. It was a bittersweet decision but was certainly helped by the fact that Kauai was enjoying an unprecedented real estate boom much like that of the Bay Area and I stood to make an enormous profit. It took months to source a realtor and prepare for the listing. The property sold within 60 days to a young surfer dude from southern california who, much to my happiness, planned to keep operating it as a vacation rental. I had my ticket to freedom.
I also started my disentanglement from my job of 14 years. I was serving as the project manager on a lengthy software integration & implementation and didn’t want to leave them in the lurch. I gave close to nine months notice. At the same time Bruce started his unraveling process. He still had some investment interests in the city and needed to close them. We also began prepping our family and friends for our departure. It was hard.
Bruce was turning forty in April 2005 and we’d been talking with friends for months beforehand about doing a group vacation abroad. The initial destination was Amsterdam, but once we began talking about migrating to New Zealand, we thought it would be better to go there instead: it would be fun, we’d get to expose our friends who had not been before AND we’d be able to continue with our research and allow me to see Christchurch firsthand. Ten of us went on the trip. It was amazing. I loved the city and I loved the house. We met some lovely locals, we met with immigration specialists and got clarity on the timeline and process, and suddenly we felt the pull to be there. There was no way we could wait 18 to 24 months, we needed to bump up the timeframe.
As soon as we returned in mid-April, we hired an immigration consulting firm called Immigration Law Advocates to help with the process. (details of the immi process can be found in a separate post). We were told it could take anywhere from six to eight months to complete and we were now shooting for a move date of year-end. Unfortunately our target date slipped by a few months as we didn’t get our final visas returned to us until early December. Our move date is now February 28, 2006. We are excited and yet terrified at the same time.
The journey and the convergence we’ve experienced over the last year has been nothing short of a miracle. I feel so fortunate to have someone who wants to go on this adventure with me. The journey’s not always been easy and there’s rarely been a day we don’t say to each other ‘are you sure you want to do this?’ But we have a common dream – we want to find a parcel of land that will allow for multiple dwellings; we’re going for a co-housing concept; we want to live amongst like-minded people, we want to have a garden and have a more simpler lifestyle. We’re interested in permaculutre and Bruce has been stocking up on all sorts of books on topics ranging from building your own greenhouse and root cellars to beekeeping to humanure composting . We don’t really have any experience with ‘farming’ per se, so we hope to gain some firsthand experience by working on some farmstays and becoming WOOFERS. We are fortunate in that we won’t have to look for ‘traditional’ jobs and that we can take the year ahead to continue with our research and travel around the country searching for the ‘right’ property. However, we will need to continue to generate revenue so we’ll be looking for some real estate projects – I envision this could take the form of another vacation rental property or it could mean a renovation project. I’d love if we could integrate all of this together. It’ll be a fun ride and we hope you’ll all come along – please stay in touch as we will miss all of our friends and family we’re leaving behind.