Auckland housing Part One: Not everything is big in Texas



Ranch-style home on set-back section, 3 bedrooms/2 bathrooms. Kitchen has view to heated pool and private outdoor area. Deck on multiple levels. Kitchen has double oven, glass cooktop and microwave. Master bedroom has private outdoor access. Main bathroom has jetted tub, his/hers shower heads & double vanity. Several floor to ceiling picture windows let in the natural light, garage with entry from house Established neighbourhood close to city centre.

PRICE: $565,000.

So much for the real estate agent’s blurb. Given the median price of an Auckland home has now topped $810,000 while the average figure is even higher at more than $950,000, this property sells itself.

There has to be a catch. And there is one – and a rather large one. This house is in Austin, a city in Texas with a population of around one million people.

So what’s the point of all this? Making comparisons with other countries can be highly invalid. But pictures can tell a lot of stories. And the pictures above are really telling.

The price above is not American dollars. It is the New Zealand dollar equivalent of the listed price of US399,000.

There is some downside. Property taxes for this home – basically the equivalent of local body rates – are more thanNZ$11,000 per annum on current evaluations. If the property is Subsequently sold-on, then the sale could be subject to a capital gains tax depending on the size of any profit and other factors pertaining to the United States horrendously complex tax system.

There is nothing out of the ordinary about this house, however.You can find hundreds like it across Austin on real estate agents’ sites. And Austin was just picked at random.
If you were willing to fork out the equivalent of the Auckland median price, you would be on a whole new level again.

Why suburban American houses are cheaper than New Zealand ones is not immediately clear. Like Auckland, there is a shortage of skilled labour, such as carpenters. But there might be fewer restrictions on what kind of land can be used for building houses. Construction materials are likely to be cheaper. And, significantly, property prices have taken some years to recover following the slump which was part of the global financial crisis. However, Chinese investment in American real estate is mushrooming.

Does the following sound familiar?

Austin officials are quoted as saying house supply shortages have reached critical levels throughout the region.

They say the number of affordable-priced homes are becoming smaller and father away from jobs, with homebuyers now looking at homes an hour or more outside The city.

However, the increase in the median price of Austin houses is a lot slower than the rampant rate of the Auckland market. The median rate in Austin has risen from around $US175,000 to nearly $300,000 currently. In the same period, the median wage has climbed far more slowly, from around US$70,000 to about US$95,000.

But, again, the photos tell the story. There is something radically wrong with Auckland house prices – as if you if don’t know already.


Euro 2016 Part Four: the Best and Worst

With France mourning yet more dead from yet another atrocity — committed on the most hallowed day on the French calendar — the patriotism and passion exhibited by the host country of Euro 2016 has been replaced by numbness and fear.

It is but small consolation in the wake of the Bastille Day slaughter in Nice that the month-long football tournament was free of terrorist incidents.
The only violence at Euro 2016 involved English and Russian thugs. And given they were largely fighting one another, that did not really matter that much.

It is somewhat ironic that the supposed supporters of those countries were causing havoc outside the stadiums while their teams were doing the exact opposite inside. Is there some connection between the two phenomena we don’t know about? Both sides were short on commitment and equally deficient in inspiration. In a word, feeble.

But enough of that. The story of Euro 2016 was one of upsets. The underdogs not only barked. They had bite. And plenty of it.

The gap between Europe’s elite and the continent’s supposedly second and third-rate football nations closed in quite dramatic fashion.

The shock results had a perverse effect, however. How did Portugal — officially ranked in the world’s top ten — become European champions despite finishing third in their four-team group? And did they really deserve to get their hands on the trophy?

Had the tournament finals not been extended from 16 nations to 24 for Euro 2016, Portugal would have been on the plane home even earlier than England.

Portugal was seeded into one of the easier groups from which to qualify for the knock-out stage. The drew all three of their group games against Iceland, Hungary and Austria — all teams which Cristiano Ronaldo’s team should have whipped.

Then the complex formula used to work out which third-placed countries in the six groups would go on to the knock-out stages resulted in Portugal ending up on what was by far the easiest side of draw. The other side included the football giants of France, Germany, Spain and Italy. Only one of those teams could make the final.

The surprise success of Wales also worked in Portugal’s favour. The Welsh produced one of the most crucial of the shock results in defeating a star-studded Belgium. The Belgians had shown in their previous game just how good they could be, with Chelsea’s Eden Hazard running rampant in the 4-0 victory over Hungary.

Knocking out Belgium saw Wales make it through to the semi-finals. And a showdown with Portugal, the latter having just squeezed past Poland after a penalty shoot-out.

Without Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey, who was suspended for having picked up too many yellow cards, the Welsh lacked midfield inspiration and basically ran out of steam. Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale, who would be on most people’s list as one of the candidates for the best player in Euro 2016, could not do it all on his own.

Because Wales and Portugal fought out the first semi-final, the latter got an extra 24 hours to recover before the final.

However, Portugal’s good fortune ran out 25 minutes into the final against France — and in the worst possible way,,with an injured Ronaldo stretchered off.

What difference that made was hard to tell.

After that interruption, it suddenly became anyone’s game with both sides creating numerous chances and hitting the woodwork several times before Eder, one of Portugal’s substitutes, settled the matter in extra time.

As the final whistle, Portugal’s horrors during the group stage were ancient history. But enough of that. It is time to hand out a few awards.

BEST TEAM: France. If only by virtue of defeating Germany 2-0 in the semi-finals. The current holders of the World Cup were not at their absolute best. The German team looks to be in transition. But getting the better of any German line-up is the toughest task in football.The French team was stacked with high-quality players who rose to the occasion, though not necessarily all at the same time, and that was a factor in their defeat in the final.

UNLUCKIEST TEAM: Italy. The national team was knocked out of the tournament by Germany following an extraordinary penalty shoot-out which was nerve jangling in the extreme. It took 18 shots from the penalty spot before the Germans prevailed by six successful spot-kicks to Italy’s five. Seven players muffed their shots.

BEST PLAYER: France’s Antoine Griezmann. He was the tournament’s top scorer. He was everywhere and involved in everything. His toe-poke of the ball past desperate German defenders to seal a place in the final was pure magic.

WORST PLAYER:  England’s goal-keeper Joe Hart. There will be some other, lesser known players who deserve such approbrium. And unlike other positions, a goal-keeper’s mistakes are there for all to see. But Hart had looked off-form during the last Premier League season and confirmed his vulnerability with three very costly blunders in three of England’s four games.

BEST GOAL: Switzerland’s Xerdan Shaqiri’s spectacular bicycle-kick against Belgium is most commentators’ favourite. However, it was a speculative effort which came off. The one that sticks in the mind was Italy’s second goal, also against Belgium. Graziano Pelle got on the end of a waist-high cross and with both feet off the ground executed a perfect volley which thundered into net .He would have been embarrassed if he had missed or miskicked the ball. He didn’t.

BEST SAVE: During the final, Portugal’s goalkeeper Rui Patricio somehow got his hand to a French header bound for the top corner of his goal and flicked the ball over the bar with little more than his fingers.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS:  Spain. Never looked like retaining their title. Or even getting close to doing so. And Belgium.  An enigma. They were the pick of many experts making pre-tournament predictions, given they were second only to Argentina in FIFA’s world rankings. They were dissected into tiny pieces by Italy during the group stage. They lived up to expecrtatons — and much more — with a stunning second-half demolition of Hungary. They briefly looked like doing the same against Wales. But Wales had the one thing that Belgium lacked — superb teamwork, total commitment to winning the ball, 100 per cent proof team spirit and, as the tournament progressed, soaring self-confidence that they could make things very tough for any supposedly superior side. And , of course, Bale’s lethat left foot. His energy, drive and ability to alter the course of a match with a flash of brilliance made it possible for a squad full of players which were hardly household namesJust a pity that Ramsey picked up those yellow cards.

BIGGEST EMBARRASSMENT: Not just England’s players. Premier League teams teams may seem full of players from every nation other than England. But that is no excuse. All European leagues are dominated by foreign players these days. So why do England teams fail so often fail to progress beyond the early stages of international competitions? Why do so many players produce such sub par performances when they pull on an English shirt?  Fear of failure is a viscous circle which only results in more failure and thus even more fear. But it is the coach’s job to deal with that. The Football Association needs to be accountable for what happened in France, especially given the the team”s equally abysmal showing at the last World Cup in Brazil. Somerhing is rotten somewhere. England needs to examine why the likes of Germany, Italy and France consistently make the quarter-final stages in the World Cup and the the  just completed competition restricted to European nations. And with just two years until the next World Cup in Russia, changes must happen quickly. If there is anyone doubting a shakeup is needed should ponder the following facts. France’s 5-2 thrashing of Iceland put England’s defeat by the football minnow into truly awful perspective. France was 4-0 up at half-time. The game was over. England was 1-2 down against Iceland at half-time.The game was over.

BEST HEADLINE:: “Cod Save Us”. British tabloid The Sun harks back to the 1970s, last time England buckled to Icelandic — the “Cod Wars” of the 1970s when the two couturiers were in bitter dispute over fishing rights in the North Atlantic.

BEST QUOTE: “I don’t know what I’m doing here.” — England’s now former boss Roy Hodgson  questioning why should front for a press conference, given he had already quit the job. Hodgson was right. He seemed to have no idea of what he was doing.from the moment he arrived in France, if not before.

Shorten-ing the odds on Labour

It would be unwise to draw too many inferences for New Zealand domestic politics from last Saturday’s deadlocked election in Australia. But some things which happened during the marathon eight-week campaign will come under scrutiny by National, Labour, the Greens and other parties on this side of the Tasman.

John Key, in particular, will want to know why Malcolm Turnbull’s Liberals — National’s sister party — did so badly.

The final results in some crucial seats will not be known until later in the week. But Turnbull, who decided to hold an early election with the purpose of securing majorities for the Liberal-National Party coalition in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, is now staring down the barrel of a hung Parliament in the lower one and even more obstacles in getting legislation through the upper one.

Key, however, will be asking why Turnbull’s prime theme that only the coalition could be relied upon to maintain economic stability while promising tax cuts failed to convince people to stick with the status quo. That theme has been a fundamental part of National’s election strategy.

The answer might be two-fold. First, the Lucky Country has not been so lucky over recent years following the end of the minerals boom and cuts in manufacturing, best symbolized by the closure of car plants. For many voters previously getting hefty pay packets, there is no longer any economic stability to maintain.

Second, the 2014 Budget — the first one to be delivered by the newly-elected government led by Tony Abbot — was one tough document which was a brave attempt to get government finances back into surplus as soon as possible.

. It was so stringent that it prompted an across-the-board backlash from which the coalition never really recovered.

That does not answer the question of the political efficacy of tax cuts.

Turnbull, however, was basically outmaneuvered on tax cuts by Bill Shorten, the leader of the Australian Labor Party, who shrewdly avoided slamming all of his opponent’s tax cut plans.

Shorten made it clear that the ALP would not try to block the raising of tax thresholds for those in the middle-impact bracket. However, his party did not support big companies enjoying promised cuts in company tax, saying that such reductions should only apply to small enterprises.

Shorten instead concentrated on bread-and-butter issues by constantly stressing his priorities were more jobs and better provision of education, health and other social services. It was traditional Labour party stuff.

And it seems to have worked. In leading his party to the brink of power, if not power itself, Shorten defied the political pundits who were almost universal in predicting that while Turnbull would lose some seats, he would retain a comfortable enough majority.

Shorten’s success should give New Zealand Labour more confidence to make a similar pitch to voters here at next year’s election. Labour senses that tax cuts are no longer the boon they have been for National. Labour senses a mind shift among voters that the surpluses forecast by the Treasury would be better utilised in tackling growing inequality, especially to help those at the bottom of the economic heap.

Andrew Little can also take some heart from Shorten’s performance during the election campaign. Prior to that, Shorten came across as a machine politician who whined about everything his opponents did just for the sake of it.

But he has since flowered. His relaxed personable style and approachability seemed to hit the right spot with voters. Shorten’s back story as a trade unionist did not appear to hurt him — another potential plus for Little.

Having said all that, too much can be made of last Saturday’s swing to the ALP. That was more down to a plunge in support for the ruling Liberal-National coalition. The ALP’s share of the primary vote rose from the 33.38 per cent recorded at the 2013 election to 35.32 per cent.

Those figures hardly justify cracking open the champagne. In fact, you could seriously argue the result is merely a minor blip upwards in what has otherwise been a major downwards trend in the ALP vote over recent elections,and which is likely to continue unless the party finds a way of stemming the increasing flow of voters switching to minor parties.

In that regard, the Australian Greens have a long-term of strategy to capture inner-city seats from the ALP in the major metropolitan. This threat resulted in so-called “dirty deals” being struck between the ALP and the Liberals, the former party’s traditional enemy. In some seats, Liberal Party voters have beenurged to give their second preferences to the ALP candidate in order to shut out the Greens’ candidate.

New Zealand’s electoral system is less complicated than Australia’s — and thus not prone to such perverse maneuvering. But Labour and the Greens will have to consider electoral accommodations in order to shut National’s governing allies out of Parliament. Doing so will be a test of the strength of the recently-signed co-operation agreement between both Opposition parties.

Boris, Nigel and Michael: The cautionary tale of the Three Brexiteers


Treachery upon treachery; back-stabbing upon back-stabbing. Things rarely get as brutal as the raw politics currently on vivid display in Britain’s deeply-divided Conservative Party.

One MP has described the turmoil within the party as making House of Cards look like Teletubbies. There is not just blood on the floor. There is blood everywhere you look. So much, in fact, that commentators and columnists daily reach for Shakespeare as they try to put the extraordinary happenings into some kind of context.

Over the past 24 hours, the preferred text has been Julius Caesar. “Et tu Brute” has become “Et tu Michael” after Boris Johnson’s supposed closest ally, Michael Gove, who is secretary,of state for justice, pulled his backing for the former mayor of London and announced he was entering the race to become the Conservative Party’s new leader.

Realising that he no longer had the numbers to capture the party’s top job — and thus become prime minister by default — Johnson soon after announced he would not be a candidate for the leadership.

By that stage, he had the backing of fewer than 50 of the party’s 330 MPs.

His rise and fall — for the time being at least — is an instructive lesson in political basics.

Johnson is a flamboyant, out-of-the-ordinary politician whose clownish air of wackiness endears him to voters. Despite having a blue-blooded background — he was educated at Eton and Oxford — Johnson is able to cross the barriers of class and reach out to the ordinary British voter.

Last week’s stay-or-go referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union emphatically also showed he is a winner. For centre-right parties like the Conservatives, power is everything. And they are willing to tolerate the eccentricities of a leader who delivers that commodity.

Within the parliamentary wing of the Conservative Party, however, Johnson is in very short supply of two essential ingredients needed to get to the top of politics’ greasy pole — trust and loyalty.

Johnson is hated by a few of his parliamentary colleagues, but disliked and distrusted by many more.

They rapidly turned into a “Stop Boris” lobby. This drew together MPs who had campaigned for Britain to stay in the European Union, along with other MPs who were anti-Europe and read his conciliatory comments after the referendum as a sign he was not serious about implementing the result. Then there were the Cabinet ministers and MPs worrying about their future under a Johnson-led government.

Many questioned whether Johnson was capable  of uniting the party and the country.

Furious  supporters of David Cameron regarded Johnson as a crass opportunist who had used the referendum and his sudden re-discovery of his Euro-scepticism in order to destroy the Prime Minister.

There were those who saw his backing of the Leave campaign as indicating that he was a politician who put self-interest ahead of the national interest and who played politics with such a crucial question as Britain’s rightful place in Europe.

And there were those who simply did not think Johnson was up to handling the job of prime minister.

There is, of course, poetic justice in Johnson having stabbed Cameron in the back, only to feel Gove’s cold stiletto this week doing the same thing to him.

Up to that point, Johnson’s cynicism had gone unchecked.

Stamping his imprimatur on the Leave campaign was a cost-free exercise for Johnson. The referendum was a matter of political life and death for Cameron.

Had the Leave campaign been thrashed, then Johnson would have looked a fool. But the polls showed there was no danger of that happening. It was was all upside for Johnson. Had the referendum resulted in a narrow majority in favour of Britain staying in Europe, Johnson could have still claimed a kind of victory because most people expected the Remain camp to win by a reasonable margin.

In contrast, Cameron had to win — and preferably win big. The victory of the anti-Europe lobby was a de facto vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister. Cameron had to go.

UKIP’s Nigel Farage was meanwhile declaring “Independence Day” for Britain. Having achieved its goal, UKIP had made itself redundant.

But within hours of the final vote count, the full title of Farage’s party — the United Kingdom Independence Party — was looking like a sick joke. The Kingdom was no longer United.

Farage and Johnson could have never imagined that in their moment of triumph that the result would be sliced into tiny pieces by Scotland’s formidable first secretary, Nicola Sturgeon.

Suddenly, the only talk of independence was focussed solely on Scotland’s future in the United Kingdom.

It quickly became apparent that Brexit had achieved much. But none of it could be deemed as being positive. Or in Britain’s national interest for that matter.

The British pound has slumped in value. No-one can claim to know Brexit’s impact on the British and European economies along with those beyond the continent’s shores. There is the likely break-up of the United Kingdom. There has been abuse of migrants from Eastern Europe and the prospect of inter-generational friction between younger voters and the elderly.

Worse, Britain’s two-fingered salute to Paris, Berlin, Rome, Brussels and Europe’s other capitals has given succour to extreme parties on the right peddling variants of the ugly and dangerous brew of ultra-nationalism — the very thing that the architects of a united Europe were trying to eliminate.

Brexit has coincided with those political movements already making strong gains in support on the back of public fears that the tidal wave of economic and other refugees crossing the Mediterranean from Africa and the Middle East will take their jobs, lower wages and increase taxes to fund the extra housing, education, health and other social services that will be required to cope with the sudden influx.

The political casualties of this public panic are the old centre-left and centre-right parties who provided the foundations of the European Union, but who are now paying a price for that.

Those parties largely provided the cement which has made the integration of member nations’ economies possible. The sharp decline in support for those parties, most notably those of the social democratic variety, is bound to weaken the European Union.

Someone else stands to benefit from fracturing of that collective — Russia’s president Vladimir Putin. Having been hit by European sanctions following his military excursions in the Crimea and Ukraine, no doubt the smile on his face is as broad as the one exhibited in public by Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s right-wing National Front following the result of the referendum.

If Johnson did not think through the possible implications of victory for the Leave option, then he is not qualified to be prime minister If he was aware of the possible repercussions, then his silence on those matters shows a bottom-of-the-barrel level of cynicism that likewise disqualifies him from the job.

Those potential implications explain why officials running the European Commission along with MPs in the European Parliament want Britain to exit the European Union as quickly as possible.

They do not want things to drag on.They want to remove the uncertainty surrounding the mechanics of the parting of the ways. They don’t want other member states to catch the British disease.

They have made it crystal clear that Britain will not be allowed to dine a la carte during negotiations on the country’s exit. In other words, Britain cannot expect to get trade-offs and compromises on things that really matter to London.

For example, post-referendum, Johnson’s advisers were floating the notion of not banning completely the free movement of citizens of countries in the European Union by granting work permits to those who had secured a job prior to arriving in Britain while blocking entry to those who were going to Britain merely to look for work.

In return for this supposed concession to European Union rules, Britain would still retain access to the single European market.

The message from a very angry Europe is forget it. You are either in or out.