A work of art: Auckland Art Gallery wins the New Zealand Architecture Medal

Auckland Art Gallery

One law of film making is that every great movie has an even better sequel – sometimes more. For proof, look no further than Meet the Fockers, Rocky V, and Police Academy: Mission to Moscow.

So it would be remiss of us not to follow suit and write a sequel to our earlier post on the New Zealand Architecture Awards. Last Friday, you see, the New Zealand Institute of Architects announced the winner of their supreme award, aka the New Zealand Architecture Medal. This year’s recipient is the very awesome Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki.

Inside the atrium of the Auckland Art Gallery

The architects who did the design work were Australian company Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp and Auckland-based Archimedia. Apparently there were some rumblings in the industry about the hiring of a – gasp – Aussie firm. The results speak for themselves. Aside from their medal-winning performance, fjmt and Archimedia previously collaborated on the University of Auckland Business School. The latter is also a fine piece of work – especially when thinking back to the time one spent as an economics student in Dunedin. Uni students have solved many of life’s biggest mysteries, but no one could answer the question: ‘why would anyone design a building with an atrium that floods every time it rains’?

Anyway. Revamping the Auckland Art Gallery came with a host of challenges. The architects were dealing with a heritage building that had been around since the 1880s. From this they had to come up with a revamp that would provide 50 percent more exhibition space and provide a cultural,  contemporary touch while preserving the building’s original character. A delicate balance made more challenging by the need to enhance, and not spoil, its relationship with the beautiful Albert Park in which it’s located.

On all counts it was Mission Accomplished. Since the new improved Gallery was completed last September over 500,000 visitors have been through their doors: doors which are now (along with the non-leaky atrium and forecourt) covered by some stunning kauri canopies.

Auckland Art Gallery

At a cost of $121 million, funded by central and local government alongside the Auckland Art Gallery Foundation, expectations and pressure were high. As the NZIA’s citation reads, “the Art Gallery’s requirements have been met, and so have Aucklanders’ expectations.” Take a bow, everyone!

Facebook spends billion on Instagram, baffles billions with ‘Camera’ app

Remember the time when Facebook, well Mark Zuckerberg specifically, went and bought Instagram for a whopping one billion dollars? Of course you do – no doubt you all read our blog on it at the time.

That rather excellent piece focused more on Instagram’s huge success than the motivations behind the purchase. Theories have abounded of course – expand Facebook’s arsenal, take out a potential competitor, felt like it – but overall people were less concerned with why it was bought, and more worried about what Facebook might do to everyone’s favourite photo-sharing app.

‘The Zuck’ said at the time – and I quote:

For years, we’ve focused on building the best experience for sharing photos with your friends and family. Now, we’ll be able to work even more closely with the Instagram team to also offer the best experiences for sharing beautiful mobile photos with people based on your interests.
“We believe these are different experiences that complement each other. But in order to do this well, we need to be mindful about keeping and building on Instagram’s strengths and features rather than just trying to integrate everything into Facebook.

“That’s why we’re committed to building and growing Instagram independently. Millions of people around the world love the Instagram app and the brand associated with it, and our goal is to help spread this app and brand to even more people. [Emphasis added]

Sounds good, right?

So why, then, did Facebook go and release THIS?

Facebook Camera mobile app

It hasn’t exactly opened to rave reviews. Mashable’s Christina Warren describes it as “an Instagram clone – and a second rate one at that”, while Reuters’ Anthony De Rosa reckons its clumsy interface and inferior filters make it feel “like something someone developed long before Instagram and was crushed out of existence.”

He’s half right. No Instagram employees’ brains were harmed during the making of this app: Facebook was working on Camera long before the Instagram purchase. So why release it when they already own a great product? Perhaps they thought “heck, we put so much time and effort into this – we may as well put it out.” That makes about as much sense as Te Papa buying the Mona Lisa, then placing it next to a display consisting entirely of the ‘nek minnit’ video on loop.

Unless, of course, there’s a whole other motive. Some wonder if Facebook might be thinking of switching all Instagram’s users over to Camera. Let’s hope not.

Alternatively Digital Trends, in a piece on how Instagram grew 78 percent from March to April, had a fascinating and “speculative” theory. It goes like this: with Instagram’s purchase (and the millions of users they bought with it), Facebook’s new mobile apps (Camera, Messenger and Pages Manager, the latter also released last week), and the rumours about them buying internet browser Opera,  could it be that Facebook are building toward the launch of their very own phone?

If so, then Facebook might just want to stick with Instagram, rather than Camera, if they want that launch to go better than their IPO.

What do you think – will you be trying out the new Camera app, or sticking with Instagram? Sound off in the comments or over on Facebook – if you dare!

Real estate videos, or ‘Totally unhidden candid home videos caught on camera’

Being relatively new to the worlds of real estate and photography, I have yet to come across a better source of information than the Photography for Real Estate blog. Why, the very title itself makes me drool at the thought of someone else doing the hard work for me. Don’t be surprised to see a few links to Larry Lohrman’s work here; his many years of experience makes him an absolute fountain of knowledge.

Not only that, he also causes me to ask plenty of questions of my own. Case in point – every Friday, Larry likes to post real estate videos from around the world. Watching a number of these got me wondering: when it comes to videos, what works and what doesn’t?

Watch enough of them and it becomes clear that, as with most things on this wacky planet, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way. Personal preference rules the roost. Some like videos without dialogue and set to mood enhancing background music. Others enjoy the narrated tours, or having the agent on camera talking us through. Many people prefer short videos – say, one to two minutes – while others are happy to spend five to ten minutes looking through a house via YouTube. An attractive option considering the wicked frost this morning.

Here is something we know for sure: high definition video, as Open2view provides, has a bright future. As Larry said last month, “I just noticed that in the last 7 days there have been roughly 32,800 YouTube videos that have the search string “real estate video”. I’m slowly coming to the realization that YouTube video may very well be the most significant development in real estate marketing since the invention of the big news print MLS book of the 1980′s.”

Open2view is passionate about presenting homes in their best possible light. If a house doesn’t stand out online, after all, why would anyone bother checking it out in person? Our videos make you feel as if you’re already there inside having a look around. It’s this warm, vicarious experience that gets our customers hooked.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on what style works for you. Do you prefer short or longer videos? Do you want to see the agent onscreen or would you rather let the images do the talking? Do you find music distracting or does it add to the experience?

Here are some videos to get your brain juices flowing. Let’s start, of course, with one of ours. Alex Porteous from Papamoa made this one just last week. Alex’s videos are short yet thorough – all killer, no filler.

Here’s an example of humour that, for me, frankly, falls a little flat. If it was my house in the video I’d be even less impressed. I’d be keen to know if you have a different view.

This, for me, works much better. What do you think of the deadpan delivery style of Paul Wilander as he presents this ‘Dome House’? It’s worth noting that the house owner shaved his head especially for this video. Talk about going above and beyond!

And finally – I would be remiss if I didn’t include this guy. Chris Gilmour is possibly the most eccentric real estate agent in Australia. He is also one of the very best. In this clip, Chris advertises a house while someone sprays him with a hose. As you do.

There are plenty of other styles of videos that I’ll cover in future editions. For now, put your film critic hats on and give us your opinions. Five stars, or two thumbs down? Let us know below or on our Facebook page!

Ratio gaga: how much should you save for a home deposit?

There have recently been calls for the Reserve Bank to be given more power than just controlling the Official Cash Rate. On the wishlist, among other weaponry, is the ability to regulate loan to value ratios – that is, how much of a house’s value you can borrow, and how much of the deposit you need to save.

“Good idea,” thought deputy governor Grant Spencer as he reclined in his leather armchair and sipped his camomile tea (I assume). As it turns out the RBNZ can already do this, if recent news is anything to go by.

Mr Spencer, tipped by many to be the next Reserve Bank Governor, has been openly musing about the idea of setting the minimum home deposit at 20 percent – giving us an LVR of 80%. This would have far-reaching effects on the home loan market and first-time buyers, as Mike Pero and others point out.

Twenty percent deposits were the norm two decades ago. During last decade’s housing boom banks were known for their generosity; 100 percent loans (yes, that’s a zero deposit required) were not unheard of. When the world’s financial system turned to custard in 2008, banks started insisting once again on 20 percent minimums. This has since been relaxed, and ten and five percent deposits are available once again. I’d draw a graph, but now I’m too dizzy.

Saving for a first home can be a most consuming experience. Of course an obvious, and compelling, point is the more you save the less you have to borrow. Interest.co.nz’s Rent or Buy Report (which I explored in an earlier post) estimates it will take 3.4 years, at a saving rate of 20 percent, for a household (two incomes) to reach a 20 percent deposit for a first home. For those who can save this at a reasonable clip the proposed rule change will make little difference. An 80 percent LVR, however, is no help to those who can’t.

There are other pitfalls. Existing homeowners may find it harder to increase their current mortgage. Helen O’Sullivan, chief executive of the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand, suggests there may even be a risk of a property market crash if the LVR was wound back to 80.  But it’s not all bad, she says: some restrictions could prevent future housing bubbles, and “the issue with bubbles is that they tend to burst.”

There’s another trend we need to tie in here. Right now mortgage rates are nosediving faster than The GC’s ratings. Bernard Hickey is encouraging homebuyers to “bully your banker” into giving a lower than advertised rate. It’s a good time to be a buyer, but if the Reserve Bank introduced an LVR of 80 percent today there’d be a lot of sad bullies left hanging. Who knows what the mortgage rate might be by the time they’ve stolen enough lunch money to reach the threshold.

Presently, people can borrow according to their circumstances. First-time buyers can get more leeway so they can break into the market. Balance is essential: too much leeway and some will end up drowning in debt. But, if homebuyers can benefit from a lower mortgage interest rate with a smaller deposit, all power to them.

Banks, as we have seen especially in the last few years, vary the LVR depending on the state of the economy, the health of the property market, and the ability of homebuyers to repay.

One size doesn’t always fit everyone, or every condition. Sure, the current system is not perfect – but no system is. Many benefit greatly from paying a higher deposit. Others ought to be talking to their bank about getting one of those low low mortgage deals available now.

To work out how much you should save for a house, check out one of the many online calculators offered by the banks and mortgage brokers.

I also highly recommend this short primer on loan to value ratios by Fundit.

Shoot for the moon: a guide to taking super moon photos

Poor Man in the Moon. While ineligible for the “most photographed person on the planet” title, he is nevertheless an immensely popular target.

This was even truer last weekend. Because the full moon ventured closer to Earth than any other time this year, it appeared a whole lot brighter (lucky) and larger (less envious of that) than usual. Scientists refer to this as a ‘perigee moon’. Everyone else calls it a ‘super moon’, or ‘pretty’.

I had a go at some moon photography over the weekend in the hope I could impart some useful advice to any fellow rookies. One hour and ninety photos later I began drafting a “what not to do” article in my head. That, however, is okay. ‘Learning by doing’ can be fun, even if it doesn’t mean winning a Pulitzer Prize or becoming rich and famous.

That’s not to say I didn’t conduct some research before heading out. The Insight Guides Blog contained some great tips on moon photos. They suggest using “a long, fast lens on a DSLR” (digital single-lens reflex camera). Tripods are also strongly recommended – especially for shots that require a long exposure time.

They also recommend aiming for round about a two second exposure time. This varies of course depending on what time you’re photographing, and the effect you’re aiming for.

It also depends on what you read. Another piece, for instance, suggested using as short an exposure time as possible for a sharper image. Meanwhile this Stuff article suggested using a wide-angle lens, while Insight Guides said the opposite.  Art, it seems, isn’t all that scientific.

Armed with all this conflicting knowledge, I walked down to the Hamilton Gardens with an old Nikon Coolpix 4500. My primary aim was to get as accurate a shot of what I was seeing as possible. In some cases I almost succeeded.

I will spare you my efforts because I’d rather show you some great shots from our Open2view photographers.

Before I started this gig, ‘shutter speed’ and ‘exposure’ were terms I used only when forgetting to close the blinds post-shower. Luckily our team of real estate photographers are a very talented bunch. For them photography is more a hobby than a job – a prerequisite for thriving in this business. Check out their shots – you can click each image for a larger version.

(Quick note: shutter speed/exposure and aperture control the amount of light that reaches the film. Fast shutter speed means less light. The higher the f-number, the smaller the aperture and the less amount of light. Clear as mud? Good. Onwards.)

Kym Raubenheimer’s snapshot taken from Papamoa Beach captures the moon’s colour perfectly. (Taken using a 270mm lens, shutter speed 1/50 seconds, f-number 10.)

Tim Whittaker took this amazing picture using a 300mm lens with a 1.4x converter to increase the focal length. (2.5 seconds, f/14.)

Alta Van Blerk snapped this stunning moonrise shot from her Tauranga home. (Half second exposure time at f/5.)

Moon above Rotorua by Deanna Onan

Deanna Onan’s photo of the moon above the Blue Baths in Rotorua is breathtaking. (1.6 seconds, f/18.)

Finally, this photo from Matthew Lowe shows the surface in great detail. There’s just something a little suspicious about this photo, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. (300mm lens, 2.5 seconds, f/8.)

So here’s what I learned/had reinforced in the last few days about moon photography:

  • Size matters when it comes to lens. My Coolpix 4500 was just 32mm, while the above photos were taken with lens several times larger.
  • Dawn and dusk are great times to capture the moon before it glows too bright and winds up looking like the sun.
  • Photos with other reference points make for great pictures. Having the landscape (or cityscape) in the foreground often adds something to the image.
  • Use a tripod! It’s much easier to keep the camera still if you’re not holding it in your cold, caffeine-ridden hands.
  • There is no magic formula. The above pics used a range of shutter speeds and apertures. Feel free to try different settings for different effects.
  • Do wrap up warm. The moon is not the best source of heat. Plus, wearing a cool hat helps make you look and feel like a real artist.
  • Most of all – have fun! If you’re not enjoying yourself, you’re doing it wrong.

And in case you’re thinking “little late for these tips pal”, next month’s full moon also largely coincides with perigee season. It will be a whole 1527 km further away from Earth than last weekend and one percent less bright. The difference will only be slight though as the camera adds fifty pounds anyway. Sorry, Man.

For love and money: why buying a house is so much better than renting

There’s an old saying that you should often take the advice of others with “a grain of salt”. Since I’ve started this gig, I’ve read so much advice on house buying I’m considering going to the doctor for some blood thinners.

There is plenty of information online stating why one should rent instead of buy. There’s even more out there explaining why the opposite is true. It won’t surprise you to know that here at Open2view we are, indeed, quite fond of the concept of home ownership. There are very good reasons, both financial and holistic, for buying over renting.

It’s true that our housing market shares many traits with the Auckland Blues: with a hiss and a roar they climbed to great heights till the bubble burst, confidence dissipated, and they descended into a state of utter confusion and misery. There are of course some key differences: the property market is displaying signs of life, and people are still showing up to Open Homes.

Playing conditions right now are ideal for first-home buyers. Interest.co.nz released their latest Rent-or-Buy Report last week. This report calculates the “percentage of after tax income needed to service the mortgage of a lower quartile house” compared to renting an average three bedroom house.

The gap between buying and renting was huge a few years ago when the property market was at its peak. Not anymore. In March it took 25.6% of household (that’s two people’s) take-home income to pay the mortgage, and other costs, on a lower quartile house. Meanwhile it took 24% to pay the median rent on a three bedroom dwelling. That is, states the report, a differential of just 1.5%. I’m pretty sure it’s actually 1.6%, but anyway – point is, the gap is now almost negligible. In dollar terms, you’re looking at $361.54 on average per week to cover your house costs versus $340 a week in rent.

On top of that, floating mortgage rates are at a 47-year low and will stay low with the Official Cash Rate not going up anytime soon. So, if you have the deposit saved, why wouldn’t ya?

“Because it’s not all about flaming money, ya drongo” might be the reply from some. Fair enough. So I sat down and listed some other advantages of buying. Then I cheated and consulted this excellent article on the subject by research group Canstar.

Together we came up with these extra, kind-of-financial-but-also-not-really, reasons to buy:

  • You’re not at the mercy of a landlord. Most are good of course but, if you own your home, you aren’t going to wake up to a letter informing you your rent’s going up or that the house is for sale.
  • Every dollar you pay toward your mortgage is paying off your asset, not someone else’s. Leave that to someone else.
  • A house is an asset you can borrow against, leave to your children, or convert into cash. Do any of that with a rental and your landlord won’t be impressed.
  • Ever tried jumping straight from the ground to the top of a ladder? No? Good, because ladders are for climbing. Once you own your first home it becomes much easier to reach a better one.
  • House values, over time, increase. So, usually, does rent.
  • Above all, owning your own home is empowering. It’s yours. And there is so much more you can do with your own place, over a rental, to make a house your home.

On financial grounds now is a great time to buy. And if you can’t right now, and the market changes in the meantime, don’t let that stop you – there are plenty of other reasons to enter the property market once you’re ready. Even in the ‘lower end’ of the market there are some great buys awaiting your attention.

Can you think of any reasons we’ve missed? Feel free to add them below or on our Facebook page!

April’s NZ Property Report in short

At the start of each month realestate.co.nz takes the pulse of the property market and releases its New Zealand Property Report. If you want an idea of conditions before buying or listing then this is essential reading.

For those in a hurry, here’s a quick summary:

  • The mean asking price for April wasn’t all that mean; nationwide it dropped to $423,832 from March’s high of $429,865. The exception was – where else – in Auckland; at $568,820 it broke its own record for the third time in eight months. If you’re thinking of selling your Auckland dwelling, the demand is certainly there.
  • The single biggest jump in asking prices occurred in the Hawkes Bay, which leapt 14.1% to $370,813. Meanwhile Marlborough, Waikato, Nelson, Southland and Wairarapa all recorded decreases of more than five percent.
  • Nationwide 10,174 new properties came onto the market last month. This is about the same as April 2011, but it pays for buyers and sellers to check region-to-region – local variances are often quite startling. Gisborne, for instance, recorded a 63% drop from last April, while Northland – with a 65% increase in listings – is a much happier place for homebuyers.
  • For a quick guide to whether your region matches your needs, check out the listings and inventory graphs – I’ve included one below. It’s very useful for working out wherever your neck of the woods is a buyers’ or sellers’ market. The listings section is self-explanatory. ‘Inventory’ projects how long it will take to sell out of current stock. If you’re looking to buy and your area of choice is showing up green, things are trending your way. Likewise, sellers in blue regions can be equally pleased with developments.

I could not recommend this report any stronger if I tried, so I’ll just finish by saying for more details on the month that was check out the full report. The newly discovered real estate geek in me is already looking forward to June 1.

Source: realestate.co.nz