JFK and Wexford: The political lives of a President and his holiday home


An aerial view of Wexford, which for two weeks served as the Kennedys’ weekend retreat.

Last week saw the anniversary of the birth – and death – of two iconic individuals. One lives in a police box and carries a screwdriver, the other in a white mansion and preferred… daiquiris to screwdrivers.

This blog focuses on the second guy, and manages to combine real estate, photography and history. Nifty stuff.


On October 26, 1963, President John F. Kennedy and family enjoyed their first weekend at Wexford, their newly built retreat just west of Middleburg, Virginia. They were to spend just one more weekend there before that ill-fated trip to Dallas on 22 November.

Fifty years later, Wexford is on the market with a price tag of almost US$11 million. Though it spent little time in Kennedy ownership, its role in US politics and history was far-reaching.

Kennedy’s wife, Jackie, designed almost all of Wexford (named after the county from which the Kennedys descended). It was built on 39 acres of land overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains at a cost of $100,000. It contained seven bedrooms and 5.5 bathrooms, including one oversized bathtub imported from England especially for JFK. One of the bedrooms was to be a nursery for their youngest child, Patrick; tragically he was born six weeks early and lived just two days.


Wexford’s floor plan, as published (much to Jackie’s chagrin) by Newsweek.

It was the perfect house for a Commander in Chief. Kennedy’s bedroom came with a secret hideaway in the ceiling of his closet. It also had a bomb shelter beneath the stables, in case Cuba got cocky again, and a special communication room linked to Washington.

It was during the Kennedys’ second trip to Wexford, on 10 November, that the fateful decision to visit Dallas was made. New footage from the scene of the crime, taken by an American-Kiwi, was made public just last week.


Newly-published footage of JFK, taken just prior to his assassination. Photo by H. Warner King.

H. Warner King spent his Second World War in New Zealand before returning to Dallas to sell jewellery. A keen photographer, and avid Kennedy fan, he was determined to get some good shots of the president that day. And he did; unfortunately, as we know, he wasn’t the only one.


Texans pay their respects two days after Kennedy’s assassination. Photo by H. Warner King.

Warner returned to New Zealand in 1975 and brought his Kodachrome slides with him. After his death in 2005 his daughter, Sonia, discovered the Kennedy footage – and last week, 50 years after the assassination, they were published for the first time. Unfortunately it appears a distraught Warner destroyed some of the post-shooting photos, although one can hardly blame the guy. The full article by Sonia is well worth the read.

Also grieving, of course, was Jackie. After the shooting she visited Wexford only once more – to pick up some belongings that December. In November 1964, she sold the property to Quing Non Wong and his wife, Jacqueline.


The Kennedys’ master bedroom at Wexford.

By 1980, the house had switched allegiance to the Republicans. Then-presidential candidate Ronald Reagan rented the house from owner William Clements, Nixon’s Deputy Secretary of Defense and Governor of Texas, to rehearse for his debates with President Carter.

Fast-forward to present day and the property has lost none of its prestige. It has grown to 137 acres (55.4 hectares) and also has alternative power generators. Though now listed as a four-bedroom place it’s retained most of its original features, Secret Service bunker and all.

Check out the full listing here. If you can’t make the open home, do the next best thing and head to Yahoo Homes for home videos of the Kennedys’ visits, as well as a tour of the house. Looks like JFK beat us to real estate video by a few decades.


The property ladder: two new sites to help your climb

Once upon a time, climbing the property ladder was a fairly smooth, straightforward, and happy process. A bit like this:


But lately, thanks to big price rises and new lending rules, it’s more akin to this:

Undertaker ladder

The climb to your dream home can be, if not done right, fraught with danger. For some, lending restrictions and too high prices could mean not stepping foot on the ladder at all.

Wise counsel can help find a way forward. Saving a 20 percent deposit may take a while but can be done. And if your preferred suburb rises out of reach while you’re saving, then look further afield (as an earlier post of ours suggested).

Two recently launched initiatives can provide assistance here:

Hidden Gems

Westpac, last week, released their Hidden Gems report. This document looks at the fastest growing suburbs in seven cities (though, curiously, not Christchurch) and suggests cheaper alternatives.

These suburbs are popular because of their location and amenities; Westpac’s message is that you can have just as happy a life if you pick a cheaper, neighbouring suburb instead.

Take Ponsonby, for instance. This was once a rough, rundown place and its cheap rents attracted a rather “colourful” crowd in the 1970s. Nowadays, with a median house price of $1,244,000, it could never be accused of being low rent – nor having low rents.

So first timers spilled over next door into Grey Lynn, which now has a median price of $1,020,734. Neighbouring Kingsland ($857,500) was next to receive the Ponsonby treatment. Now even Mt Albert ($735,000) is proving a tough sell to first time buyers. But not to despair – there’s always New Windsor ($590,000) on their border, just above the Auckland regional median price.

All these suburbs show up in the Hidden Gems tables as substitutes for one another. That’s one plus of this report – it caters to buyers on all rungs of the ladder. First home buyers should read this report differently to the rest; look for the cheaper suburbs overall, and taper your expectations in those directions. The maps accompanying the Auckland and Wellington tables will help.

The fields showing how much faster you could be debt free, by buying next door, are great in that they explicitly identify the consequences of your actions. They’re also only a very rough guide, based on medians, and can quickly fall out of date. It is also well worth remembering there can be huge variations in price within suburbs.

As long as you keep these caveats in mind, it’s a document well worth studying before you start your house hunt.


Owned by Barbican Publishing, Hometopia is another new website designed to help find the absolute right location for you.

It beats Hidden Gems convincingly in that it focuses heavily on non-price factors. Their Suburb Sleuth lets you weigh up your favourite home style, preferred environment, desired neighbourinos, access to shopping and good schools, and something called the ‘Hip Factor’. You decide what factors are most important, and Hometopia will find the suburb right for you.

First home buyers will like being able to search by average price, though if price is your only concern you’ll have to change all other criteria to ‘slightly important’. A wee bit labour intensive.

Other services provided include various professional directories, a sellers’ toolkit, and a blog (which is pretty good I guess).

Much of the website is Auckland-focused, though the directories also have contacts for traders and the like in Wellington and Christchurch. If the Suburb Sleuth expands out to those cities also, it is bound to take off nationwide. As it is, it provides heaps of information on each Auckland suburb and lets you compare suburbs right across the city – not just next door.

You could play on this site for hours if you had no deadlines to meet.

Between both sites – followed by, of course, our own rather superb website – you may find the climb up the property ladder might be a lot smoother, and maybe even a bit fun.

Have you checked out these sites? What’s your opinion? Give us your review below or on our Facebook page.

October Property Report: house prices, LVR restrictions, Ireland, and proclamations galore

The Proclaimers

A couple of commentators take a close up look at our property market.

The fact that everybody has an opinion about the property market is both a blessing and a curse. It’s mostly a pain in the neck for me, who spends my days searching through the experts’ pronouncements for some common ground.

Here’s what these proclaimers are saying about October:


Home buyers: from misery to… more misery

Realestate.co.nz is reporting a record high mean asking price of $482,063 – up 8% on October 2012. This was driven by three of the main centres – Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch – who all reached regional records.

Plenty of new listings to choose from also – 13,978 of them in fact, 27% up on September and, more significantly, 10% above October 2012. People must be snapping them up fast though; inventory levels remained constant at 24.2 weeks.

Meanwhile, QV figures show an 8.9% increase in property value over the past year. The main culprits, again, are Auckland and Canterbury – up 14.5% and 11.8% respectively. Other main centres are slower to rise, while “many of the provincial and rural areas have declined in value.”

Just yesterday, REINZ announced some more record-breaking data: their median house price jumped to $407,525, driven by regional highs in (surprise surprise) Auckland, Canterbury/Westland and Waikato/Bay of Plenty. Their Stratified Housing Price Index, which adjusts for outliers in the market, shows a 9.9% price rise over October 2012.

Looking just at Auckland, Barfoot & Thompson’s data, showing an average price rise of more than $5000, was “totally expected” in their view. Their 1203 properties sold in October was 8.9% above figures from October 2012.

More interesting is the drop in median price, down $10,000 to $590,000. This is, in part, due to the extra sales of properties worth under $500,000 – up 20.6% on September. But why? As Peter Thompson explains, this “may be an indication that a large number of first time home buyers committed to entering the housing market before the new rules took full effect.”


Lending restrictions: uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh, yeah-nah

Mr Thompson is referring, of course, to the loan to value ratio (LVR) restrictions that kicked in on 1 October. How have other commentators assessed its impact?

The most interesting findings come from First National Real Estate, whose research shows a 27% drop in first timers at open homes since 1 October.

REINZ also reckons we’re seeing its effects already, though their sales and price data shows little sign of a slowdown there.

Tony Alexander’s findings, from the fortnight ending 1 November, indicate a sharp downturn in home loan approvals from the previous year. He is unsure “how much is shock, and how quickly might things revert to a new normal?”

Westpac reports similar findings, but points out that this doesn’t count pre-approvals or those resorting to second-tier borrowers. We might, they say, see a slowdown in housing turnover and credit growth next month.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand Herald reported a noticeable absence of first home buyers in Auckland’s under $600,000 market. Perhaps they’re looking at different data than Barfoot & Thompson.

Conversely, QV thinks it’s too early to address the impact of LVR caps, as evidenced by their press release titled “Too early to assess the impact of LVR caps.”

Overall, the evidence suggests the signs of a slowdown are already emerging. What the ‘new normal’ will look like still remains to be seen.


Ireland: We’re gonna be (if we’re not careful)

Last decade, for various reasons, Ireland went from roaring tiger to neutered Shorthair in the blink of a smiling eye. (Ooh, poetic.)

The New Zealand Initiative is studying the role housing played in this, and what lessons it holds for our own property market.

Their findings should serve as a warning to governments, central and local, who are planning to build more houses: don’t just build them all at the lower end of the affordability scale.

Ireland’s problems started when the dotcom boom brought a similar growth spurt in population. Then, all this stuff happened (emphasis added):

That influx met a housing supply that had hardly expanded at all in the low-growth decades.

The state’s response was slow in coming, but when it did it came in the form of “build, build, build”, with central government putting pressure on local government to ensure the delivery of thousands of housing units (does this sound familiar?) in short order.

The net effect was to fragment the market. On the low end there was surge in supply, which brought prices within reach of first home buyers, but it also sated demand for these units.

Homeowners in these low-end housing units, when they were ready to trade up, found it hard to sell. And the houses they wanted to buy in the next tier up were even more expensive than ever because development activity had only focused on the type of homes that could be constructed as quickly, and as easily, as possible.

The Irish were left with a simple choice: stay in the small housing they were in but didn’t like, or borrow more to buy the housing they wanted, a situation that has many parallels with New Zealand.

It all sounds eerily familiar indeed. We hope policy makers have studied the Emerald Isle and thought about how to avoid a similar doom.


Your line here

What do you make of all these findings? Will fewer first home buyers in the market have a long term effect on prices? Are we about to repeat the mistakes of our Celtic brethren? Share your thoughts below or over on our Facebook page.

Charity Build: a house built to fight cancer


Build a three bedroom home in four weeks. Can it be done?

It sure can, with the proper motivation – and the people behind the Charity Build have that in spades.

The Professionals Hutt City, the Certified Builders Association of New Zealand, and Placemakers Hutt City have joined forces to build a house from scratch. Currently situated at 43 Seaview Road, Lower Hutt, this house will be auctioned on 30 November, with the proceeds going to the Child Cancer Foundation.

It’s no cheap knockoff either; according to the official press release, the house will be “fully carpeted, plumbed, with kitchen and bathroom; ready to ‘plug in’ wherever the lucky auction winner wants to place it to make it their home.”

Over 70 Certified Builders, from all over Wellington, are contributing 700 volunteer hours between them to get the house built to the highest standard.


Ah, press releases: doing all the work so I don’t have to. However I’m not paid just to repeat the work of others so I gave Scott Lancaster, the Child Cancer Foundation’s Fundraising Manager (Central Region), a call.

The Professionals, Steve says, have a long association with the Foundation. Every March the four offices in the Central Region do some kind of fundraiser for them. They decided to do something extra this year, and the Charity House Build was born.


There’s to be an art auction on the same day also. These pieces were created by children at one of the Foundation’s regularly-held art days. So if you’re not quite in the mood to buy a house, come along and pick up a painting for a bit less.

The proceeds from both auctions “will stay in the Central Region,” says Scott, who then reeled off a whole host of projects these funds will help with. Beads of Hope. Scholarships for those kids who have had to miss a lot of school and need to catch up. Camps for siblings. And financial support for families in hardship. All great causes – click here for more details on what they do.


Open2view’s Wellington team is proud to be doing its bit. Nathan Sanders has been on site most days taking photos, which you can find on the official website and Facebook. Nathan is passionate about the fight against cancer; recently he had his head shaved as part of the Child Cancer Foundation’s Funrazor event.

Want to see the house for yourself? There’s an open home being held this Sunday, 10 November.

For more details on how you can contribute to this most worthy fundraiser, check out the FAQ section on the Charity Build’s website, or click here to contact the organisers.

Tiny houses: the future of urban living?

Hi, New Zealand and Australia.

We’re well aware of the housing issues both countries face. There’s plenty of concern about both housing supply and prices, and fair enough.

Last week’s Compact Housing Seminar reminded us that housing demand in Sydney’s outer suburbs is projected to grow by 200%. Meanwhile, Auckland’s Unitary Plan is focused on medium to high density living, mostly in existing city boundaries.

Compact living in our big cities is clearly the future. But, how to do it?

A couple of recent articles have perhaps one solution. It’s a little out there, but worth examining.


That’s right, tiny little houses. All shaped differently to fit into whatever space they need to. It’s like Tetris, but with real estate.

Ever heard of ‘spite houses’? According to Wikipedia, a spite house is “a building constructed or modified to irritate neighbours or other parties with land stakes. Spite houses often serve as obstructions, blocking out light or access to neighbouring buildings, or as flamboyant symbols of defiance.”

Spite house back entranceEntering the market last week was the Montlake Spite House in Seattle. It’s just 77 square metres, and stretches out to 4.5 metres wide at the front and only 1.4 metres at the back. This pizza slice-shaped house was built in a small front yard back in 1925.

Reasons vary as to why it was built: most believe it was constructed by an angry ex wife who wound up, post-divorce, owning just the front yard. Others believe the landowner, after receiving a low offer for his property from his neighbour, retaliated by building this right next to the cheapskate.

Spite house living room

The house may have been born from spite, but a lot of love has been put into the insides. The living room is surprisingly livable. The kitchen? The vendor reckons she couldn’t open the oven without standing to the side. Good to see some truth in advertising.

Despite its size, or perhaps due to its novelty, the house sold last weekend for $397,500. Sorry, neighbours, house ain’t going nowhere.

Here’s a tiny house that wasn’t built by anger:


Land space is at a premium in Japan. So when you’ve got tiny spaces on your land to build on, what else to do but ingeniously make the most of it.

The article this comes from features nine more houses of similar size. Among the highlights:

Japan tiny gun shaped house

This gun-shaped home had 55 square metres of room to fill. But who needs that much space? This home measures just half that and still fits in a sleeping area, open plan living and a small loft.


No wider than three metres, Lucky Drop House makes the Montlake Spite House look like the Dotcom Mansion. It’s hard, however, to decide whether the inside is cutting edge design or a prison hallway.


My personal favourite: Tokyo’s Split House. Divided in two by a garden, it has a sense of warmth that’s essential to turning the house into a home. And that’s vital if you’re spending any length of time in these.

Split House inside

How about closer to home? At the Auckland Home Show I got to check out MiniHome Limited. Their MiniHomes range in size from small to extra small – but still with everything you need in a home. During my thorough, one minute tour of their show home, it was easy to forget that they’re only 3.6 metres wide and 6-12 metres long.


Got some space on your back lawn? Get the house built off site and delivered to you. You can even get solar panels fitted if you want off the grid. In short, it’s just like a real home – only smaller.

With more and more people fighting over less and less city space, we could well see more and more of these mini houses springing up.

But if you’d rather have a spite house, some of those Japanese houses will fit nicely on your berm.

What do you think – are these houses homely enough? Could you see yourself living in any of them? Have your say in the comments or on one of our Facebook pages.