Recently the village of Blackball where I live, and in fact, the whole of the Grey District, received its three yearly valuation adjustment on its land and housing stock. Generally, values went down, but Blackball was particularly hard hit. People lost something like a third of their value. The valuations, from an SOE called Quotable Values, are done for rating purposes, but become something of a benchmark.

I’d never investigated this matter before, this being the first home I’ve ever owned, but as a community we were shocked, for it seemed to condemn us to a downward spiral. It people seriously lose equity through buying a house in a town, they feel bitter about the town – not a good thing for community spirit or volunteer work. They become reluctant to renovate or won’t be able to get a loan to do so, banks will be wary to give mortgages and so on. It’s a race to the bottom.

A look at Quotable Value’s website reveals an outfit geared to the investor. Even if buying a house to live in, you should have the investor mindset. I enquired further and discovered their assessment is based on sales over the last twelve months. They don’t inspect a house, but have knowledge of the number of bedrooms, bathrooms etc and will pick up on any building consents issued with regard to the property.  I suppose at that point the numbers are crunched through a computer programme and the results arrive. Via a real estate agent I was able to find out the nine sales in Blackball over the twelve months. I wondered whether nine sales constitutes a market. But perusing them, there three where the previous valuations were ridiculously high and one property where the house had been removed and the land bought to be used as a farmlet. So, four out of nine sales were anomalies and helped push down the percentage. Individuals can object on the basis of improvements carried out without consent, but there is no process whereby a community can object or request greater transparency. A very blunt axe is being wielded.

We’ve asked them to come to a community meeting. No response. We’re advising everyone to object but I remember the using of similar processes to destroy Maori communal land ownership in the past. The final outrage is that, via rates, we’re paying for this to happen.

It also caused me to reflect on the notion of value when it comes to houses. For a start, all domestic houses are social. Reserving the term for the needy is ridiculous and a dreadful comment on the neo-liberal system. Secondly, there could be an objective value set nationwide according to size, land, double glazing, soundness, heating and so on, a top value set to the average wage. This would encourage people, no matter where they live, to renovate, for their equity will improve. Other factors affecting house prices: education and health access, infrastructure, transport, cultural and recreational access, employment etc could then be influenced by government and local body intervention, for example, a tax rebate for those living outside Auckland, a rebate which is higher if living outside the major cities.

Meanwhile, what do we do? We will make a collective submission, we will make ourselves prickly customers of QV; but ultimately the only real protection would be to move to collective ownership; to turn the village into a housing co-operative with individual equity realisable upon exit.