A big drop in apartment construction plans led to a drop 4.6 per cent fall in building consents in May.
A total of 2125 new home consents were issued in the month, including apartments.
But Statistics NZ figures show that excluding flats, house building consents rose 4.6 per cent in May compared with April, recovering from a 5.2 per cent fall in April, which was likely affected by the timing of the Easter holidays.
The trend for new home consents has been recovering for the past three years, but is still well below the building boom peak a decade ago.
Consents for apartments often move up and down sharply month by month. Latest figures show consents for 195 apartments were issued in May, many of them retirement village units. That was well down on the 432 apartment consents issued in April.
Westpac Bank economists said the underlying improvement in consents in May was masked by the fall in the volatile apartment units category.
The weakness in underlying housing consents in April might reflect the timing of Easter and Anzac Day holidays, so a rebound had been expected in May, Westpac said.
But the rebound was not quite as robust as the bank expected.
The rebound in consents, excluding apartments, was led by Auckland, rising to their highest levels since late 2006, Westpac said.
In contrast, consents in Canterbury were surprisingly flat, given the ongoing earthquake rebuild work.
Statistics NZ said the trend for the number of new homes consented was at its highest level since September 2007, before the global financial crisis hit, but had flattened in recent months.
"The trend for new dwellings has been increasing for three years, but is still 28 per cent below the series peak in 2004," Statistics NZ business indicators manager Neil Kelly said.
The highest number of consents were issued in Auckland at 611, including 109 apartments. That was closely followed by Canterbury at 605, including 46 apartments. In the Waikato there were 192 building consents.
A total of $1.2 billion of building work was consented in May, with $842 million of residential work and $370m of non-residential work.
Of the non-residential work almost a quarter was in shops, restaurants and taverns.
Since September 2010, more than $1.8b of building consents have been quake related in Canterbury. That includes consents for 1951 new homes, Statistics NZ said.
The total value of building consents in Canterbury since late 2010 was $8.8b, involving almost 16,000 homes.