Leaving Auckland for the regions a smart money move

Businessman Gary Alway swapped Auckland for Waihi Beach near Tauranga.
SUPPLIED

Businessman Gary Alway swapped Auckland for Waihi Beach near Tauranga.

Many a harassed city-dweller dreams of escaping the rat race to a better, more relaxed life in a beachside town.

Some, like businessman Gary Alway do more than dream.

Alway cashed up his villa in the Auckland suburb of Mount Albert and headed to Waihi Beach, just north of Tauranga.

New Zealand is a big, beautiful country, yet a third of us cram into a tiny bit called Auckland.
SUPPLIED

New Zealand is a big, beautiful country, yet a third of us cram into a tiny bit called Auckland.

He'd been in Auckland 20 years, and he'd had enough.

It was time, he thought, to leave rush and congestion and do what so many talk about: find a better quality of life outside of New Zealand's commercial capital.

PROPERTY

There are many reasons people go from a big city like Auckland to a smaller town. Some leave to return "home", some to find a better balance to life.

One of the biggest attractions is being able to go mortgage-free, or even swap renting for home-ownership.

"You get so much more for your dollar," Alway says. "We got a four-year-old, four-bedroom house with all the modern stuff like insulation and double-glazing for $700,000."

Buying it wasn't hard. "We sold our 130-year-old Mount Albert villa for $1.3 million," he says.

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Auckland villas are notorious for being cold and draughty in winter. "When someone jumped, all the windows shook," Alway says.

Moving to the regions can feel like buying a one-way ticket.

Once you have sold up in Auckland, prices in the "city of sales" can quickly move beyond your reach. And, if there were a fall in Auckland, many think prices in the regions would tank too.

Alway, who has now gone into real estate with LJ Hooker, doesn't expect either to happen.

But nor does he think of it as a one-way ticket, despite having no intention of returning.

If there was a tempting job offer, there's always the option of renting out a home in the regions, and leasing an apartment in the city for a few years.

Priced out of Auckland homes, that's exactly what many young "rentvesters" are doing.

Alway says others of greater means maintain a small city apartment and a house by the beach. The capital cost of the two properties equals the cost of one house in Auckland, though Alway says regional rates can be more expensive than big city rates.

Alway's rates bill is around $4000, he says.

CASH FLOW

Moving to a regional town or city can have a dramatic impact on a family's cash flow, even if they take a pay cut.

Big city mortgages and rents take a big bite out of household incomes.

Every year the Demographia housing survey compares median household incomes to median house prices in our cities. The last one showed a multiple of 9.1 in Auckland in late 2015.

In Palmerston North it was 4.1, in Christchurch 6.1, in Hamilton 5.1, and in Wellington 5.2.

Even on a lower salary, after-housing incomes are often higher in regional towns and cities, meaning households can live more comfortable lives with less debt.

"90 per cent of Aucklanders are one pay cheque away from insolvency," Alway says.

The Numbeo website allows people considering a move to compare the costs of living in different cities.

It shows the cost of renting a three-bedroom house outside of the city centre costs 38.5 per cent less in Hamilton than in Auckland. In Rotorua, it costs 94.7 per cent less.

Incomes are lower, but not to such a degree.

Statistics NZ data shows the median household income in Auckland in 2015 was $1575 a week. In Waikato it was 14 per cent lower at $1356, and in Bay of Plenty it was 16 per cent lower at $1327.

WORK

There can be challenges in taking big city skills to the regions.

His career with Michael Hill and Hampsta card ironically made it hard for Alway to find work.

Several times he was told he was "over-qualified" for a job, even if his track record showed him to be someone who could help grow a business.

Always got so frustrated at one job interview, he told the interviewer: "If I was your boss, I would fire you!"

Moving to the regions can mean coping with a period of retraining, or a rest.

"I have had a year off to recharge after a 20-year Auckland battering," Alway says. "That's Auckland for everybody. It is all go, all the time."

But, he says: "People say the locals don't want you, but once you are here to stay, if you are a half-decent person and bring skills, they do. As long as you are not an arsehole, it is a win-win for everybody."

And less time in the car can mean being able to give back to the community that has welcomed you. Alway is now a volunteer firefighter.

CAPITAL GAINS

Aucklanders who own their own home have experienced massive growth in equity as a result of the city authorities allowing so few homes to be built.

Regional centres have seen prices rising, some as a result of Auckland money seeking opportunities further afield.

BNZ chief economist Tony Alexander said: "History tells us that at this point in the housing cycle people tend to invest in the regions with a view that there will be a population surge as Aucklanders flood out of their expensive city and baby boomers retire to their beautiful location."

"This never happens to the degree people expect. Worse than that, there are many parts of the country where short of Mount Rangitoto blowing up population is not going to grow at all."

Alexander has published a list of local council areas where populations are forecast to drop.

"Buyers of regional property would be advised to pay attention to this following list before selling up in Auckland to buy a few houses elsewhere thinking that capital gains will be the same."

 - Stuff

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