Priced out of the Kiwi dream

DUNCAN GARNER
Last updated 05:00 22/03/2014

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OPINION: Consider this a tale of two cities - and of two very different property markets.

I bought my first house in Ngaio for $360,000 in 2003.

It was big money at the time and, like anyone who's taken a leap of faith on to the property ladder, I remember exactly where I was when the agent rang with the good news.

My euphoria quickly turned to a cold sweat - I couldn't believe how much I was spending for a house that looked like a tree hut (and wasn't much better than one). I scraped together a 10 per cent deposit and it seemed massive at the time.

You couldn't get away with that now - the Reserve Bank has banned it. Time flies as fast as house prices soar and that old tree hut is currently back on the market - offers over $600,000 please.

That's almost double what I paid a decade ago. True, they've built a deck, but only because the last one fell down the bank. It's Wellington, right?

Just to really rub my face in it, I've also discovered that a subsequent home I owned in Strathmore, and sold barely two years ago, is also for sale.

The chap I sold it to wants $60,000 more than he paid for it. I can't see any signs of any improvements (though the neighbours would probably say the street's a lot quieter these days . . .).

But it's got me thinking: Is the Kiwi dream of owning your own home almost out of reach?

A staggering Census stat released this week confirms we are at our lowest rates of home ownership since records began. Fewer than one in two of us owns a home now, at just 49.8 per cent. It used to be as high as 70 per cent.

For those aged 30-39 it's slumped to 43 per cent - it was 54 per cent in 2001.

So what's happened?

Sure, society has changed - we are getting married later, if at all, and we are staying longer in education.

But here's the real, simple reason: Our houses have just got too damned expensive.

Houses used to cost three times your average salary. Now it's six times the average salary. In Wellington, it's nine times the average salary.

It's hard not to think you now need a $100,000 deposit to buy a house in Wellington city. Have you got that?

In Auckland it's simply crazy - a house will cost you 12 times the average salary - with an average price $665,000. This week I saw a house in Auckland for sale. It's a tiny 93 square metre "do-up" dive in Ponsonby, with just 400sqm of land. It sold for $1.441m. Can you afford that?

Here's part of the problem.

Unlike other countries we have no restrictions on who buys our houses. Make a buying raid on New Zealand and get a bargain - at the expense of the Kiwis who actually live here.

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Foreign speculators can buy as many houses as they like here, not get taxed in any way - and bugger off and reap the financial rewards. There's no capital gains tax, no stamp duty, no special foreign housing tax and no ban on buying old stock, like there is in Australia.

It's a massive loophole - the only investment that doesn't get taxed. No wonder it's being exploited.

In Auckland, BNZ economist Tony Alexander says 12 per cent of all sales go to foreigners. Across the country the figure is six per cent.

The National Government has its head in the sand on this issue. It doesn't want to know. To be fair to them, Labour missed the boat in office too.

Housing Minister Nick Smith claims there is no data around to show that this is a problem. Sorry Nick, this is a big election issue.

First-home hunters have become the hunted, thanks to a Reserve Bank policy that, incredibly, locks our children and grandchildren out of owning their own home. The free market has reigned far too long and we need serious intervention.

We need Crown and local council land freed up urgently, and we need tighter controls on foreigners buying up properties - if it's acceptable for the Government to target state asset selldowns to Kiwi mum and dad investors, why can't we do something to help those same people buy a house.

We also need more companies building more homes - and to leverage off the skilled labour being used to rebuild Christchurch.

Until this happens it's game over for so many hard-working Kiwi families. Home ownership is becoming a privilege for the wealthy elite, and the struggling cash-poor middle classes are missing out.

So - would I buy my first house back for $600k in Ngaio? No. But someone will. And it will sell for $1m in 2023 I reckon. It's a jungle out there - and some people will pay anything for a house, let alone a tree hut.

- The Dominion Post

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