Editorial: Wake-up call for home buyers

Last updated 05:00 29/01/2013

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Making promises is a politician's stock-in-trade. Unfortunately, delivering on those pledges is often not as easy as voters have been led to believe.

OPINION: There are few policy areas in which that is more true than housing affordability, where there has long been a disconnect between grand promises and brutal reality.

It was therefore unwise for Labour leader David Shearer to allow those struggling to save for their first home to get overly optimistic about his promise to build 100,000 new dwellings in 10 years at an average sale price of $300,000. That would simply not be possible in many parts of Auckland, at least not for the sort of houses, complete with sizeable gardens and lawns, most of the present generation of first-home buyers grew up in.

Mr Shearer has now made clear that many of the 40,000 to 50,000 homes Labour plans to build in the city will be apartments or terraced housing. The same will probably also be true in Wellington, where $300,000 would be an unrealistic price for anything other than a small apartment or a terraced townhouse on a meagre section.

National, too, is finding that delivering affordable housing is a major challenge. The increasing desperation faced by would-be first-home buyers has stung Prime Minister John Key into making the issue a top priority.

He has tasked new Housing Minister Nick Smith with finding ways to make more land available and bring down the price of building to make the dream of home ownership a reality for more people. Possible measures include forcing councils to free up land for new developments, streamlining consent processes and reducing the amount developers have to pay for infrastructure and other costs passed on to buyers.

Moves to bring down construction and compliance costs are well worth investigating, but requiring councils to free up more land could have undesirable consequences. It will increase the already problematic urban sprawl in many cities and require more spending on roads, amenities and public transport.

National should take a leaf from Mr Shearer's book and dampen down expectations among those looking to get into their first home. Those who are finding it a battle need to be realistic about what they can attain.

Few people live in their dream home. There are also a significant number of homeowners who do not live in the suburbs they desire.

In days gone by, the answer was to develop new greenfield sites, but that is not sustainable as the population grows more rapidly.

Increasingly, the solution to helping more Kiwis to own the home they live in will be the development of more high-density and compact housing. It is important that be done while preserving green zones within cities or existing suburbs where more in-building and subdivision occurs.

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It does, however, require many of those trying to get on the property ladder to accept that the days of being able to afford a first home on a quarter acre section are long gone.

- The Dominion Post


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