Kiwis embrace high-rise living

RISING TIDE: Jason and Val Middleton at Eleven Apartments Mt Maunganui.
RISING TIDE: Jason and Val Middleton at Eleven Apartments Mt Maunganui.

From their kitchen Jason and Val Middleton watch barges ferrying scrap metal from the wreck of the Rena into Tauranga Harbour.

From their deck they see curling surf and the golden sands of Mt Maunganui beach. And looming over everything is the Mount itself, resplendent green in late afternoon sunshine.

Their two bedroom apartment in the Eleven apartment tower could be yours - for a cool $895,000.

The Middletons are getting out, but it seems everyone else wants in - the apartment market around New Zealand is red hot right now.

Latest property figures released by the Real Estate Institute show that in the country's six biggest markets, traditional house prices have come off the boil but apartment prices are on the rise.

According to the latest REINZ/Fairfax Media Property Market Report, in Auckland - the most significant apartment market - the median apartment price rose 27 per cent to $389,000 between April and June, compared to the same period last year. In Wellington, the 8 per cent rise in apartment prices outpaced the rest of the market's 2 per cent increase.

And in Christchurch, apartment prices surged 19 per cent, beating the 12 per cent rise in ex-apartment prices.

But the strongest centre was Tauranga, where apartment prices soared 69 per cent to a median of $685,000, compared to an 8 per cent increase for the rest of the Tauranga market.

Most of the apartments were sold in Mt Maunganui where land is scarce and there are few new projects in the pipeline.

Dave Mackintosh, manager of the Eleven apartments, said the two towers were built five years ago just as the credit crunch was hitting.

"Prices off the plan were very high - the apartments didn't sell. Since then things have come back, now they're all sold," he said. "There's high demand for the beachfront apartments, I have two people a week coming in wanting apartments. People like retired farmers, businessmen wanting to use it as a base."

The penthouses were the most expensive - Auckland car dealer Colin Giltrap paid $5.5m for his apartment, complete with rooftop swimming pool, four years ago - but there were some good bargains to be had.

Macintosh said ninth floor apartments bought off the plan at $3.6m now sold for around $2m, while lower level properties that once sold in the $700,000s could now be snapped up in the high $500,000s.

The Middletons, in their 70s, moved to their apartment from a four-bedroom home in Papamoa two years ago so they didn't have to worry about ground maintenance. "There's advantages and disadvantages," Jason Middleton said. "It's very private, there's no noise, and we can go down the lift and we're on Marine Parade, it's magic. But you can't clean your own windows, they have to be cleaned every couple of months or so, and you don't have your own garage."

Val loved that everything was within walking distance. "Sometimes the car doesn't go out for a fortnight."

Their asking price matches the rating value. "A real estate agent said these things will go sky high [in price] because there are no more being built," Jason said.

Sunday Star Times