The bargain home-hunters

21:51, Jan 26 2013

Who says housing isn't affordable? The three cheapest houses sold in New Zealand last year each fetched $20,000.

The quarter-acre dream comes dirt cheap in Murupara. Number 958 Old SH38, a 1940s weatherboard home on 1012sqm of land, sold last year for the princely sum of $20,000, equal cheapest in the country.

The Star-Times tried to contact the owner to ask why he had bought the property, but he is in jail for repeat drink-driving. It is understood the home was purchased in a private sale from an elderly woman who had moved to Rotorua after her husband died.

Murupara is a forestry town between the Kaingaroa Forest and Te Urewera national Park, 65km southeast of Rotorua. It has about 2000 residents and is known for gang problems.

Why do houses go so cheap? "Bad stuff on TV," says Steve Lawson, who lives a few doors down from number 958. "You never see anything nice on TV about Murupara."

What does he like about it? "It's an hour to Taupo, an hour to Whakatane, three-and-a-quarter hours to Rotorua by pushbike."


Around the corner, painter and decorator Ken Carston, 52, and his wife, Heather, have recently moved their mobile home on to a two-hectare patch of land they bought for $10,000. Ken also bought a nearby house for his mother-in-law for $35,000. "I paid a bit too much for it, but I wanted it because it backs on to my land."

Carston says they have gone "off the grid" because they were tired of paying huge power bills. They had lived in Rotorua but sold up, got rid of the mortgage and are now living a semi-retired dream. "A lot of people think Murupara is a derelict town. It only looks derelict because it's so old, a lot of the houses are 60 years old.

"But you've got the rivers, the waterfalls - it's where my heart is. If you want a lifestyle and cheap living - this is the place to be."

Overseas investors snapped up a classic -and cheap - beauty in Ohura, 50km west of Taumarunui in the King Country - sight-unseen.

Vaughan and Nadia Wright bought the house and 1300sqm section from their current home in Cairns, Australia.

They won the house in the face of stiff opposition from three other interested parties. The original asking price was $16,500 but Wright offered $20,000.

Originally from South Africa, the Wrights lived in Ohura from 2000 to 2003 when Vaughan worked as a prison guard.

They moved to Cairns before the prison closed in 2005 (it's now a bed and breakfast) but they decided to move back as Vaughan nears retirement.

Cairns was "far too hot" and humid, Wright said.

The median house price in Cairns was about A$375,000 and the expanding population had brought a lot of crime.

Despite having never seen it, they bought the Ohura house "on the assumption it was sound" and some local friends had looked in on it for them.

"The post lady was very helpful," he said.

The town had halved in size to about 160 people since the prison days and Ohura's attractions now were its quiet lifestyle and, of course, its ultra-cheapness. "We like the solitude. We just like the lifestyle."

And no, they won't have a mortgage. "You could have bought it on a credit card," Wright laughed.

Tania Conner went to the ends of the Earth to find her bargain. Well, Bluff, anyway.

Conner did not want to speak to the Star-Times when we called but she gave her real estate agent licence to do so.

First National Real Estate Invercargill general manager Dave Price said the Bluff house was back on the market already, following extensive renovations.

Conner and her partner Robert bought the house in February 2012 for $20,000 to do up and rent out.

They soon found the rental market would not return what the property was worth, Price said.

The decision was taken to resell the property and though it would be considerably more than $20,000 it would probably still be below $100,000. "I've seen it when it was $20,000. It's a completely different place now."

Price said he was amazed at the renovations. "I probably would have gone and bought a car rather than those bricks and mortar."

The real estate agent in him came back out: "In its price range it will be the best buy in Bluff," he said.

The 60 square metre, 1950s house, has a curious sales record that suggests it might not be so hard to sell if the price is right. It has sold four times since 2006, three of those times for $20,000.

The only one to make money on it was the New Zealand Plunket Society, which bought it for $20,000 in 2006 and sold it in 2009 for $45,000. It sold for $20,000 in 2010 and again to Conner, for the same price, in February 2012.

Price admitted the Bluff housing market was not the most buoyant. It was "a wee bit bleak down there" and there had been only three sales in the town in December, and only about 35 for the whole year last year.

Houses under $100,000 were "quite common" in Bluff.


Sunday Star Times