Editorial: Showing some suburban smarts

Location, location, location?

Enough already, enough already, enough already.

The real estate mantra became famous for a reason, we grant you, but it is not a substitute for the wider considerations, including more personal factors, that home buyers should be bearing in mind before they commit.

There's some good advice in the Westpac Housing report identifying Invercargill's "hidden gem" suburbs, which it turns out are the near-neighbours of the most popular (read: pricey) ones.

Nothing wrong with the report's encouragement for buyers not to be bedazzled by the prospect of entry into Gladstone, Windsor or Hawthorndale, when the nearby likes of Waikiwi, Grasmere, Glengarry and Richmond offer less expensive homes which could potentially be paid off a decade sooner.

But a couple of things need to be added.

Chiefly, that it's not just a matter of shifting a tight locational spotlight from one key area to another and disregarding a host of other factors, including possibilities.

Anybody who seriously thinks there are no hidden gems south or west of Hawthorndale is not only doing South Invercargill a disservice, but quite possibly themselves.

Location means more than the prestige of the neighbourhood.

Suburbs, streets and individual properties have their qualities and drawbacks. Proximity to family, or a school, or to a place of employment, can matter hugely.

So can more subjective matters like the character and feel of an area.

And that, we grant you, is potentially a changeable thing.

But that's not always a bad thing. It's true that suburbs can decline, but also that their fortunes can turn around and rise.

The South Alive initiative is not only gaining traction, but showing signs of stamina as well, mainly because of the fact that it's not something civic officialdom has bestowed on the area, but something the locals stepped forward to get sorted themselves. They own it.

Much as the Government, the Reserve Bank and the taxpayer have good reasons for wanting New Zealanders to pull back from our collectively unhealthy fixation with the housing market as investment, the fact is that capital gains still loom large in people's thinking and they are achievable from one end of this city to the other.

On top of which, the Westpac report is hardly ground-breaking in its insights.

The best capital gains are often made in overlooked suburbs that neighbour the most popular ones.

Housing affordability in Invercargill is enviable by New Zealand standards.

The flipside is that the standard of the housing stock is not, in total, as high as we should like. But the city's hardly inert.

New properties are being built and homes are being done up, sometimes with support from the likes of the Southland Warm Homes Trust.

Westpac talks in terms of a slight resetting of buyers' aspirations. Fair enough. It's really less a matter of settling for less than of being clear what you really most want and need, then paying intelligent attention in the first place. Because there's a lot going on out there.

The Southland Times