Rental costs keep creeping up

GETTING BY: A mother-of-three says she has had to cut back on food to pay the rent.
GETTING BY: A mother-of-three says she has had to cut back on food to pay the rent.

Rents in Christchurch continued their march upwards last month with three-bedroom houses citywide going for $20 to $40 more than a year ago, the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand's monthly report shows.

One Christchurch property manager believes rent prices have hit a winter ceiling, but could rise again in spring.

The average rental prices, in the main, crept up just under $10 each in both March and April compared with the same months in 2011.

However, in May the rise took a sharper turn with the average for a three-bedroom home in most suburbs now between $340 and $380 a week.

The report gives averages for Christchurch suburbs, but not for the city overall.

Harcourts Grenadier Accommodation Centre business manager Nigel Bowden believed rents would plateau over the seasonally quiet winter. However, they were likely to rise again in the spring.

"I think they [rents] will continue to rise. What normally happens in September and October is people consider their options for selling and the rental market does have a number of accidental landlords."

They were homeowners who had not been able to sell and were renting them out in the meantime, he said.

If those houses were sold to owner-occupiers and there was also an influx of workers for rebuild work starting in the spring, a lower number of rentals and higher numbers of tenants would push rents higher, he said. Many people were moving west, where rents had risen most, he said.

Much of the traditional rental stock in the area had been sold to owner-occupiers, shrinking the pool.

Rachelle Hyde, of Ray White Property Management Rolleston, said there was a "real shortage" of rentals in Rolleston and rents had increased about 10 to 20 per cent in line with increased demand.

A drop off in building and fewer properties being put up for rent was coinciding with more people wanting to rent in the satellite town, she said.

"It's fluctuating quite a lot, too. It's like nothing we've ever seen before. All we know is there is a shortage of homes."

Six months ago an open home would attract about 30 families in as many minutes and properties were still being snapped up quickly, she said.

What was a $400 rental home six months ago would now be going for $480 or even $500 a week. Many people taking them were professionals coming from outside the region.

Some locals were moving to cheaper rents in places like Leeston and Darfield, she said.

The real estate institute's report is based on data from the Department of Building and Housing. The national average for a three-bedroom home was $360, up $10 from the previous year.

Working solo mum forced to scrimp on food

Baked beans on toast is a regular meal for a Christchurch family struggling to make ends meet in an "unaffordable" Burnside rental home.

Mother-of-three, who did not want her name used, said she was living week by week despite earning just under $50,000 working fulltime in a legal firm.

The rent for her three-bedroom flat is $390, which is more than half of her weekly $700 pay cheque.

The single mother receives $150 a week as child support but, after paying bills, power, phone, school fees and food for her children, she said she was broke before each pay day.

"The food is quite minimal at home. We don't really eat meat because I can't afford it. Mostly it's pasta meals or baked beans on toast for dinner," she said.

The 38-year-old, who was not eligible for Working for Families payments or the accommodation supplement because of her salary, said that before the earthquakes she would not have even considered a $390 rental.

"I never looked at anything over $320 because it is just out of my price range, but I had no other option," she said.

Until December, she was renting a three-bedroom home in the same suburb for $310.

She left the house to move in with her former partner, but when the relationship broke up in February she desperately looked for another rental near her children's schools and said "the cheapest house available is the one I'm in now".

She believed she was "lucky to get what I've got".

The significant rent rise had put her under an "awful lot of pressure" and she had recently been prescribed anti-depressants by her doctor.

The Press