Subdivisions prosper as Cantabrians' views change

SAFETY FIRST: Danielle Graham and Mathew Fisher are happy with their home in the Wigram Skies subdivision as it's a ready-made community and 'earthquake safe'.
SAFETY FIRST: Danielle Graham and Mathew Fisher are happy with their home in the Wigram Skies subdivision as it's a ready-made community and 'earthquake safe'.

Earthquake fears and a stressed housing market are forcing house-hunting Cantabrians to rethink subdivisions previously seen as "too American".

Despite the ingrained "Stepford Wife" perception, developers are seeing overwhelming demand for sections on the city's fringes as the housing market remains competitive.

Displaced red-zoners, earthquake recovery workers relocating and organic population growth were pressuring Christchurch's housing market, making subdivision living the only viable option for some.

Market research firm Research First has noticed a "significant shift" in how Cantabrians view the residential developments, having researched living environments in Christchurch since 2008.

Before the quakes many residents were not subdivision fans, research director Carl Davidson said.

"Some of the language that has previously been used by Cantabrians to describe residential developments is ‘they're way too American', ‘it's an imported model and we don't like it' and ‘the Stepford Wives would live there'."

People thought subdivisions came with too many rules about what owners could do with their properties, Davidson said, but there had been "a really significant shift" in the last two years.

"People are now saying residential developments appeal to them because they are safe, in terms of both crime and earthquakes . . . [and] the land is in a better condition."

Housing market pressure in Christchurch could be fuelling the change, he said.

Canterbury director of the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand Tony McPherson said people who "never thought they would live in a subdivision" had found themselves with little choice.

"I think people were driven out that way . . . to Selwyn and the Waimakariri districts out of necessity and those areas are seen as safer. People like the idea of knowing the ground would have been thoroughly prepared for houses and that the foundations are newer."

McPherson said the short supply of housing stock was forcing people to rethink their options.

The market for subdivision buyers had also changed, he said.

"Pre-quake it was always large homes, four bedrooms and sections between 600 and 800 square metres . . . now you see people advertising smaller sections and that's because of affordability."

Tracey Watson, manager of Sovereign Palms subdivision in Kaiapoi, said booming post-quake business included reluctant buyers.

"Usually people are really happy about it but since the quakes we've had people who have bought sections and they say things like, ‘I'm not too happy about this but I just need to do it'."

Demand was being spurred by population growth and the fact that people knew more about the condition of the land. "For some people though, it's because sections are cheaper . . . houses are hard to come by in town and there's very little option left."

Ngai Tahu Property chief executive Tony Sewell said he "can't produce sections fast enough".

Its Wigram Skies development was "booming" as were its Lincoln and Prestons developments.

"I think things have really changed and the current environment in Christchurch is bloody tough . . . people who have always bought second-hand houses are now buying [subdivision] sections and building."

Pair find freedom at Wigram

A Christchurch couple stretched their budget to secure a new house on "quake-safe land", and ending up joining the subdivision revolution.

Danielle Graham and Mathew Fisher moved into their new Wigram Skies home four weeks ago after spending six months looking for a home.

"We were in an older villa in Somerfield but we wanted somewhere newer, somewhere where the land was safer and better maintained," Graham said.

She said the pair "immediately liked the look of" the Wigram Skies development because it came with fewer rules than other subdivisions.

"We've looked at some places where you can't wash your car on your driveway and your front yard has to look like everyone else's . . . that's what I don't like about subdivisions."

She said Wigram Skies did come with certain rules but they weren't "over the top".

The couple don't have children but Graham said that might change at some point.

"And I can see why subdivisions appeal to young families . . . [it's] planning on having a school and cafes and things so it will feel like a community."

Their house was in a new part of the subdivision and Graham was looking forward to seeing development progress.

She said the couple "pushed our budget" to ensure they were buying a property that was safe.

"That safety aspect was really important for us . . . I do think that's maybe why subdivisions are becoming more popular. The land has been properly checked and prepared and it's quake-safe."

The Press