Wendy Voyce was spending as much time out of Palmerston North as she could. The weather was getting to the mother-of-three. The cost of living was getting to her, too; and the children, she thought, were not as happy as they could be.
She had lived and worked in the North Island city for years but last December, after increasingly heading to the beach for the weekends, Voyce started wondering why they didn't just pack up and leave. There was good weather at Foxton Beach. There was great fishing and friendly people too, she said. Whenever she went into a shop they seemed glad to see her. It was almost like a time warp - one with wonderful sunsets and million-dollar views.
"But you're not paying for them. Why wouldn't you move?"
Last December she answered that question definitively. The family sold their three bedroom home in Palmerston North for $280,000 and bought a much larger two-storey home on 800 square metres for $60,000 less.
Voyce said the kids were now happier, her partner commutes the short 30 minutes to Palmerston North and she still felt like she was on a holiday. "There is so much to do here but it is back to basics."
Instead of trips to the mall or paying for go-karting and 10-pin bowling, they go walking in the forest or searching for tadpoles.
Voyce's decision has helped boost the country's residential market. According to data from the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand, crunched by the Sunday Star-Times, smaller cities and towns have increasingly turned up in the top places in New Zealand for increases in sales and year-on-year price increases.
In Darfield, Canterbury, the Christchurch earthquake was behind a similar trend. Some had come from the city but others were transferring from as far away as Auckland for a different and cheaper lifestyle, said Devlin Real Estate sales representative Annie Smith.
"There is an awful lot of unknown and they like to go to something that is quite solid."
Christchurch Airport was only about 25 minutes away, and Darfield was a good alternative for people who did not want to live in a big city.
"It is unseen and unspoiled. Whereas Rolleston and Rangiora had an immediate boost after the earthquakes and are now seen to be a bit overcrowded, we don't have that in Darfield.
"We are still seen as rural."
Over the past year, both Foxton Beach and Foxton have seen big increases in the number of residential sales and the prices paid for them. The trend is echoed in many towns on the outskirts of larger metropolitan areas.
Owner of Ray White Foxton, Ellen Graham, said the location was previously known as a gang town. Now, however, it was seen as a place for both commuters and retired farmers looking for a simpler life.
"I've been selling crap out there which is crap but people want to pay half a million," she said. Members of the older generation who had held on to sections they bought for $30,000 can now sell them for $400,000.
Amanda Street, who was born and bred in the area, bought her first house in the early 2000s for $73,000 and sold it five years later for $180,000. Now she is selling subdivisions on a larger property she bought with the profit from that first acquisition.
"You can buy at a reasonable price, earn the city money, commute and live at the beach," she said. "I'm only leaving here in a coffin."
Helensville, 40km north-west of Auckland, has also seen a boost in sales.
Mark van Lent, Helensville manager for Barfoot & Thompson, said the prices in central Auckland had helped push families further out.
"You can still buy a reasonable three-bedroom home in the $300,000s [in Helensville] and it's not that far out."
For many families who worked on the North Shore, 35 minutes away, it was a more attractive option, he said.
"It's to do with affordability."
- Sunday Star Times
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