Market set up for first time buyers

By James Fuller

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First-home buyers will be relieved to know there are plenty of homes on offer for less than $300,000 in the Western Bay, according to regional real estate experts.

The first-time buyer market has long been a competitive one but has become increasingly so of late. With low interest rates and motivated lenders re-energising the sector, prospective new homeowners find themselves fighting the same space as investors returning to the rental market and older people downsizing.

That reality should not dishearten first-timers, says Ross Stanway, chief executive of Realty Services which operates Bayleys and Eves, even if their own raised expectations have altered the playing field.

"Many first-time homebuyers have their sights set higher than those five, 10 or 15 years ago," said Mr Stanway. "The expectations and aspirations now have raised the bar. On the plus side, prices have stabilised over the last three to four years which means there is some very good value out there. It is possible to buy a first home for less than five years ago."

Mr Stanway said the first-time homebuyer bracket now included properties up to $450,000.

Last week's Real Estate Institute of New Zealand (REINZ) figures showed a stable local market. In August, 111 Tauranga homes were sold, the same number as July and closely matching August 2011 figures, when 110 houses changed hands.

The median price of Tauranga houses sold in August was $330,000 compared to $356,500 in August 2011. So, for those of more limited means, is the $300,000 home still a reality for the first-time buyer in Tauranga? The experts say it is and the figures back them up.

A RealEstateNZ search of all Tauranga suburbs revealed 322 properties priced at $300,000 or less. Of these 2 (0.5 per cent) were priced below $150,000; 34 (or 10.5 per cent) were in the $150,000- 200,000 range; 87 listings (or 27 per cent) cost between $200,000- 250,000; and 199 (or 62 per cent) were in the $250,000-300,000 bracket.

The cheapest property on the market was a one-bedroom, one-bathroom Mount Maunganui flat priced at $147,000.

"There are properties in that price bracket [$300,000], as there are in just about every price bracket," said Mr Stanway. "But they must confront the realism which all homebuyers will eventually face: You are not going to get 100 per cent of what you want."

Mr Stanway advised buyers to "have a good, rational checklist, prioritised clearly into must-haves and would-be-nice-to-haves" and to "understand the difference between what cannot change and what can be changed about the property".

"On balance, if you get 80-90 per cent of what you want, and other things can be changed in time, that should move you towards a positive decision," he said.

Simon Martin, managing director of Harcourts Advantage Realty, said his company had "a heap of properties" in the $300,000 range.

"We are not in a situation like some of the markets around New Zealand where there's a serious lack of stock. It might get there eventually but at the moment there are still listings coming on and the volume of sales is sticking around 110; it was 111 last month."

He said the volume of sales and listings had not fluctuated dramatically and prices were also stable.

"I don't think the prices are back on the rise again yet, really. The whole supply-and-demand cycle has to turn a corner before we're going to see pressure on prices. All we've seen lately is a stabilising of prices. They've stopped dropping."

The first-time buyer activity levels were increasing though.

"There's more interest definitely. The properties are at a value now where there's more activity, more enquiry, and there's a feeling that it's a good time to buy."

He said entry level purchasers should have realistic expectations.

"For first-time buyers there is always going to be a compromise of some sort, whether it's the area or style of the property, size of the house, the number of bedrooms or bathrooms, etc. It's working through that.

"There are some good properties around and you only have to walk up the Mount in the morning to realise this is a fantastic place to live. If you've got the ability to live and have an income here, it's the most wonderful place to buy a property."

He said it was a good time for first-time buyers who were being offered a lot of incentives by lenders.

"The thing which is inspiring for first-time buyers are the deals which are available for them at the moment.

"Comparing a first-time buyer four years ago with one today; today they can borrow more money and perhaps get that house which is $50,000 more than they could have then. Plus the prices have come back, so they're getting more house for their money.

"The banks are loaning more so what you can take from that is that they think the market has hit the bottom. They wouldn't be loaning 90-95 per cent if they thought the market was going to fall further.

"There's also a lot of talk out there that interest rates are going to stay low for quite some time so that's got people thinking maybe now is the time to get into it."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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