Housing costs in Tauranga have been branded "severely unaffordable" in an international survey of 337 mainly English-speaking cities across the globe.
An international housing affordability survey by Demographia has put Tauranga 40th from the bottom of the least affordable cities in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and America.
The $349,000 median house price in Tauranga and the Western Bay was nearly six times the area's median household income of $59,600. It meant the city ranked alongside Perth and Toronto for affordability but had improved against the skyrocketing markets of Auckland and Christchurch which polled 24th and 26th respectively.
Hong Kong was the least affordable city in the world with an income/house price ratio of 13.5, while the most affordable was the severely depressed American city of Detroit on 1.5. Hamilton/Waikato was in 95th spot with a ratio of 4.7.
While the survey showed enormous financial challenges still faced Tauranga residents on an average income wanting to buy their first home, the city's real estate industry leaders drew some positives.
Neville Falconer of LJ Hooker said Tauranga's unaffordability index of houses being 5.9 times the incomes had remained constant from last year's survey.
"We ought not to be surprised. We know that values have hardly moved and wages have not moved much."
He said there was a lot more turnover in the lower end of Tauranga's property market, but despite that values had changed very little.
Harcourts general manager Nigel Martin believed median prices did not tell the whole story. "In reality, we are more affordable than the figures suggest."
Tauranga's top-end beachfront properties, which were starting to move again, had pushed the market out of kilter. It took only two or three sales in the $2 million to $4 million bracket to push the median price up, he said.
Ross Stanway of Realty Services, which operates Eves and Bayleys, said unlike Auckland and Christchurch, Tauranga had a stable market and the houses for sale represented significantly better value than the boom days of 2007.
But like many regions, the survey reflected how the majority of Tauranga businesses were driven by medium Agents see positives despite findings
incomes. The other side of the coin was that many people shifted to Tauranga for its lifestyle.
"We should take heart that a lot of people want to come here and raise their families."
Another factor was that the expectations of young people buying their first home were a lot higher than previous generations, which started out buying very modest homes, he said.
Greg Purcell of Ray White Real Estate said Tauranga's market had a lot to do with the South Africans and British migrants settling in the city.
He said the index could be looked at as a form of flattery in that people were not voting with their feet and leaving Tauranga because of the relationship between incomes and house prices.
Real Estate Institute of New Zealand chief executive officer Helen O'Sullivan said the Bay figure reflected growth in the region.
"Tauranga, in particular, is a bit of an undiscovered secret.
"Tauranga is not as silver-topped as I think it's perceived to be - there's quite a lot of business and activity in Tauranga as it's developing its own momentum as a secondary city."
Unlike Auckland and Christchurch, the Western Bay property market was not limited by land availability issues, she said.
Overall, the median New Zealand house price was 5.3 times the median household income last year.
Looking for the perfect house and price
Buying her own home is an elusive dream for Gate Pa woman Vicki Seator.
The mother-of-three said she and her husband Mike would love to own their own home but simply did not have the money to do so.
The couple pay $340 a week in rent, which Mrs Seator said they would prefer to be spending on mortgage repayments.
"We see the prices [of houses] coming down and we may even miss the good buying time, which I think is now. But then we are still looking for the perfect one, at the perfect price without having to struggle paying a mortgage."
Mrs Seator has been investing in Kiwisaver for three years and Mr Seater will make his three-year anniversary in February 2014.
Under the scheme you have to have been contributing to Kiwisaver for three years in order to use the money to buy a house.
"We both want to use our Kiwisaver to buy a home but we have to make sure we qualify first - through Housing New Zealand."
The couple owned a home many years ago and also needed to ensure their annual household income was not over $100,000, she said.
"You've got to have that 5 per cent [deposit] and I don't have enough Kiwisaver to do that, so we're waiting for hubby to do that so we have a big large sum," she said.
Mrs Seator said they were focussing on minimising debt in order to be debt free before trying to buy a home.
- Kiri Gillespie