Improving economic conditions mean fewer homeowners are being forced by lenders to sell

Fewer Kiwi homeowners are being forced to sell their houses as the economy grows.

New figures show mortgagee sales are becoming increasingly rare.

Nationwide, there were 797 mortgagee sales or foreclosures last year, down from 1216 the previous year, and barely a quarter of the number in the depths of the economic slump in 2009.

The figures were provided by data analysis company CoreLogic.

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Foreclosure happens when a homeowner does not or cannot make their mortgage repayments.

At one point in 2009, forced sales accounted for one in 25 of all homes sold. Now, only one in a hundred houses sold were foreclosures, economist Shamubeel Eaqub said.

Mortgagee sales also fell dramatically in spring and early this summer, even though more homes are usually sold in summer than other seasons.

The New Zealand economy grew 2.9 per cent in the year to the September 2014 quarter, according to Statistics New Zealand's latest gross domestic profit figures.

Commentators put the fall in forced sales down to lower unemployment, low interest rates and new minimum deposit rules.

However, a growing but uneven economy complicated matters.

"The general story on mortgagee sales is very positive," said Mr Eaqub, of the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research.

"There are more jobs and wages have increased, albeit gradually. Mortgage stress has reduced considerably."

But not all regions experienced the same upswing. CoreLogic said in Northland and the Bay of Plenty there were more mortgagee sales in the last few months of the year. And Mr Eaqub said forced sales outside Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington remained high.

"The recovery from recession has been lopsided. Nearly 80 per cent of new jobs in the last seven years have been in Auckland and nearly 20 per cent in Canterbury, with little growth in other parts."

Unemployment was now roughly 5.7 per cent, down from 6.9 per cent in 2012.

The fall in foreclosures reflected generally positive trends for Kiwi consumers and prospective homeowners, said Kirk Hope, New Zealand Bankers' Association chief executive.

He said "household balance sheets" were strong in many respects. Low interest rates meant people taking out home loans were in a better position to pay those loans off, he said.

This and the "relatively buoyant" economy were to thank for fewer foreclosures, he said.

Although Auckland's fast-rising house prices were a talking point, Mr Hope said people planning to buy homes elsewhere could be optimistic.

"There are different conversations happening in other parts of the country about house prices and it's not that they're too high," Mr Hope said. "It's that they're either stable, or house price growth is relatively muted."

The average Kiwi property jumped in value 4.9 per cent to $488,674 last year, according to QV and CoreLogic. Prices in Auckland increased at twice that, jumping 9.8 per cent.

But outside Auckland and Queenstown, growth was more sluggish and prices actually fell in Gisborne, Hutt Valley, Rotorua and Wanganui.

Loan-to-value ratio (LVR) restrictions also helped to limit the number of foreclosures. These restrictions require home buyers to raise at least 20 per cent deposit.

Mr Hope said there were fewer bad loans floating around now.

A Trade Me spokesman said the website's figures confirmed the trend of fewer foreclosures. There were 73 mortgagee sale listings on the site's property section last month. A year ago, there were 190 and in February 2013 there were 282.

Yesterday, Trade Me had about 80 mortgagee sales and auctions listed - from small units in apartment blocks to mansions on sprawling rural properties - but several of these had been on the site since last year.

Meanwhile, fears of a property market implosion partly inspired the Reserve Bank to confirm this week it would consider imposing tougher new mortgage rules for residential property investors.

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