Home truths: What y'all can buy for US$1 million

By Andrew Laxon

How do Auckland property prices compare with the rest of the world? Andrew Laxon finds it all depends on where you look.

House hunters, look away now. If you want to feel even worse about Auckland's soaring property prices, check out what a million dollars can buy you in parts of the United States.

That's US dollars, of course, the international benchmark for property. And don't imagine you'll be buying in New York or Los Angeles, where prices are even more overheated than Auckland.

But if you head south to Dallas, Texas, or Las Vegas, Nevada, you can buy a palatial mansion for money that now buys a relatively small townhouse in a Grammar-zoned Auckland suburb.

Why are they so cheap? For a start, American house prices overall are still much lower than New Zealand's, after the boom-and-bust US housing bubble in the last decade.

The latest median US house price for January was only US$188,900 ($274,461), well short of this country's March figures of $495,000 nationally and $820,000 for Auckland.

Texas also sidestepped the boom-bust cycle in the first place by making land available quickly for housing as demand grew - unlike in other US states and cities around the world in the last decade, including Auckland.

As Dr Ali Anari, a research economist at Texas A&M University, reported in the university's Real Estate Center journal in 2013: "Texas had plenty of relatively low-cost land, combined with efficient statewide land acquisition and development processes."

The state's affordable housing strategy appears to have worked. A median-priced home in Dallas is US$137,000 ($200,000), only three times a median household's annual income (which is similar to New Zealand pay levels).

Here, a median house costs six times the median income - or 10 times the median income for Aucklanders.

Houses in Las Vegas cost four times annual incomes but are kept in check by the after-effects of the housing crash, which were the worst in America.

Twenty-one per cent of Las Vegas households are still "underwater", meaning their debt is greater than their home's value. In 2012 the figure was 71 per cent.

Even assuming you like these US mansions on offer - and there are plenty more like this on US real estate site redfin.com - the question remains; would you want to live in Dallas or Las Vegas, instead of Auckland?

According to this year's widely used Mercer Quality of Life survey, Auckland is the third-best city in the world to live in behind Vienna and Zurich, in first and second places respectively.

Dallas ranks 63rd. Las Vegas (population 600,000) doesn't make the list of 230 but it would probably rank a few places behind Dallas.

At this point, Auckland doesn't look so bad compared to the other top "liveable" cities on the list. The median Auckland house price of about $800,000 may not buy much here, but you would struggle to find a shoebox apartment for $1 million in Vienna or Zurich on real estate websites. Munich and Vancouver, which round out the Mercer top five, are almost as challenging.

And if you really want to cheer yourself up, try spending $800,000 in the world's traditional top cities.

According to figures from property data website homes.co.nz, you could get a 50sq m apartment in Paris, a run-down house in suburban LA or a 64sq m apartment in London. Just don't think about your palace in Las Vegas.

Video

Home Truths: Why we're doing this

Auckland has a real problem with unaffordable housing. Increasingly, so do other parts
of the country.

But as we revealed in the Weekend Herald yesterday, the situation is not getting better.

It's getting worse.

The statistics are alarming:

• A typical house in Auckland costs 10 times a typical household income.

• Prices have tripled in the past 15 years whereas incomes have risen by only two-thirds.

• It would take a typical couple aged 25-29 seven years to save a deposit for a $630,000 "affordable" house in Auckland.

• Assuming they had a bank loan for a smaller amount, they would spend almost half their take-home pay in mortgage repayments. Single people on a regular income simply can't afford to buy.

• If you don't own a home in Auckland by the time you're 40, you're unlikely to get one.

• New Zealand is the most expensive country in the world to buy a home, based on prices compared to incomes.

The Herald's Home Truths series, which begins this weekend, will investigate the supply and demand problems behind the crisis. Our exclusive property data on
nzherald.co.nz spells out clearly how much you can (and can't) afford to buy in every New Zealand city, town and suburb.

Most importantly, we talk to the people affected and look for answers that will help them.

Watch out for video and print interviews with three house hunters struggling to find a home within their price range, plus a Herald panel of property experts who will give them advice.

Auckland:

This house squeezes into a tiny piece of land, within an original property subdivided into four sections. But you're not buying here for the wide open spaces. The key words are "double Grammar zone" - Auckland Grammar and Epsom Girls Grammar - which is estimated to add about $250,000-$300,000 to a property's value. Barfoot & Thompson agent George Fong emphasised the easy walking access to four great local schools in his successful sales pitch, along with the "comfortable, light and bright modern interior", the "easy care gorgeous landscaped grounds" and the overseas-bound vendor in a hurry to sell.

Dallas:

This huge property sits on Lake Ray Hubbard, 29km from downtown Dallas (about the same distance from Auckland as Orewa or Karaka). It has panoramic lake views, a boat dock, large swimming pool and spa in the large backyard. Inside are a soaring entrance with double-helix staircase, massive kitchen with two ovens, formal dining, a three-sided fireplace, coffee bar, exercise areas and double spa tub. The bathroom looks bigger than an average city apartment.

Las Vegas:

No expense has been spared in this custom-designed, Spanish-themed palace. From the giant Phoenix palms framing the Greek pillars and giant double front doors to the spacious, enclosed backyard pool, designed with hints of a Roman bathhouse, your guests will instantly know you are one very high roller. Throw in the sumptuous snake-like interior columns and faux Louis XIV furniture - not to mention the cathedral ceilings, executive office with gold-leaf accents and spacious master bedroom with sauna and private balcony - and there can be no doubts over your extravagant wealth and taste. After all, this is Vegas.

- Herald on Sunday

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