Nearly 60 per cent of Auckland houses sold to foreign buyers went to Chinese investors, new data shows.
The data released by Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) this afternoon showed that 474 out 11,955 houses sold between January and March went to non-residents.
Of the sales to foreign buyers, 276 houses went to Chinese residents. The next biggest investors were Australians, with 45 properties.
Across all of New Zealand, 3 per cent of houses sold between January and March went to people who were not New Zealand citizens or holders of a residency, student or work visa.
Chinese tax residents snapped up 321 of those properties (29.5 per cent of non-resident purchases), followed by Australians on 312 properties (28.6 per cent).
Last year, the Labour Party prompted a public uproar after producing data which showed that up to 40 per cent of Auckland houses were being sold to people of Chinese descent, who only made up 10 per cent of the city's population.
Labour's estimate was based on people with Chinese-sounding surnames and did not differentiate between non-residents and residents.
Labour Party housing spokesman Phil Twyford said today that the new data was not an accurate picture because it was collected at a time when offshore speculators had temporarily left the market.
"For most of the six months this information was collected, the Auckland housing market was in a temporary lull," he said.
"Most analysts attributed this to the new requirement for foreign buyers to register with the Inland Revenue and the Chinese Government's crackdown on illegal financial transfers out of China.
"It also excludes trusts and businesses. A further 45 per cent of the Auckland sales were also excluded because of exemptions for those buying family homes and those who signed contracts before the law came in."
Mr Tywford said that the data was "effectively useless" as a contribution to the housing debate.
The data revealed this afternoon is the first snapshot of the level of non-resident activity in the housing market.
Officials warned that there were some limitations to the data and it was not an authoritative guide to the level of foreign investment in New Zealand's residential property.
Land Information Minister Louise Upston said the figures were in line with the Government's expectations. Asked whether it could lead to any change in Government policy, she said that it was "early days" and a clear picture would not emerge until 12 months of data had been collected.
The data was not complete. Around 10 per cent of sales across the country involved buyers who did not need to disclose tax information because their sale and purchase agreement was signed before the law came into force before October - when new disclosure requirements came into force.
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Of the remaining house sales, 50 per cent were bought by buyers with New Zealand tax residency.
Another 37 per cent involved buyers who did not need to disclose tax information - mostly New Zealand citizens or residents who were buying their main home.
The data has been collected since October, but LINZ chief executive Peter Mersi said the organisation was not confident in the first three months of information.
At a press conference this afternoon, Mr Mersi stressed that the information was not a register of foreign ownership.
"That's because tax residency is not the same as nationality. For example, a New Zealander living and paying tax in the UK who bought a house in New Zealand would be included in this information as having overseas tax residency."
There were other limitations, he said, such as the buyers who were omitted from the results because their purchase contract was signed before October.
"We have no sight of what the composition of that 10 per cent is," Mr Mersi said.
Barfoot and Thompson director Peter Thompson said the numbers were about what he expected, although he thought they might have been a little higher.
He said the period covered included the traditionally quiet January period and that might have effected the figures.
"It's most probably slightly less then I thought for the January, February period.
Traditionally January is a quiet month for real estate sales everywhere," he said.
"I wouldn't think it's a true reflection until, most probably, over a six-month period. If I recall, through the heat of it last year, we were predicting between 5 per cent and 7 per cent. [This] is within the ball park."
Of the Auckland figures, he expected Chinese buyers to make up abut half.
"That's self-evident from what's happening in Auckland. Australia's always big because there's big job opportunity, especially in the building sector, over here."
REINZ chief executive Colleen Milne said the institute was pleased the data was being collected.
"It is good news that a clearer picture is being put together so that more informed decisions can be made," she said.
"The 3% figure of New Zealand homes bought by non-resident buyers in the last three months is in the range of what we anticipated.
"For us, the most important thing is a lack of supply - more houses need to be built in Auckland and around the country to meet the challenges we face."
Property Institute chief executive Ashley Church was another not surprised at the figures, coming past the "blip" of the restrictions introduced on people hocking off investment properties within two years.
Mr Church said over time he thought the nationwide figures would "pan out" to about 7 or 8 per cent foreign buyers, which was nothing like the 30 to 40 per cent figures some were banding about last year when no data was captured.
"I think, unfortunately, last year there was a fair degree of xenophobia that was entering the debate."
Collecting information was important and would enable good policy decisions and give a profile of what was causing demand.
It had been said the demand in Auckland was driven by overseas buyers, but Mr Church said today's figures showed it was because, simply, people wanted to live there.
He hoped the data would "put to bed" some of the xenophobic commentary.
Number of sales / tax residency of buyers:
• 321 - China (29.5%)
• 312 - Australia (28.6%)
• 162 - people with mixed tax residency (including at least one NZ buyer) (14.9%)
• 99 - United Kingdom (9.1%)
• 51 - USA (4.7%)
• 36 - Singapore (3.3%)
• 33 - Hong Kong (3%)
Number of sales / tax residency of buyers:
• 276 - China (58.2%)
• 45 - Australia (9.5%)
• 36 - people with mixed tax residency (including at least one NZ buyer) (7.6%)
• 24 - United Kingdom (5.1%)
• 18 - USA (3.8%)
• 12 - Singapore (2.5%)
• 9 - Hong Kong
• 54 - other countries