Anne Gibson

Property editor of the NZ Herald

Foreign buyers fuel house boom

18 Selwyn Avenue in Mission Bay was sold by Graham Wall for $5 million.  Photo / Supplied
18 Selwyn Avenue in Mission Bay was sold by Graham Wall for $5 million. Photo / Supplied

Wealthy foreign buyers are coming to New Zealand and paying top dollars for homes - fuelling fears they are contributing to skyrocketing property prices around the country.

Real estate agent Graham Wall said he had two deals to sell Mission Bay houses to Chinese and he is to travel to Shanghai at the end of the month to drum up further interest.

"Why we are getting record prices for Auckland, Hawkes Bay and Queenstown houses is that people outside New Zealand can see its worth," he said.

Chinese buyers wanted luxury properties, could afford them and appreciated Auckland's best suburbs with big waterfront views and proximity to the city, he said.

"I hold the opposite opinion to house-price critics," he said of people saying runaway prices were ruining the economy and forcing younger people overseas.

Russians and Americans were also keen buyers and a $5 million Coromandel deal to a Silicon Valley executive should be settled soon, Mr Wall said.

Ross Hawkins of Southeby's International said wealthy Chinese manufacturing and technology executives were looking to spend millions on Auckland houses.

"They're migrants who are coming here, setting up their families for schooling and getting money out of China. Some are going back there but the next generation are staying - 30 per cent of our inquiries are coming from offshore," Mr Hawkins said.

Steve Koerber of Barfoot & Thompson yesterday tweeted the $851,000 sale of 96 Portland Rd with a CV of just $580,000 and said the buyer at the multi-bidder auction was Asian.

"Asians are active and if they weren't there, prices would not be as high as what they are," Koerber said.

Diana Buczkowski, of Barfoot & Thompson, said Chinese buyers were extremely active in her area and willing to pay good prices.

"They have certainly broadened their horizons in the Epsom Grammar zone. They now understand the value of property is in land and they are steering away from townhouses. They often buy through our Chinese agents, generally because there's a network," she said, after selling 123 Wheturangi Rd for $2.3 million when it had a CV of just $1.3 million.

Last decade's property bubble was driven partly by the immigration floodgates being opened and the Green Party seeks to limit that via a quota and "encourage settlement outside areas under infrastructure and population capacity stress".

Peter West of Barfoots in Epsom said that only people with New Zealand residency could buy a house here. In some cases, a special certificate could be sought to allow a non-resident to buy but he said "those are hard to get".

Some buyers who are residents might however then return to China and leave a family behind them.

Economist Rodney Dickens said migration could be pushing up Auckland house prices.

"Maybe a small part. I think it is a more generalised thing that is as much if not more about limited supply as it is about demand which isn't hugely strong even in Auckland," said Dickens, of Strategic Risk Analysis.

Westpac chief economist Dominick Stephens discounted foreign buyers for driving the latest rises, saying net migration was at its lowest level in 10 years.

Instead he said cheap interest rates and severe under-building were responsible for the big Auckland prices, factors which might change soon because building consent data out this week showed a 20 per cent rise.

Earlier this year, Hollywood's James Cameron bought more than 1000ha at Western Lake in South Wairarapa, but only after getting approval. The Titanic and Avatar director plans to live there with his family.

Commentator Gareth Morgan this week described rising house prices as a cancer for the economy, writing in the Herald that prices remain at historical highs compared to incomes which had adverse wider effects.

"The over-investment in housing that we've sponsored has come at a high price: diversion of capital away from deployment in industry and income and employment and instead into an asset class where the predominant objective of investment has been capital gain," Morgan complained.

Bernard Hickey of interest.co.nz said a disparity of wealth between older and younger generations was a serious issue which the country was ignoring at its peril.

"The Baby Boomers will face the ultimate sanction. They will have to watch their grandchildren grow up by Facebook and Skype," he predicted.

Wall cited American billionaire Peter Thiel's praise for New Zealand's security of water supply, food production capacity and immigration controls due to geographic isolation.

"New Zealand is the only country on earth with a truly golden future. We have all that the world wants so we're in a sweet spot ..."

HEY, BIG BUYER

This year, Auckland agent Graham Wall has negotiated $25m worth of house sales.
Deals to Chinese:

* Ronaki Rd, Mission Bay: under negotiation, $5.8m
* 18 Selwyn Ave, Mission Bay: sold $5m
Source: Graham Wall Real Estate, 2012 deals

Other big deals

* 96 Portland Rd: CV $580,000, sold yesterday to Asian buyer $851,000
* 123 Wheturangi Rd, CV $1.3m, sold yesterday for $2.3m.

- NZ Herald

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