Auckland: The new Monaco?

By Susan Edmunds

Never mind Lonely Planet ranking Auckland one of the world’s top 10 towns for backpackers — international analysis this year shows the city joining the ranks of the world’s most desirable cities for the uber-rich. Over a glass or two of Veuve Clicquot while enjoying the view over Rangitoto, a couple of millionaires tell us why

A study ranks Auckland among the top cities in the world for high-net worth individuals to live, work and invest. Photo / Thinkstock
A study ranks Auckland among the top cities in the world for high-net worth individuals to live, work and invest. Photo / Thinkstock

Houses with sea views sell for $10 million - and there's a waiting list to buy them. Gleaming superyachts wait at the wharf while their owners sun themselves at beach houses on private islands.

At restaurants, well-heeled couples don't blink at dropping half a grand on dinner. And not far from a string of shops where handbags retail for thousands of dollars, a woman recently walked out the door of a high-street retail jeweller with a white diamond dress ring sporting a price tag of $72,690.

In a boutique hotel on the slopes overlooking the marina this week, multi-millionaire horse breeders in their summer frocks and financiers in their blazers sip on tumblers of rum before bidding to buy a bejewelled decanter of the golden liquor for a relaxed $30,000 or $40,000.

Think you know which city this is? If you guessed Monaco or Dubai, think again. It's Auckland.

A study by global property consultancy Knight Frank found Auckland ranks among the top cities in the world for high-net worth individuals to live, work and invest.

At Mollies Hotel, NZ Mortgages and Securities partner James Kellow sips on a rum cocktail and chats to high-end realty power couple Paul and Amy Hain. "The increased calendar of exclusive events and restaurant openings has made Auckland a much more enjoyable city to live in."

And with a nod to the sponsor: "Drinking the world's most expensive rum, Legacy, at a venue as special as Mollies compares well with my best international experiences. Auckland is on fire," says the 39-year old, decked out in a Crane brothers jacket and Gucci shoes and glasses.

The world's super-rich can find a quality of life in New Zealand's biggest city that ranks it 12th in the world, behind the likes of Zurich and New York but ahead of Vienna, Amsterdam, Washington, Tokyo and Los Angeles.

Paul and Amy Hain and James Kellow at Mollies Hotel. Photo / Norrie Montgomery
Paul and Amy Hain and James Kellow at Mollies Hotel. Photo / Norrie Montgomery

Auckland as a mecca for the world's wealthy might seem an uncomfortable fit for Kiwis who identify more with the No 8 wire mentality than the Kim Kardashian lifestyle. But what Auckland - and indeed, New Zealand - has to offer that is so sought-after by the well-off is privacy, space and a relaxed lifestyle that is hard to replicate anywhere else around the world.

Over the past year, Auckland's high-end property prices have increased 12.7 per cent, the seventh-fastest rate in the world.

Auckland's overall property prices are now in the top 50 in the world, putting the city in the same realm as global centres such as London, Manhattan, Sydney and resort getaways including the British Virgin Islands, St Jean Cap Ferrat and Monaco.

But what you get for your money in Auckland is still attractive by international standards. While it costs 45,900 euros ($75,360) a square metre to build in Monaco and 28,200 euros ($46,300) a square metre in Geneva, even the Hotchin house, which shares Auckland's highest CV of $22 million, with Graeme Hart's clifftop mansion, is less than $10,000 a square metre.

Real estate agent Michael Boulgaris says houses priced up to $10 million are traded relatively frequently. "More would change hands if the owner sold but when someone has the ultimate position and has built the optimum home and has money in the bank, if they sold they couldn't replace it. They're only going to sell if there's a death or divorce."

He says there is always a waiting list of buyers for top-level homes.

Privacy is paramount for the very wealthy, he says, followed by a sea view. "I looked at a house that was $7 million or $8 million the other day and you could stand in the main bedroom and touch the neighbour. Space and privacy are what are important."

Charlie Brendon-Cook, of Luxury Real Estate, says some super rich are broadening their sights beyond Auckland, looking for that privacy.

He has just listed a $10 million property for sale near Kerikeri and says there has been a noticeable upturn in inquiries from buyers looking to spend up to $20 million. "Over the past couple of months, there's been an uptick in inquiry out of Singapore, Hong Kong, Europe and the United States."

Russian businessman Alexander Abramov has already claimed his spot. The steel magnate, one of the wealthiest 125 people in the world, bought 300ha of farmland at Helena Bay, near Whangarei. There, he's building a mansion, swimming pool, jetty and guest houses. The price tag has been put at $40 million.

Ali Yildiz and Seeby Woodhouse at his Castor Bay home. Photo / Doug Sherring
Ali Yildiz and Seeby Woodhouse at his Castor Bay home. Photo / Doug Sherring

It's becoming easier for people to run their businesses from anywhere in the world. And for some, there's no place like home.

Orcon founder Seeby Woodhouse, who proposed to his girlfriend in Monaco, says he used to love overseas jaunts. "I travel a lot and have an office in San Francisco but I enjoy coming back to Auckland and working here. It's relaxed but there's enough talent to find the right people to do things."

"Everything flows smoothly. In the US, it might take three weeks for an internet payment to clear. In Auckland, you can open a company at the company's office online and pay $60, file your returns online and use Xero to do your accounting.

"And you can have a nice office and a view of the water while you do it."

Even New Zealand's notorious "tall-poppy syndrome" is ebbing away a little, he says. "There's still a bit of it but it's changing. In the past, Rod Drury (technology entrepreneur) would have been knocked down but now we see his success and that's cool."

New Zealand is also becoming a magnet for overseas investment. Mikhail Khimich, another well-off Russian, bought into Waiwera Water and Thermal Resort and is now making premium spirits, operating the hot pools, bottling mineral water and cruising around the country in his superyacht.

The story goes that he tasted Waiwera water at Kermadec restaurant in the Viaduct in 2008. Khimich returned the following day to find the restaurant had sold out of the water. Hemet Waiwera Hot Pools owner John St Clair Brownand a little over a year later bought a 40 per cent stake in the company.

His former business partner, Alexander Kirichuk, says New Zealand is a convenient place to be based. "It's an international city, I believe."

Seeby Woodhouse with fiancee Geraldine Burnett.
Seeby Woodhouse with fiancee Geraldine Burnett.

Auckland's tourism bosses want the city to be top-of-the-list as a holiday spot for the well-to-do, and have been at the Monaco boat show trying to raise awareness of Auckland as a stopover for superyachts. Rachael Carroll, Auckland's general manager of destination and marketing, says a superyacht based here for three or four months will inject an extra $2m or $3m into the local economy. "A superyacht over summer delivers the same economic contribution as a visit by a cruise ship."

Delamore Lodge, on Waiheke Island, will normally rent out at $1,500 a night. Rolling Stone Keith Richards stayed at Cotter House in Remuera, which usually costs $5,000 with full security supplied. "We don't have enough really high-end product in Auckland to keep up with demand," says Karine Thomas, of luxury lodge marketing firm Navigate Oceania.

Compared to Paris, London or New York, aren't we a bit boring? Well, it's hardly rock'n'roll, but they like it.

Woodhouse says there has been a noticeable improvement in the nightlife in Auckland since the Rugby World Cup. "Everyone seems to have noticed there's a lot of stuff going on. In 10 years, we've come a long way and become a lot more international."

Spy Bar, in the Viaduct, has built a reputation for wanting only top-end clients. There is often a queue and the bouncers are known to be picky. Its millionaire owner Ali Yildiz says when he took over the bar in 2003, there was hardly any competition. Now, bars in Britomart, Ponsonby, Kingsland and Takapuna compete for the same market.

"It is a bit chicken and egg. Without the population, you can't spend money but without spending money, you can't hold on to the population. My view is that we need to spend the money first to attract people back here and hold on to them.

"There's a certain bunch of people who don't mind spending anything."

Liz Wheadon, general manager of Glengarry, says the average cost of wine per bottle sold has increased. "We have a pretty affluent customer base of collectors but there are always others wanting to treat themselves with a good bottle of champagne. We sell a bucketload of champagne."

This year, Glengarry Wines has sold 12 bottles of 1982 Lafite Rothschild at more than $15,000 a bottle. And tomorrow, Webb's auctions is expected to sell that bottle of Angostura rum, one of 20 bespoke decanters designed by London's Asprey Jewellery, for between $30,000 and $40,000.

But you can get fine wine and spirits anywhere in the world - it's something less tangible that seems to keep people here.

Yildiz has experienced first-hand the "quality of life" that Knight Frank's report reveals.

He came to Auckland with almost nothing in his pockets but even then thought he was in paradise. "Leaving such a big city as Istanbul and coming to Auckland was like a holiday," Yildiz says.

"We enjoyed a simple, quiet life here, it wasn't about making lots of money but about having a simple life."

He and his wife built their businesses through sheer hard work. "The opportunity is there. If you work hard, you can make it happen.

"It's not only about how much is the house, the car, dinner in a restaurant? It's 'can your children go to school with a 10-minute walk, can you go to the beach and be safe? Can you go out at night without the mafia being around?'

"Here, you do whatever you do, believe what you believe. I can't imagine having this quality of life anywhere else in the world."


Quality of life

1. Zurich | 2. Melbourne | 3. Sydney | 4. Toronto
5. Frankfurt | 6. New York | 7. Vancouver | 8. London
9. Stockholm | 10. Geneva | 11. Paris | 12. Auckland
13. Vienna | 14. Amsterdam | 15. Los Angeles | 16. Montreal
17. Miami | 18. Berlin | 19. Washington DC | 20. Chicago
21. Oslo | 22. Singapore | 23. Tokyo | 24. Boston
25. Brussels | 26. Hong Kong | 27. San Francisco | 28. Seoul
29. Milan | 30. Tel Aviv | 31. Kuala Lumpur | 32. Mumbai
33. Sao Paulo | 34. Bangkok | 35. Buenos Aires | 36. Dubai
37. Moscow | 38. Abu Dhabi | 39. Shanghai | 40. Beijing

- Source: The Wealth Report 2013- Knight Frank

- Herald on Sunday

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