More than four Bay of Plenty house hunters every day are withdrawing their KiwiSaver funds to buy a first home.
In the past 10 months 918 people across the Bay have withdrawn some or most of their KiwiSaver contributions, Inland Revenue Department figures show.
This is more than a quarter of all first-home withdrawals (3475) since the scheme began 10 years ago. The savings scheme was started in 2007 by then-Labour Finance Minister Sir Michael Cullen.
Most people can access their KiwiSaver funds only when they turn 65 - the same time as superannuation payments kick in.
But those looking to buy their first home, or suffering financial hardship, can apply to withdraw some savings. It is not available to those who already own a home.
The Government also offers a HomeStart grant to eligible house-hunters of up to $5000 to buy an existing home, or $10,000 towards a new build. Since last year people have also been able to withdraw the Government's annual $521.43 contribution.
Bay real estate agents say the ability to access locked-away savings through the scheme has given buyers a better opportunity to own their first home.
The chief executive of Eves and Bayleys, Simon Anderson, said the increase in those using their contributions to buy was "a very positive trend".
He said he had noticed overwhelming demand from first-home buyers this year.
Two seminars for first-home buyers in Tauranga this year both sold out and one in Hamilton this week has done the same.
"We are seeing a lot more first-home buyers in the market. They're looking for innovative ways to fund, and KiwiSaver is one of them," Mr Anderson said.
Tauranga Harcourts director Nigel Martin said many KiwiSaver funds had started maturing.
"These people that are withdrawing their money have been contributing for a significant period of time . . . and now they're at a point where they have enough money to justify a deposit on a home. That's why all of a sudden you're seeing these withdrawals."
Local First National owner Anton Jones said the market had opened up for new owners.
He said last year's increase in the amount of money investors needed for a deposit - from 30 to 40 per cent of the property value - had resulted in a decrease in investor activity.
"Especially the ones coming down from Auckland and snapping up pretty much everything under $600,000," Mr Jones said.
"That's now filtering through. That means there's more opportunity for first-home buyers to get in there and actually get the house because they're not competing against so many investors - they actually go for similar properties.
"It's a fair market at the moment - a good equilibrium."
Ana-Marie Lockyer, general manager of wealth products at ANZ, said there had been a significant increase in withdrawals in the past two years nationwide.
"The reasons for that is awareness [of the withdrawal option] . . . and people's savings reaching a level that it is helping them," Ms Lockyer said.
"In my eyes, we're really lucky in New Zealand to have first-home withdrawals as something in KiwiSaver because you can't retire without a home."
Blair Vernon, managing director of AMP, another default KiwiSaver fund, said KiwiSaver had made it less of a challenge to break into the property market.
"The reality is that it's always been challenging to save for a deposit, but because of KiwiSaver more New Zealanders already have a level of savings, that might not otherwise exist, which they can now use to get into the property market.
"While withdrawing retirement savings might seem at odds with the outcomes of a scheme like KiwiSaver, most people we speak to regard home ownership as a key part of their overall retirement proposition."
Ten years of KiwiSaver
Source: IRD (figures from 1.07.2007 to 30.04.2017)