Property Report: Auckland and the rest - how the gap has widened

By Bruce Morris

It’s close to five years since air started escaping from the property bubble. Bruce Morris investigates what has happened to prices since then – and finds a growing gap between parts of Auckland and the rest of the North Island

Whangarei has seen a growing gap in real estate values with Auckland. Photo / Northern Advocate
Whangarei has seen a growing gap in real estate values with Auckland. Photo / Northern Advocate

Remember 2007? To help you out: Winston Peters was Foreign Affairs minister, the Privy Council quashed David Bain's convictions, Willie Apiata was awarded the VC, Jacob Oram whacked 101 off 72 balls in an ODI against Australia ... and houses prices reached record highs.

Ah, those were the days. But not so much for memories of Winston, Willie and Jacob in a materialistic New Zealand. The thoughts were more one-tracked.

How much did your house go up in value last quarter? When did you buy that bach? How much have you made on that section now? What price did they get next door? So you've bought an investment property? Isn't it sad that high prices mean young couples can't buy a home?

A few months later, the chat around the barbecue was less materialistic and more self-preservation as the waves of the deepest financial crisis since the Great Depression swamped the world.

Banks and other huge financial institutions collapsed or were bailed out, businesses failed or were propped up, stock markets crashed, unemployment soared and house prices tumbled.

If 2005 and 2006 were times of security and optimism in New Zealand, 2008 and 2009 were the pits that eroded the personal wealth gathered through the country's sharpest housing boom. They left thousands of households - and a whole generation of new investors - in misery.

Looking back, it could have been worse. Some commentators were predicting falls of 30-40 per cent, and that was the damage caused in developed countries such as Ireland, Spain and the United States, which are still at close to those levels.

But while paper losses masked by a "sit tight" attitude were high and hundreds of New Zealanders lost their houses or investment properties in mortgagee sales, the country was more resilient than most. Homeowners hunkered down, cutting their spending and saving their pennies.

Now some of that confidence from the early and mid-2000s is returning, even if it is rather tentative and there is greater focus today on saving and paying down debt.

Sale volumes are increasing and prices are starting to gently lift, suggesting the housing market may be out of the woods if Europe doesn't get too ugly and China and the United States can avoid further trouble.

But stepping cautiously out of the woods doesn't mean all households can toast the magic of real estate for keeping our wealth intact over the last five years.

The reality is, that in the Herald's circulation area, most towns and suburbs outside Auckland are still well below the overall highs of 2007. While prices in many areas have started to slowly rise, the gap between then and now is still substantial. When inflation is taken into account, the difference in some cases is enormous and values in those places will never get back to 2007 prices in real terms.

Have a look at the eighth column in the centre data pages of this edition of Property Report for the stark detail on the decline since November 30, 2007. While that month produced the overall high across New Zealand, many places peaked earlier - in some cases a year or more earlier - so some falls may be worse than they seem.

Removing the outlying old Rodney, Papakura and Franklin areas from the new city boundaries and Auckland shows across-the-board rises, with just patches of Manukau and Waitakere below break-even. Switch to the data for the rest of the North Island, though, and it is an ocean of red.

The data provided to the Herald by QV covers 422 areas of more than 500 homes and with enough sales to offer a reliable guide. It reveals:

Of the 201 areas listed north of Wellington and outside Auckland, only four had their heads above the 2007 high - Fitzroy in Hamilton (up 2.4 per cent) and Pahiatua, Strandon and Waikanae (all up less than 1 per cent). Just five of the 53 areas within Wellington showed a gain, and the highest was 2.5 per cent.

Of the 168 Auckland towns and suburbs, just 37 were in the black. They included the 16 Rodney areas from Wellsford to Orewa (except for Omaha, which is up 2 per cent) and all 10 patches within the old Papakura and Franklin boundaries. The other areas still dragging the chain were five "old" Auckland city suburbs (Oneroa, Ostend and Surfdale on Waiheke Island, and Orakei and Otahuhu), six from Waitakere and 13 from Manukau.

Nearly five years of watching house prices slide can be a depressing past-time, especially for those who bought towards the top of the market and find their equity has been destroyed. But most people buy homes for the security and pleasure it brings and owning a house for the long term and then buying and selling on the same local market should bring no great distress.

The Bay of Plenty coastal settlement of Pukehina is top of the table for those regional areas worst-hit since the boom and has obviously burnt a lot of fingers. But a 31.6 per cent decline since November 2007 - backed up by new Western Bay of Plenty District Council rating valuations set last year - is not as depressing as it sounds for people who bought when prices were low.

Joy Walker, who operates First National Pukehina and lives in the settlement that runs 6km along the ocean beach, has handled a few mortgagee sales and seen the misery that plummeting values can cause. She agrees that prices got far ahead of themselves as New Zealanders rushed to the seaside through the early and mid-2000s, and Pukehina values went too high too fast.

When recession hit, many people were forced to quit the bach, a stressful and at times ruinous experience for those who had bought at the top of the market.

However, Walker uses her own example to show that buying for the long-term is sound logic, especially if the house is a home rather than just a holiday bach. She bought her Pukehina home for $125,000 in 2002 - nice timing - and then watched as the demand for seaside properties surged over the next three or four years, giving her a rateable valuation of $350,000 at one time. Now that has dropped back to $280,000, but she's comfortably ahead.

The drop in Pukehina values means beachfront properties are now selling for as little as $600,000, among the cheapest in the North Island for an area so close to a city (Rotorua is less than an hour's drive, and Tauranga closer still).

Walker is having a good year after an awful 2011. A month ago, she had eight sales under her belt for 2012 as people began to accept the new valuations as realistic and decide it was time to move on.

Two or three hours north to Auckland, the people of Pukehina - and other towns in Northland, the Waikato, Bay of Plenty and King Country that make up the rest of the bottom 10 - must look at suburbs such as Kingsland (up 19 per cent), Grey Lynn (up 17.9 per cent) and Mt Eden (up 16.1 per cent) and wonder what makes them special.

They were the top three performers in Auckland (and the whole North Island, for that matter), and were followed by other central suburbs such as Western Springs, Epsom, Westmere, Pt Chevalier, Sandringham, Lynfield, Glendowie, Onehunga and Mt Albert. All have recorded double-digit growth since the market highs and no other part of the North Island has come near them.

How can the average price in Kingsland climb 19 per cent in less than five years through recession and a world economic crisis when towns such as Kaikohe (down 29.9 per cent), Taumarunui (down 24.4 per cent) and Kawerau (down 23.3 per cent) stay in a slump?

It is a property cliché to say the answer is supply and demand, but it is exactly that.

If you want to get out of most small provincial towns, there will be limited demand for your house in a town of slim opportunity, and the price without investor interest will reflect that.

If you manage to sell and are heading to brighter prospects in Auckland, looking for a house in the inner-city suburbs where demand at the moment is strong, buy a Lotto ticket and cross your fingers.

UPS AND DOWNS SINCE THE BOOM
AUCKLAND: Ahead of the pack % UP
1 Kingsland 19.0%
2 Grey Lynn 17.9%
3 Mt Eden 16.1% 
4 Western Springs 14.6%
5 Epsom 13.8%
6 Westmere 13.3%
7 Meadowbank 13.2%
8 Pt Chevalier 13.1%
9 Sandringham 12.5%
10 Lynfield 10.4%

AUCKLAND: Dragging the chain % DOWN
1 Wellsford -17.4%
2 Clendon Park -14.0%
3 Manurewa East -12.3%
4 Randwick Park -12.0%
5 Snells Beach -11.2%
6 Red Hill -9.5%
7 Gulf Harbour -9.4%
8 Otara -9.1%
9 Maraetai -8.5%
10 Warkworth -7.6%

THE REGIONS: Ahead of the pack % UP
1 Fitzroy 2.1%
2 Bethlehem -4.2%
3 St Andrews -4.2%
4 Maungatapu -4.3%
5 Ohauiti -4.4%
6 Richmond Heights -4.7%
7 Pyes Pa -5.4%
8 Pukete -5.5%
9 Cambridge -5.9%
10 Brookfield -6.1%

THE REGIONS: Dragging the chain % DOWN
1 Pukehina -31.6%
2 Kaikohe -29.9%
3 Kaitaia -24.5%
4 Taumarunui -24.4%
5 Kawerau -23.3%
6 Te Kuiti -21.8%
7 Western Heights -21.4%
8 Tokoroa -19.9%
9 Raumanga -19.3%
10 Opotiki -19.2%

* Tables show the rise and fall in average house values between the overall market high at the end of the boom, at November 30, 2007, and March 31, 2012. The area described as The Regions covers all areas north of Opotiki, Turangi and Taumarunui, excluding Auckland.

- NZ Herald

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