Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

Low interest rates spark jump in house sales

Tineke van der Walle and partner Sean Cameron bought their Mt Albert home after one month of house hunting. Photo / Greg Bowker
Tineke van der Walle and partner Sean Cameron bought their Mt Albert home after one month of house hunting. Photo / Greg Bowker

The housing market has taken off as rock-bottom interest rates send investors and first home-buyers competing for a limited number of property listings.

Pent-up demand combined with record-low interest rates have seen some buyers face a long search for a suitable property.

And an economist has warned people against taking on unsustainable debt as mortgage rates as low as 4.75 per cent spur renters to buy their first homes.

Data from the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand shows 7175 unconditional sales in May - an increase of 26.4 per cent compared to April.

Sales across New Zealand were up 24.4 per cent compared to May last year, with Auckland's sales volume increasing 27.6 per cent over the same period.

Reinz chief executive Helen O'Sullivan said feedback from members was that, while still much below demand, there had been an increase in listings recently.

Low long-term interest rates, often targeted at people with good equity, was another factor.

"There's also an increase in confidence ... there's not a fear now that if you buy now you'll be catching the fall of the market," Ms O'Sullivan said.

"Prices are stable to rising, and that makes it a reasonably good time to put your stake in the ground and purchase."

The latest QV index, released yesterday, shows nationwide property values rose in May.

Auckland led the way with values up 1.2 per cent over the past month.

Values in the old Auckland City are now 7.4 per cent higher than the same time last year and 6.5 per cent above the previous market peak in 2007.

"This more widespread increase in values is in contrast to two or three months ago when values in many areas appeared to be flattening off," said QV research director Jonno Ingerson.

"First-home buyers and investors remain active in many parts of the country, attracted into the market by low interest rates and perceived affordability.

"There are now buyers who have been looking for a house for some time and either cannot find something that meets their needs, or are being out-bid by other keen buyers."

As well as central Auckland, property values in areas such as Rodney, North Shore and Waitakere had risen fast in the past three months.

QV Auckland valuer Glenda Whitehead said in central Auckland the market was predominantly in the $700,000 plus bracket.

In west or southwest Auckland demand was strong from buyers with around $400,000 to spend.

Ms Whitehead said people wanting to buy in more popular suburbs often needed to adjust their expectations and look further afield.

Westpac chief economist Dominick Stephens said low mortgage rates meant the calculation between renting and buying had swung in the favour of buying.

"Observing the housing markets tell you that interest rates can't be kept this low forever."

Mr Stephens predicted that over 2013-2015 rates would rise much higher than markets would be prepared for.

"I've got a real concern that interest rates are going to rise far further than people are prepared for.

"Some people taking on loans now to buy houses might find those loans difficult to service when interest rates rise."

Rising prices spur first time buyers into action

A property market trending upwards meant Sean Cameron and Tineke van der Walle knuckled down in their search for a first home.

The couple, both 27, settled on a three-bedroom house in Mt Albert last weekend.

"[Interest rates] are good at the moment ... and we were wanting to get into the market because we knew it was going up and up," Mr Cameron said.

They had been saving all they could manage over the past year but bought after only about a month of intense house hunting, he said.

"We definitely got into it a lot faster than we imagined ... it really kicked us into gear, seeing prices going up, it motivated you to do your homework and get out there.

"With renting, we didn't want to pay somebody else's mortgage. And [rent] is going up anyway."

Mr Cameron said they bought their home through negotiation, after their hopes were quickly dashed at a previous auction.

The owners of a two-bedroom property in Three Kings put the property on the market at auction for $500,000 - but it went for about $560,000.


7175 unconditional house sales in May

26 per cent increase on April

24 per cent increase on May 2011
Source: Real Estate Institute

- NZ Herald

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