Andrew King: Housing market too serious for finger pointing

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The property market is complicated and forever changing. Photo / Chris Kilford
The property market is complicated and forever changing. Photo / Chris Kilford

An effectively operating housing market is crucial for New Zealand's social and financial wellbeing, hence it has created a great deal of discussion in the past few months.

Many opinions are strong and emotive, but unfortunately most are based on poor information, little understanding of the market and in some cases pure bias.

Vested interests and misunderstandings have led to different groups blaming others for what they see as problems with the housing market.

The Auckland Council blames speculators/developers for buying land and not immediately developing it. Developers blame councils for not opening up more land to build on. First-home buyers and property investors blame each other for out-bidding their opposite in auctions.

The young blame the old for having property and the old blame the young for spending their money on other things while still wanting a house of the standard their parents have. Tenants blame landlords for charging too much rent and the finance sector complains because they don't charge enough.

Everyone now seems to be blaming foreigners.

It would be quite funny if it wasn't so deadly serious.

Perhaps all this finger pointing is because housing is such an important and emotive issue.

The trouble is that politicians take note of what these different groups are saying and produce laws that they think will get them elected again. If they make these laws based on popular but incorrect points of view then bigger problems are likely to develop in the future.

My bias is that I am president of the NZ Property Investors' Federation, an industry that has received many attacks for being the cause of all kinds of problems with the housing market.

Tax is usually stated as the main culprit, yet rental property owners do not have a tax advantage over share owners or fund managers. Unfortunately this misinformation is often quoted as a fact without any explanation of what the purported tax advantage actually is.

The Inland Revenue has stated that rental property does not have a tax advantage as have the Society of Accountants.

The same tax laws apply to all investments. It is time that people who keep repeating this misinformation are taken to task. It gives people the wrong information and encourages them to demand change when it is not warranted.

It now appears that foreigners are the target of people's wrath. Foreign property buyers compete with rental property buyers in the market, so I don't have any reason to support this group.

In spite of this we must be very careful that we don't continue accusing people of being the reason for perceived housing problems when they may not be the main culprit.

The truth about the New Zealand property market is that it is complicated and forever changing. There are many levers pulling at the market and this makes it extremely difficult to control.

This also raises the question of should we be attempting to influence the market?

If there are structural faults with the housing market, then change is justified. However, property markets move in cycles and it is extremely dangerous to try and influence these cycles.

Right now it appears that most New Zealanders either don't have or don't know enough information on the housing market to even know if there are structural faults with the market that need adjusting.

Do we have too much demand from foreigners? Does rental property have a tax advantage? Are baby boomers pushing up house prices?

Do councils need to free up more land? Do we need more competition in our building supplies industry? Are council permits too expensive and take too long to get?

Are our banks too willing to make risky loan decisions? Do first-home buyers need to be realistic as to what they can afford?

Do our industries need to perform better to attract our savings? Do we need more high earning, better performing industries for incomes to increase so we can save at all?

Are property prices really too high or do we just want big standalone homes and they cost more?

Many of these questions have already been answered in the Productivity Commission's 2012 report on Housing Affordability. The report made it clear that there are many preconceived but incorrect assumptions on housing affordability.

A summary of the recommendations points out that there are many areas that need to be addressed in order to influence the housing market.

There is no silver bullet.

Housing is a serious issue and it needs better discussion than we are getting.

Simplistic, emotive and biased articles do little to help New Zealanders realise all the issues involved in this matter or understand the consequences of possible changes.

Andrew King is president of the NZ Property Investors' Federation.

- NZ Herald

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