Major political parties' lack of policies to redress our love affair with housing has bred frustration in economic circles.

The Reserve Bank says only $24 billion, or 3 per cent, of our household assets are in the form of domestic equities or shares, compared with 73.8 per cent in housing.

Yet only Labour has made our bricks-and-mortar addiction a big election issue, promising - as have the Greens - a controversial capital gains tax to drive away would-be landlords and charge those who make big profits.

Rick Boven of the NZ Institute believes the issue of a nation's savings, its appetite for one particular asset class and policy changes or levers to redress that could elude many voters.


So he is not surprised the issue is not on people's minds as we race towards next Saturday.

"It's quite complicated. So if you survey the general population, you are not going to get many people who understand or have an interest in the policy settings to improve an economy. Voters often look at who they like and what's in it for them."

Boven is puzzled about why the Government asked the Productivity Commission to examine housing affordability, questioning the link between house prices and productivity, and says he looks forward to seeing the results next year.

But he is one of many in business, including Westpac Institutional Bank chief executive David McLean, who want New Zealanders to ditch their property bent and switch to other forms of investment.

"It would be good to invest more of our capital in productive assets producing exports rather than in non-productive domestic assets," Boven says.

McLean has called for more savings and reckons Labour has stolen the march on the Government on both the savings and super issue.

"Much of the New Zealand business markets are SMEs that are owned by families who put the money in. That's good. It's just as good as saving in a super fund. And both of these are better than saving in your house," McLean says.

Shamubeel Eaqub, NZ Institute for Economic Research principal economist, said the National-led Government's main policy change was depreciation removal from all properties, including commercial, targeted at property investors to reduce their after-tax profit.


"However, it is unclear if it will have much of an impact. The net rental yield on residential investment property is typically negative. Investors bought houses as an investment for capital gains. I do not believe this policy will have any meaningful impact on the housing market," Eaqub said.

Labour's capital gains tax would take some froth off the housing market, he said, but would not resolve our housing addiction. "Many other countries which have CGT [capital gains tax] such as Australia also had massive housing booms.

"The Productivity Commission's research on housing affordability is looking at why housing is expensive. This is good, as long as they look at the root causes of the housing boom, not just symptoms, such as preposterous suggestions of widespread housing shortages. It is not possible to comment on this until the final report is done," Eaqub said.

"Housing is an addiction, not only in New Zealand but in many places around the world. House prices rose in New Zealand in sync with many other parts of the world. So there is a bigger driver behind this."

"Our housing woes are a symptom of a rotting core. Misdirected liquidity and incentives have led to wasteful pursuit of capital gains in housing, rather than entrepreneurship and sustainable economic growth. These are issues we should tackle," he said.

Predictions of doom for the housing sector have certainly failed to eventuate. QV's latest data out this month showed national housing values nudging towards bubble times once again, only 4.4 per cent below the peak of the boom in 2007.

Housing has been the safest, most rewarding tax-effective investment to be had in decades.

The Reserve Bank's financial stability report, out this month, warned how house prices were still high compared with incomes and rents.

Households' ability to service debt has been eased since 2007 by higher incomes, slow growth in debt levels and lower mortgage rates.

Because of this, people have devoted a higher proportion of incomes to paying off mortgages so households' vulnerability to a further slowdown in the economy "appears to have declined slightly over the past few years", the bank said.

"However, in many ways the economic environment of the past three years has not provided a true test of household balance sheets.

"Debt-to-income ratios remain at historically high levels and house prices, although they have declined relative to incomes, still seem somewhat overvalued," the bank said.

"A significant decline in house prices, particularly if coupled with a rise in unemployment or interest rates, would be likely to create larger credit losses for the banking system than seen in recent years."

National claims to have set out a faster return to Budget surplus and more control of Government debt, despite meeting the considerable extra costs of the Canterbury earthquakes. It says it has taken further steps to build genuine national savings, including increasing private contributions to KiwiSaver.

Labour is promoting its capital gains tax as the silver bullet the housing market needs but stresses the tax will not apply to most Kiwis.

"It will not apply to the family home. Those who do pay it will still get to keep 85 per cent of any gain they make because the tax rate will be set at a flat 15 per cent. It's predicted the tax will raise $26 billion over 15 years that can be used to pay off debt, cut taxes for most New Zealanders, save our assets and prepare for the mounting cost of our aging population," the party says.

"Real estate in the Canterbury Cera zone will be exempt for at least five years to give earthquake-affected residents some relief. Labour will also put the top tax rate back up to 39c for income earned over $150,000. That's likely to affect around 2 per cent of ... top earners."

At the Mood of the Boardroom breakfast in Auckland on Thursday, Finance Minister Bill English was asked if he thought New Zealanders still loved property as much as ever.

"I think we've yet to see. The tax package we brought in, which is only in its first six months, will take $800 million to $900 million out of the investment property sector which is a much more immediate impact than a capital gains tax," English said.

"To have further growth in property you're going to need further growth in lending and that's not going to happen. The world's not willing to lend enough to our banks - enough to allow them to keep growing their lending to NZ home buyers

"We think we're in a reasonably moderate adjustment in housing. Prices are staying flat, they're going to go up and down a bit but it's hard to imagine them taking off again," English said.

David Cunliffe, Labour's finance spokesman, said on Thursday that he was worried about high levels of private debt and the new tax was a big part of the strategy to fix that.

"People will still be able to make investments in property based on the underlying economics but it shouldn't be based on a tax bias which the Government has partially sought to address with the depreciation change," Cunliffe said.

"Capital gains tax reduces the tax preference in favour of property investment simply by meaning that an investor other than in the family home pays 15 per cent of the realised gain, nothing retrospective and only when cash is in hand."

Asked about our property appetite, Cunliffe said that in the past two to three years since the global financial crisis hit, people had begun to deleverage a little.

"That's what you'd expect in a recession but I think it's still true in the Kiwi psyche, historically people think 'if I'm going to build up a nest egg I'm going to invest in property and that's how you get rich'.

"But from a whole country perspective, what we end up doing is bidding our house prices up against our neighbours' and locking the next generation out. It doesn't make or sell a damn thing to foreigners that helps enrich us a country.

"We have to shift capital to productive businesses."

- Additional reporting: Grant Bradley

Property and housing policies
* Sell shares in state-owned assets to give an alternative to housing investment.
* Streamline the Resource Management Act.
* Has increased the Welcome Home Loan cap, giving more first-home buyers access to affordable finance. Removed depreciation tax allowances from all properties.

* Introduce capital gains tax on investment property -already in force in nearly all developed countries, including Australia, Britain and United States.
* The capital gains tax will not apply to the family home.
* Real estate in the Canterbury earthquake zone will be exempt for at least five years.

* Introduce a comprehensive capital gains tax on inflation-adjusted capital gains at the time the gains are realised. (Like Labour, family home is exempt.)
* Over time, tighten the rules covering loss attributing qualifying companies and equivalent tax deductions.
* On monetary policy, introduce measures to limit future asset - especially house - price inflation.

* Supports National's sale of non-controlling stakes in state assets such as power generation companies.
* Reform the Resource Management Act to reduce constraints on how property owners can use and develop their land, and to protect private property rights.
* Push the next government to lock in lower taxes by passing Act's Spending Cap Bill.