Nearly 450 homeowners lost their properties in mortgagee sales during the past 12 months when banks foreclosed on unpaid loans.

Figures released exclusively to the Herald by data analysis company CoreLogic show 70 Auckland homes changed hands in distressed sales in the year to September 30, down slightly on the 78 during the previous 12 months.

Nationally, foreclosure numbers fell from 589 to 441 year-on-year, or less than a quarter of the number seen during the depths of the economic recession in 2009 when several thousand people defaulted on their mortgages.

Mortgagee sale numbers have been falling for several years. Experts have credited the dip to low unemployment, cheap interest rates and a buoyant housing market.


Auckland recorded the most distressed sales in the past year, followed by Manawatu/Whanganui (61), Waikato (50), Northland (42), Wellington (40), Otago (32), Bay of Plenty (27), Canterbury (27), West Coast (19), Southland (19), Hawkes Bay (15), Tasman/Nelson/Marlborough (14), Taranaki (13) and Gisborne (12).

Only three of the country's 14 regions saw a rise: Gisborne, Otago, Southland.

The latest QV data shows the national average house value hit $622,309 last month , while in Auckland it has soared to $1,045,207; up nearly 14 per cent in the past year.

Although strong house price growth shut countless first home buyers out of the market, it also allowed many homeowners who were struggling to pay their mortgages to refinance on the back of growing equity in their home, or to sell up before the bank steps in.

However, there are signs the market is beginning to plateau and interest rates have also begun to edge higher after bottoming out at historic lows.

QV spokeswoman Andrea Rush said Reserve Bank lending restrictions introduced earlier this year, which forced investors to scrape together bigger deposits, had eaten into investor activity, cutting demand for entry-level homes.

"The share of sales to investors has flattened off since winter. It has definitely taken the heat out of the market to a certain extent."

The Weekend Herald reported on Saturday that auction clearance rates across Auckland had slumped to as low as 16 per cent compared to up to 80 per cent during the boom, with many properties failing to attract a single bid.


Rush said the low interest rate environment combined with solid employment figures had helped keep mortgagee rates at bay.

But rising interest rates could put highly leveraged homeowners under increasing pressure, particularly if house prices began to slip back.

"We might find people who can't sell their property for the same price they paid for it, and we may see mortgagee sales edge up again."

A Trade Me spokesman said the website had seen the number of mortgagee sales drop away in recent years.

There were 57 mortgagee sale property listings nationwide, compared to 96 at the same time last year and 121 in 2014.

The Bankers Association has previously said forced sales were a last resort and anyone struggling to make mortgage repayments should talk to their bank.