New data shows the quarter-acre dream remains a reality for only two of the dozens of suburbs stretching across our biggest city.
But the old adage that Kiwis are chasing quarter-acre dreams has been challenged by experts, with City Sales managing director Martin Dunn calling it "the dream that disappeared maybe 20 years ago".
Across the Auckland region, property section sizes fell 9 per cent, from a median land area of 745sq m for the year-ending May 1999 to 675sq m in May this year, according to data from the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand. That is based on median section sizes for house sales.
Only two suburbs – North Shore's Greenhithe and West Auckland's Titirangi — have a median land area of 1012sq m, the equivalent of quarter acre, according to the data, which also showed the price of land per square metre across Auckland more than quadrupled in 20 years.
In contrast, central Auckland's Ponsonby had the smallest section size, at a median of 341sq m, down 11 per cent from 384sq m in 1999.
Section sizes in South Auckland's Papakura had the biggest fall over the past 20 years, with a 30 per cent drop in median land area from 749sq m in 1999 to 523sq m.
Greenhithe, also still among the quarter acre kings, also recorded a big drop in section sizes, down 28 per cent from 1414sq m, and Flat Bush was a close third, down 26 per cent 553sq m to 411sq m.
High land prices, the Unitary Plan and changing attitudes towards apartments and terraced housing had driven down section sizes, institute chief executive Bindi Norwell said.
Apartment sales across Auckland rose from 9 per cent of total sales for the year ending April 2013 to 12 per cent for the year ending April 2018, she said.
"For those who do want to continue to chase the dream of the quarter-acre section, many have taken the option to move out of Auckland, where land is far more affordable."
At least 50 sales were required each year, meaning newer suburbs such as Hobsonville Point and Stonefields weren't captured in the data.
The data also laid bare the skyrocketing cost of land per square metre over the past 20 years.
Those findings were also subject to a minimum of at least 50 records where the price of land per square metre could be calculated.
The data showed over the past 20 years the price of land per square metre in the Auckland region had risen by 350 per cent from $324 for the 12 months ending May 1999 to $1457 for the 12 months ending May 2019.
"As the size of sections has tended to fall, the price of land has increased accordingly. Therefore, it's not surprising that Ponsonby not only has Auckland's smallest section size per square metre, but it is also the most expensive suburb when looking at land prices per square metre."
Prices in affluent central Auckland suburb have increased by 494 per cent since 1999, when land cost $957 per square metre — a similar price to sections in Māngere East currently — to $5681 per square metre now, Norwell said.
The suburb with the biggest increase in land prices over the past 20 years was Flat Bush, up 779 per cent from $346 for the 12 months ending May 1999 to $3040 for 12 months ending May 2019. Runners-up were fringe Point Chevalier, up 577 per cent from $413 to $2794, and Beachlands, up 513 per cent from $230 to $1409.
Flat Bush, in Manukau City, was created as a new suburb from the 1990s and seaside south-east Auckland's Beachlands is the site of multiple developments.
Pt Chevalier's rise was thanks to its proximity to downtown Auckland and amenities such as the Zoo and Western Springs Lakeside Park, Norwell said.
"Pt Chevalier is more affordable per square metre than nearby suburbs Ponsonby and Grey Lynn, yet it's not that much further to the CBD with its good access to the motorway."
The data's findings were no surprise to Matt Lawrie, director of urban issues lobby group Greater Auckland.
"Houses have been getting smaller for a long time. Even greenfield developers find they can get better returns with smaller sections. This wouldn't be happening if there wasn't demand for it ... and it's the same everywhere in the world."
Auckland was an attractive place to live, so people were willing to accept the trade-off of a smaller property, he said.
Dunn said visitors to his own home, on a 500sq m site, had commented on his "huge garden".
"And yet I grew up on something twice that size. The quarter acre is a sort of fantasy that I don't even think is aspired to any more."
As for prices, they weren't going anywhere south — it was "absolutely inevitable" that Auckland's residential market would take off again because the country couldn't keep up with new builds, immigration hadn't changed and wouldn't change while there were labour shortages in both skilled and unskilled industries.
"It's got nothing to do with the LVR, the Reserve Bank or the other restrictions. It's simply market forces at work."
Catherine Smith, of OneRoof, said research with data partners Valocity found only 15 per cent of properties in greater Auckland are 1012sq m or more, dropping to 10 per cent in Manukau.
"That's an inevitable result of density, when people will sacrifice space for an easier commute, but it's not new. Some of the smallest sections are in the oldest parts of Auckland, where worker cottages were squeezed together to be close to the city centres, or where an old house on big property was gradually subdivided over the generations as 'town' crept closer."
What's new is that denser developments now have codes to ensure houses get sun and private outdoor space and research had shown 39 per cent of Aucklanders no longer think backyards are essential.
Quarter acres are common on rural fringes, but even in rural regions only around half properties are that size or bigger, contrary to the Kiwi myth that everyone outside Auckland gets the quarter-acre dream, Smith said.