Baby Boomers wanting to leave their family homes are now looking at quality inner-city living in Auckland.
Gary Groves' Sanctuary Group is completing the most luxurious apartment building in the country, The International in Princes St, and says the $230 million development is determined by market demand.
"There is a steady stream of empty nesters, the Baby Boomers, moving out of their larger houses and wanting quality apartments to live in. They don't want to move into an inferior product, and I think this market is pretty deep," says Groves, the managing director of Sanctuary.
"You've just got to get the timing right and produce the product that satisfies the demand. The last property cycle [in Auckland] was not offering decent owner-occupied product — it was mainly investment product.
"Auckland, particularly the CBD, is coming of age as a great little city to live and work in, and the market is maturing towards higher-density living, following what has happened overseas," he says.
"The Council has worked hard on creating decent infrastructure — it's been a long time coming — and there are now places to go in the city centre where 20 years ago it wasn't an inviting environment.
"The Britomart development, Queen St regeneration, the Viaduct Basin, Wynyard Quarter urban redevelopment, the Commercial Bay precinct — they are all world-class assets for the city. And once all the orange cones are removed, there will be a vast improvement."
It's estimated that 150,000 people will be living in the city centre within 30 years — double the number today. Groves has been developing premium residential property around Auckland for 25 years and his vision for The International was to: "Provide high-quality owner-occupied apartments with a level of amenity and specifications that have never been produced before [in the country]."
The development has been likened to the trendsetting residences of New York's One57 and London's 100 Sydney Street.
The International with its 90 apartments — due to be completed towards the end of June — rises 14 levels above the 120-year-old, historic Grand Hotel facade in Princes St, next to The Northern Club.
There are three levels of basement car parking for 90 vehicles and plenty of room for a fully-equipped gym, and a wine cellar and tasting room to be shared by 25 of the apartment owners. Dominion Constructors, the builders for Sanctuary Group, added three floors to the original building, which was tenanted by dairy giant Fonterra for 10 years before it moved to its new head office in Wynyard Quarter in 2017.
Sanctuary bought the building in 2016 with the intention of redeveloping it into luxury apartments.
"It's been a fun exercise and you get a deep level of satisfaction seeing the vision come to fruition," said Groves.
He had earlier developed Blake Central with 63 apartments in the heart of Ponsonby; the twin tower Empire with 315 apartments in Whitaker Place; 94 architecturally-designed terraced homes in Flat Bush; and Western Park with 27 boutique apartments in Ponsonby, among other projects.
The main entrance to The International from Princes St on level four features a triple-height atrium with a large natural stone wall all the way up and a seven-metre long fireplace. Immediately to the right is the full-service concierge station and to the left a small retail area. Groves hasn't yet decided on the retail but there's no doubt it will be an upmarket branded store.
Further in from the residents' lounge area is the cinema/media room with tiered seating for 16 people, the library with its internal garden, and the 300sq m, 200-seat restaurant operated by "a high-profile restaurateur" and open to the public.
The restaurant has a U-shaped bar where the diners can watch the chefs in action.
The chefs and waiting staff will also serve the residents' private dining room next door, with its long, banquet table seating 20. On the western side is the outdoor terrace with an 18m long heated lap pool and spa. "The residents can come out in their Louis Vuitton robes and jump straight into the pool," said Groves.
Above the amenity floor are the apartments — a mixture of one bedrooms, priced between $1.15m and $1.25m, two bedrooms between $1.95m and $2.995m, eight sub-penthouses over two levels priced at $6.3-$7.45m and the 17th level penthouse which has sold for a New Zealand apartment record of $15.3m.
Groves would not disclose the buyer but he will be living in 600sq m of luxury that includes a large deck looking out to One Tree Hill and the Auckland War Memorial Museum, and within what seems an arm's length of the Metropolis apartment building and Sky Tower.
The penthouse has 3.2m ceiling height — the other apartments are 3m — priority lift access, Sub Zero fridges and Wolf appliances, Matisse kitchen and wardrobes, and smart wiring throughout.
All the freehold apartments have individually zoned air conditioning and heating, rubbish chutes, keyless intelligent doors, and travertine limestone vanities, benchtops and panels mined and imported from Italy.
The apartments are spacious — even more so because of some smart construction. The builders filled in the four corners of the hexagonal building to make it square, and the additional space becomes a second living area or conservatory for those located apartments. On a hot, windless day the large floor-to-ceiling windows can be pulled across and the space is converted to a deck.
Seventy-eight of the apartments have been sold and Groves says 98 per cent of the buyers are owner-occupiers. They are mainly locals from 40-60 years — Baby Boomers moving out of the family home.
They probably know the distinctive area on the eastern ridge of the city centre well, having studied at the nearby university or worked in Shortland Street around the corner.
"The apartment prices somewhat dictate the demographic of the purchaser," says Groves. Sanctuary Group has an Overseas Investment Office exemption to sell the new apartments to offshore buyers because the development started before the regulations were tightened. "But there's only a handful of offshore buyers," he says.
"The demand was always there for high-quality owner-occupied apartments, but it takes a lot of trust to buy a high-end product off the plans. My job was to give the purchasers some comfort to deliver what they wanted."