You can find wealthy Kiwis and expensive houses in most parts of New Zealand, but the numbers suggest there are just two suburbs rich-listers want to call home.
Analysis of New Zealand's prestige property market, which can be read in full in tomorrow's OneRoof Property Rich List, published in the New Zealand Herald, shows the bulk of $10 million-plus sales are in the elite Auckland suburbs of Remuera and Herne Bay, clustered around just a handful of streets.
Of the 144 New Zealand homes that have sold for $10m and above, OneRoof and its data partner Valocity found that 43 are in Remuera and 22 are in Herne Bay. The suburbs with the next highest tallies of $10m-plus homes are St Heliers (11), Takapuna (7), and Orakei (6). All three are in Auckland and, in fact, just 15 of New Zealand's $10m-plus sales are outside of Auckland, most of which are in Queenstown-Lakes.
Remuera and Herne Bay can also claim the most $5m-plus sales – 304 and 107 respectively – but when it comes to the very top of the market, buyers tend to concentrate on just a few streets.
According to the Valocity data, Victoria Ave and Arney Rd, in Remuera, are the most fertile hunting grounds for luxury homes, with the former recording nine sales of $10m or more and the latter recording seven. The top streets in Herne Bay are Argyle St, which has six sales of $10m-plus, and Marine Parade, which has five.
Agents who work in Auckland's prestige market tell the same story. While just a handful of inner-city suburbs attract the same coterie of rich buyers, not all blue-chip addresses are equal.
Remuera, the home of Auckland's moneyed elite since the suburb was carved off farmland in the 1890s, boasts a large number of grand mansions that look out to the Waitematā and Rangitoto. Much of the suburb is in the city's prized double Grammar school zone, but for many of the rich-lister families who live there schooling is a private affair, with most choosing to send their primary age children to either King's prep or Saint Kents, and their older children to King's College, Saint Kentigern or Diocesan School for Girls.
Waterfront Herne Bay, on the western side of Auckland's CBD, was originally made up of marine villas accessible only by boat. It became more mixed from the mid-1950s to 1970s, when many of the suburb's bigger houses were converted into flats and units, but gentrification resumed in the 1980s, since which time property values have soared, price records have been broken and draughty villas have been replaced with modern waterfront palaces.
Private schools v quality restaurants
Agents say wealthy buyers tend to zig-zag between the two – starting in Herne Bay for the buzz of great cafes and restaurants then moving to Remuera for access to the private schools before heading back west for their downsizing years.
"The dynamic that drives the move is schooling," says Graham Wall, of Wall Real Estate. "If they built a King's prep in Herne Bay our business would collapse," he adds, half-jokingly.
Wall, who works the prestige scene with his sons Ollie and Andrew, has made record sales in both suburbs, most recently selling a mansion on Remuera Road, in Remuera, for $29m, and a waterfront home on Marine Parade in Herne Bay for $23.5m.
(Wall also holds the record for the highest residential real estate sale in New Zealand, selling the house built by former Hanover Finance director Mark Hotchin, in Auckland's Orakei, for $38.5m in 2013.)
He says buyers are very specific about what they want in each suburb. "Today, houses on the water are the big deal. In the old days it was all about being on the ridge with the big view."
One of the most notable owners of waterfront real estate in Herne Bay is Briscoes owner Rod Duke, whose battle to build a helicopter pad memorably hit the headlines, but other notable Herne Bay residents include property developers Ben Cook, Kurt Gibbons, and Simon and Paula Herbert (who are also battling to build a heli-pad). Previous celebrity residents include Star Trek actor Karl Urban, America's Cup skipper Dean Barker, Rangers Football boss David Murray and the Sultan of Brunei.
In Remuera, famous residents past and present include All Blacks Sean Fitzpatrick and Dan Carter, Newstalk ZB hosts Mike Hosking and Kate Hawkesby, My Food Bag founder Cecilia Robinson, former Saatchi chief Kevin Roberts and TV journalists Alison Mau and Simon Dallow.
Ray White agent Steen Nielsen, who has been selling prestige homes in Remuera for almost a decade, says Arney Rd and Arney Cres have more grand mansions than neighbouring streets and fewer subdivisions. Both snake down the slopes of Mount Hobson and offer unspoilt views across the city and harbour.
"Arney Rd has bigger properties and bigger sections - some up to 5000sq m. It has the perfect orientation, is good for the sun, is not a through-way and has kept its single house zone. Arney Cres it is more mixed and diverse, with suburban density creeping closer and closer," he says.
He says buyers typically look for upgraded heritage-style mansions, although they are hard to find as turnover on both streets is relatively low compared to the rest of Remuera.
"These properties don't change hands often. There's a lot of wealth in the area and it's gone through the generations, even to the grandkids," Nielsen says.
The scarcity of available stock on the suburb's prestige streets, which also includes Victoria Ave, Burwood Cres and Remuera, Upland, Lucerne and Bassett roads, has forced some wealthy buyers to look for homes on Remuera's southern slopes.
"I've sold a lot in Platina St, Omahu Rd and Dromorne Rd," Bayleys agents Lorraine Young says. "It was an unknown, but now we're getting northern slopes prices, with do-ups starting at $4m and people replacing 1920s houses with $5m-$6m new builds. A lot of the medical community lives there."
She adds: "I still think Remuera is better value per square metre. If you've got $10m to spend, you're getting larger homes, bigger sites and better school zones than Herne Bay, even if you're going private. It's a different vibe."
Hidden from view
Bayleys agent Gary Wallace says privacy and security are a given in both Herne Bay and Remuera, with many of the best homes tucked discreetly behind gated long driveways or visible only from the water.
He notes that Remuera buyers are more flexible about which streets they live in, whereas for a top-end buyer in Herne Bay, it's waterfront or nothing.
"I always say if the house fits, buy it," he says, before adding that the quality of the surrounding properties also matters. "Like attracts like. People are drawn to other quality homes and the character of what the area offers. Of course, it comes down to budget. The more money they have, the fussier they can be."
When it comes to house style, buyers are split between traditional mansions and modern architecturally designed homes. "A lot really like the character houses, where they have potential to bring in the name-architect to give it a modern twist," Wallace adds.
Fellow Bayleys agent Sarah Liu says her Remuera buyers are drawn to the suburb's sense of community and history. "That traditional feeling is the heart of Remuera. You just feel you are successful if you live there," she says.
Community is a big factor for Cici Wang's international clients. "The CV or RV doesn't matter, streets like Arney Rd, Arney Cres and Victoria Ave are very famous for local Chinese buyers," the Barfoot & Thompson agent says. In her own small street in Remuera, she estimates that eight of the last nine sales since 2014 were to Asian buyers.
While Liu's local Chinese buyers look for character houses ("that's what Remuera means to them", she says), Wang's are keener on modern home, but both groups love the suburb's leafy streets and green spaces, with Wang noting that her buyers are keen to avoid areas zoned for development. "They don't want a subdivision going next to them," she says.
Both agree that their clients want all the work to be done before they buy - they just don't have the time or appetite for a big renovation.
History is important in understanding the rise of Herne Bay, although its ascendancy is well with within recent memory. Barfoot & Thompson agent Carl Madsen, who has worked in the area for 32 years and brokered one of Herne Bay's top sales last year, remembers as a youngster his parents tossing up whether or not to buy in Herne Bay, parts of which fell on hard times in the 1970s and 1980s.
"Sadly, they chose to stay in Blockhouse Bay. But my wife's family took the plunge and moved from New Lynn. Now, of course, everyone wants to move here for the lifestyle," he says, adding that the revival of the western fringe of the city around Wynyard Quarter and Westhaven has helped connect Herne Bay and Saint Marys Bay back to the city.
UP agent Patrick McCarthy says it's harder to get a top home in Herne Bay because it has fewer homes in total than Remuera - 1349 as opposed to 10,056, according to OneRoof data (although nearly 30 per cent of Herne Bay's stock is valued at $5m and above while just 12 per cent of Remuera's total stock is in that price bracket).
"Getting home from town and being on the water in 10 minutes, that's hard to beat anywhere around the world. Some people will only take Marine Parade, others won't go to the eastern [city] end."
McCarthy says smaller streets around the main draw-cards of Marine Parade and Cremorne and Argyle streets - such as Bella Vista, Galatea and Herne Bay roads - are increasing in popularity. He's also noticed a drift to properties closer to Ponsonby and Jervois roads.
"Older buyers coming back from the eastern suburbs, they like to walk up to the restaurants with their mates. Even the younger families now, there are buses and car-pools to the private schools so that's been a change."
McCarthy says the downsizer market in Herne Bay is forcing developers to up their game and offerings in the suburb. Bayleys Ponsonby agent Blair Haddow agrees, noting that he has buyers who would spend $5m or more for the right place.