Two Singaporean-based New Zealand parties duked it out over a Ponsonby bungalow, bidding against each other until one offered the $2.3 million clincher for the place valued at $1.9m.
Chloe Wither, of Ray White Damerell Group, said the "Insta-worthy" three-bedroom place drew five registered bidders at the August 12 auction held online because Auckland was at alert level 3 and large gatherings at events like property auctions are banned.
But the two keenest bidders were both, coincidentally, Singaporean-based New Zealand parties, she said.
"Those two kept up right to where it sold, both Kiwis based in Singapore. They were wanting to come back and both have family looking for them and helping them do due diligence. The result was one the vendors were thrilled with," Wither said.
The renovated 1920s house has three bedrooms, one bathroom and is on a 412sq m site. Annual rates are $4735.
The house was owned by style guru Gina Riley, who owns and runs design and homewares store Ornament, and her husband Nick, a design consultant, OneRoof reported.
Ex-pat Kiwis were seeing this country as a haven in the pandemic, Wither said.
Other ex-pat Kiwis from other parts of the world were looking to buy in Auckland, she said.
The greater Ponsonby area was not typically an area they sought, though, she said. The double-grammar zones were more typically the suburbs they looked for properties.
"We don't get a lot of overseas inquiries for Ponsonby," Wither said.
Singapore developers eye NZ property
Meanwhile, Don Ha, of Re/Max Revolution, said two Singaporean businesses wanted to buy land, houses and office buildings. One, here for seven years, had developed 300 homes worth more than $200m, he said.
The investors wanted to spend $20m to $50m buying up to 20 properties at a time and then syndicate the land, housing or commercial property to their investors, he said.
Under New Zealand law, Singaporeans along with Australians get special exemptions to buy New Zealand lifestyle and residential property because of a deal struck when other foreigners were banned by a law change late last decade.
Ha refused to name either Singaporean business, claiming his arrangements were subject to commercial confidentiality arrangements.
The pandemic had spurred interest, he claimed.
"Covid-19 is a driver. Singaporeans know they can buy safely here and - now to a lesser extent - Australia," he said.
Singapore has had 27 deaths from the virus and 53,000 cases. New Zealand has had 22 deaths and 1654 cases.
Ha said not all the money came directly from Singapore.
"Some that comes via Singapore actually originates in China or other parts of Asia, since the city is a financial centre. Singapore's relative wealth helps explain its outsized role in the property market here," he said.
In 2015, the Herald reported how the Singapore Government expanded its New Zealand property holdings.
Its sovereign wealth fund took a 49 per cent stake in 10 properties for about $1.2 billion. Fletcher Building and Goodman Property Trust said Fletcher had struck a deal to sell a new Wynyard Quarter building, 80 per cent leased to Datacom, to the Singaporeans and Goodman, for $86.2m.
The purchaser was Wynyard Precinct Holdings - 49 per cent owned by the Singapore state's Government Investment Corporation (GIC) and 51 per cent owned by Goodman.
GIC's founding chairman was former Singapore prime minister the late Lee Kuan Yew and profit from countries like New Zealand goes into government-funded research and development, education and social security.
GIC is also in a venture with ASX-listed Scentre Group to own 49 per cent of New Zealand's five biggest malls, all branded Westfields, at Albany, St Lukes, Newmarket, Manukau and Riccarton. That venture spent nearly $1b in the past two years, expanding the Newmarket mall.
Ha said the only challenge for Singaporeans buying here was that transactions "take time, and Kiwis are often able to lock up the deal before the foreign investor can do so".
"Most commonly, investors from Singapore are looking at property in the $3m to $10m range, with development potential. They will look for apartments with good rental returns, like the Ramada hotel units with their guaranteed return of 5 per cent and that also entitle the buyer to 14 days of free stay per annum," Ha said.
Singaporeans have also suffered from buying New Zealand property.
In 2016, the Court of Appeal awarded 71 mainly Singaporean investors $40m damages over uncompleted Hilton apartments at Kawerau Falls, Queenstown.
In 2017, the Herald reported about a warning issued to Asian property investors about the perils of buying in New Zealand when a Singaporean state authority took action over Auckland's troubled Albany Heights Villas project.
Singapore's Council for Estate Agencies fined Real estate agency SQFT Global Properties of Orchard Road, Singapore, S$10,000 ($10,166) and its real estate agent Paleenia Wong Mui Wah S$6000 ($6100) for their actions which resulted in Singaporeans buying into the scheme and losing money.
The Overseas Investment Office said Singaporeans were the fifth-largest category of foreign investors in New Zealand to make applications for approvals in net dollar value from January to June.
Japanese spent $454m, Canadians $411m, Chinese $89m, Americans $78m and Singaporeans $40m.
Australian and Singapore citizens and permanent residents are treated the same as New Zealand citizens and permanent residents on residential and lifestyle purchases. Exemptions were granted to avoid a conflict with the Closer Economic Relations agreement with Australia and our Closer Economic Partnership agreement with Singapore.
Mortgage broker Jeff Royle said ex-pat Kiwis also wanted to buy more property here.
He said he normally processed two loan applications a month for Kiwis living overseas but had done 31 since April 1.
"And only three of those people are returning home. The rest are staying overseas.
"New Zealand is being seen internationally as a real safe haven," Royle said.
Applications were coming in from Kiwis all over the globe - he had had them from Japan, Thailand, South Korea.
"There's been quite a few from the Middle East - Dubai, Abu Dhabi," he said but also England, New York, Huston and about 10 of those 31 had been from Kiwis living in Australia.
Royle said it was both people buying from an investment perspective and as somewhere to live in the future.
"It's buying a bolt-hole, buying an investment. Money is cheap and there is bucketloads of it."
Royle said it was not difficult now to go cashflow positive on a rental property. Although he said banks were not keen to lend to Kiwis based overseas.
"It's not that they can't. It's that they don't have the appetite."
Royle using a non-bank lender called Resimac which now had interest rates of around 3 per cent and for those living in Australia they treated them the same as those living in New Zealand.
That was unlike the banks which typically only counted 80 per cent of person's overseas income and then would only lend 70 per cent loan to value on the property.
"That's the biggest change I've seen in the last three months."
He said the overseas-based Kiwis were buying properties all over New Zealand - from Auckland to Christchurch to Northland.
"There has been a lot of inquiries for fairly large patches of dirt. People want to buy 5ha up north. That is really hard to finance - maybe 50 per cent if you are lucky."