Auckland's house selling season is heating up as more homes go on sale and banks fight for customers with new "cash back" incentives in an escalating mortgage war.
The Herald understands ANZ and KiwiBank are attempting to win more customers by offering up to $3000 cash back on certain home loans, while behind the scenes banks are also willing to scrap fees and negotiate other incentives.
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Spring is also helping thaw the market after a quiet winter. More homes were being listed for sale, real estate agents were fielding enquiries and economists have predicted price rises in the coming year.
"Yes, really low interest rates are helping bring people back into the market, but it is actually fundamentally about confidence," John Bolton, chief executive of Squirrel Mortgages, said.
"People have been down on the market long enough that they are starting to come out the other side of it."
Yet questions remain whether the recent bounce-back signals a turning point for house prices or simply a seasonal boost.
This weekend's Labour Day market looms as an important first test after about 18 months of gently falling Auckland house prices and a wet and dreary winter turned buyers cold.
Buyers had also been spooked by stories out of Australia of market crashes and Sydney house prices falling up to 20 per cent.
It meant the number of homes selling per capita had dropped to levels approaching those in the Global Financial Crisis, Bolton said.
Yet, despite the gloom, Auckland house prices didn't take a major tumble. They were kept afloat by a shortage of houses, low unemployment, a strong economy, record low interest rates and continued high migration levels, Bolton said.
Those fundamentals led Westpac economists to tip prices to jump next year.
Raymond Mountfort - Bayleys regional general manager for south and west Auckland - was among those already noticing a spring pick-up.
"It felt like buyers had been waiting until suddenly it is getting closer to Christmas, interest rates have made getting mortgage money a little easier and then we were away," he said.
Data by analysts CoreLogic showed 8430 Auckland homes were now being advertised for sale.
This was higher than the winter months, as more homes owners listed their properties in time to catch the spring market, but was still 12 per cent down on this time last year.
Loan Market mortgage adviser Bruce Patten had also noticed a pick-up, with more homes selling at auctions and more customers keen to buy.
Banks were also fighting for home-loan customers.
Buyers who had saved higher deposits and were therefore deemed "better" customers or who had taken out other products with a bank, such as insurance, were more likely to be able to negotiate cash-back offers or cheaper home loans, he said.
However, Patten thought the current bounce-back was mainly seasonal and didn't expect it to translate to a rise in Auckland house prices.
Squirrel's Bolton, however, tipped a more lasting effect. While he didn't expect prices to boom again, he tipped a return to a "normal" market rather than one driven by falling prices and low confidence.
The change would be driven by more "movers" - owner occupiers looking to sell their existing property and move into a new home - buying again.
They were the buying group most affected by market sentiment and had earlier retreated on the back of the dim forecasts.
But now after two years of putting their buying plans on hold, many were keen to get on with their lives and upgrade their homes, Bolton said.
They were being buoyed by the stability and market confidence that had come from the "capital gains tax disappearing", the failure of house prices to crash and recent predictions by bank economists of a future rise.
It meant for many, their thoughts had turned from a fear that "house prices were gonna fall and I'll lose all my money'" to a sense that "house prices are gonna rise I'm going to miss out", Bolton said.