When house prices go up, housing researchers generally want to know why because understanding the market and modelling it is part of the job, driving their professional curiosity.
Lately, however, Andrew Little and the Labour Party claim they are interested in bigger issues relating to data collection and knowing about non-resident buyers as a cause for rising house prices. Really? Let's look at a few of those issues and the truth behind them.
It is claimed that the data on non-resident buyers is not available from the Government. This is only partly true. The Government collects loads of housing transaction data and then turns it over to a private company, CoreLogic (or QV), who then charges everyone for the privilege of accessing it.
The transaction data out there for you to purchase comes from local governments and the Crown, but academics and everyone else are charged a fortune by a private company to use it. Ironically, those same academics that would add public benefit free of charge are paid by the universities funded by the Government.
The IRD knows whether someone is non-resident for tax purposes.
Simple cross-referencing of the transaction database that the Government has, electoral register data and IRD databases by owner address should provide at least better insight than we have on the issue.
Are we really to believe that a party leader cannot get this data when almost every serious analyst in town knows it might be possible? One can only assume that if they were really interested in an answer, something more robust than a surname search could have been done.
Housing represents the largest single investment that most households make, and the largest single expense item in a household budget. The home ownership rate in New Zealand is high for a variety of reasons, but a tremendous amount of wealth is tied up in homes.
If housing values go down, people feel less wealthy and politicians in government are more likely to pay a price at the ballot box for making the majority of households in the country less wealthy.
Forget the fact that the homeowner hasn't sold ... they do not feel as wealthy when values go down. Governments tend not to get re-elected when property values go down.
Let's take this analysis one step further to deal with the Labour Party's contention.
The suggestion that non-residents are driving up prices ignores that fact that every politician wants house prices to rise when they are in government.
There is a lot of research internationally that investigates how restrictive zoning, high densities, development levies, increased taxation and severe development restrictions lead to higher median house prices.
The Labour Party has recently supported all of those measures, or variations of them. Given that is the case, the Labour objection to non-resident purchasers appears to be how house prices might be rising.
That leads us to the big issue - who is buying houses? If someone is selling a house, the logical answer is who cares, as long as they are willing to pay the highest price. Is the Labour Party suggesting that it is one's patriotic duty to sell only to residents at a lower price? Perhaps that is a choice best left to those willing to pay the economic cost of taking a lower price for their home, rather than a politician spouting dubious research.
Provided that many serious housing analysts must use data from abroad to investigate issues of concern for housing markets generally, the Labour Party suggestion of bigger issues at play might make some sense if they used data that should be available to a political party with a working knowledge of government.
After the 2008 financial crisis, the lack of transparent reporting of house prices was listed as a factor in house price expectations in the boom years. This resulted in every EU country and many jurisdictions in North America releasing house price transaction data to the public, free of charge.
One can only suppose that New Zealand has yet to learn that lesson, while the Labour Party's latest contention only reveals that they are interested in wild headlines without supporting robust and independent house price research.
• James Young is a senior property lecturer with the University of Auckland Business School.
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