Estate agents are placing signs in shop windows for "properties wanted immediately" amid a housing shortage that has slid to the lowest inventory of homes available for sale in four years.

Other estate agents are cold-calling property owners and distributing pamphlets to encourage listings and meet the growing demand from people struggling to find a place to live. released figures yesterday showing that the number of weeks it would take to sell every house on the market shrank 34 per cent in Auckland, 58 per cent in Waikato and 25 per cent overall in the year to January.

Apartments in Auckland fared worst, with a record low of new listings of 179 in January - down 25 per cent on last year.


Their asking price also dropped 13 per cent in a month, despite rising rents in many suburbs.

Renters have been telling the Herald this week that fierce competition for properties was leading to bidding wars.

Some have said it could be difficult just to get a response from busy agencies, and searches could drag out for months.

Realtor Terry King, of the Remuera Real Estate Register, said he was taking a different approach to try to match up demand with supply.

He kept a detailed database of people looking for properties, and they would receive emails as appropriate listings arrived.

The database also let him post lists of what properties were being sought after - which encouraged owners to put their properties on the market.

"For sellers it's a very appealing proposition: we have cashed-up buyers on our database with whom houses will be matched up with straight away," Mr King said.

"[Property owners] don't have to go through all the process of open homes and advertising campaigns, and it takes away the fear that the house could sit on the market for weeks."


People looking for houses have been matched up to properties in as little as a day, in exceptional cases - though prospective buyers outnumber listings, 86 to 18.

"It's the logical thing to do. People who have gone through it say this is the way of the future."

Mr King's list of "properties wanted immediately" were mostly million-dollar Remuera homes, but he said he handled all properties, including apartments.

A Herald reader, meanwhile, recommended website as a way of tracking new listings.

The site lets you choose suburbs, a price range and the desired number of bedrooms, and maps out listings as they come in.

Another reader suggested there should be a guide for rents similar to rateable valuations for sales.

"How do I know as a consumer if I am paying a fair rent? There is no transparency," the reader said.

The average rent for a three-bedroom home in Auckland has reached a record-high of $500 a week, according to Crockers.

Popular areas, such as Ponsonby, have had rents rise by 28 per cent, and further increases are expected as the first tax bills disallowing depreciation claims hit landlords from April.

There can be stark differences between suburbs, however.

Viewings for properties in Grey Lynn or Mt Eden are swamped by as many as 30 interested groups at a time, but property owner Bob Kennedy said his Panmure four-bedroom failed to attract any interest, despite genuine efforts by an agent.

"It's been empty for three years. I've worn out two fridges by not using them," Mr Kennedy said. chief executive Alistair Helm said strong sales in the main centres had pushed demand for homes "far ahead of supply" - leading to the record low levels of inventory.

"With the three major cities leading the trend, the market has tightened even further in most regions across the country," said Mr Helm.

"The last three months has seen just over 30,000 new listings come on the market, which is equal to the same time period last year, yet sales are up 22 per cent."

Auckland Mayor Len Brown has said affordable housing is a major issue being tackled by the Auckland Plan and its concept of a compact city.

New Zealand
* Jan 2011:59,890
* Jan 2012:51,171
* Change:-8719 (-15 per cent)

* Jan 2011:14,999
* Jan 2012:11,874
* Change:-3125 (-21 per cent)

* Jan 2011:4324
* Jan 2012:3606
* Change:-718 (-17 per cent)