Dream fading for many as ownership in some regions tipped to fall below 50%

Many of today's middle-aged and young people face the prospect of never owning a house, as a study warns that home ownership rates could drop below half in some parts of New Zealand within 20 years.

The research - the first long-term regional analysis by age using 2013 census data - shows home ownership rates in some regional household types have plunged by more than 40 percentage points since ownership peaked at 73.8 per cent in 1991.

It traces ownership rates by age group, showing for example that the home ownership rate for Aucklanders born in 1961-66 peaked at 65.3 per cent in 2006, when they were aged 40 to 44, and slipped back slightly to 64.6 per cent by 2013, when they were aged 45 to 49.

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That points to much lower home ownership rates in future as today's retired generation - who still have much higher home ownership rates - pass on.

"Historically across the region, on average, once the key earners in a household are over 40 years of age, the average rate of ownership within the cohort is unlikely to change significantly," the study says.

"If this trend continues, it suggests a significantly lower rate of ownership in Auckland [in future]."

The study projects home ownership will drop by 2026 to 59.6 per cent nationally, 56.9 per cent in Auckland and just 52.7 per cent in Gisborne.

"If these trends continue, regional home ownership rates of less than 50 per cent in two decades are possible."

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AUT University student president April Pokino, 20, said she did not think she would ever own a house.

"I don't feel like our age bracket has had the chance of owning a house, or even getting their first job. It's too expensive to live here any more in Auckland," she said.

"The view is that it's Australia that has everything. It's a lot cheaper over there, there's great jobs and a really good income over there, so a lot of people are just graduating and moving overseas."

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Glenfield self-employed house-painter Wayne Morgan, 57, and his wife Krong, 45, were refused a home loan from their bank several years ago because Mr Morgan's income was too variable, and have now lost hope because the average North Shore home price has jumped to $893,000 but Mr Morgan has had to cut his working hours to 25 to 30 a week.


House-painter Wayne Morgan and wife Krong, a caregiver, rent their home. "Our future is rather bleak," he says. Photo / Brett Phibbs

He suffers back problems and needs to be home after school for their son Patrick, 13, while Mrs Morgan works late shifts as a fulltime caregiver.

"We missed the boat," Mr Morgan said. "I was actually thinking of going to Australia, but I think things are just the same over there."

The family pay rent of $490 a week for a three-bedroom house out of a combined income that dropped below $35,000 last year, when Mr Morgan had to take time off with his back trouble.

"When I think about it, our future is rather bleak," he said. "I just think about when I pass away; what is going to be left for Krong and Patrick?"

The study author, Wellington housing researcher Ian Mitchell, said the biggest challenge would come when today's middle-aged and younger workers reached retirement still renting.

"When you look at the households that are most stressed going forward, it's actually rental households aged 65 and over," he said. "They are most likely to be spending up to 40 per cent or more of their household income just to pay the rent, which means they haven't got much left for other expenses."

Mr Mitchell said the home ownership decline was partly because young people were taking longer to marry and have children. The median age of mothers giving birth has risen from 25 in the 1970s to 30, and the median age of buying a first house in Auckland has risen from 25-29 in 1986 to 35-39 today.

But his data shows that the decline is not just delayed home ownership, because Aucklanders who still don't own a house by age 45-49 have doubled from 17.5 per cent in 1986 to 35.4 per cent.

Nationally, the biggest home ownership declines were for sole-parent households. In the Bay of Plenty, sole-parent home ownership at ages 30-34 collapsed from 60 per cent in 1991 to 17 per cent.

Mr Mitchell said he did a similar study after the last census in 2006 and other experts said his projections for future declines were too pessimistic.

"As it turned out, I was being too optimistic," he said.

"The decline between 2006 and 2013 was higher than I was projecting. At that stage it looked as if there was a catchup, that people were simply delaying home ownership by several years. But that doesn't seem to have flowed through between 2006 and 2013."

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