The Herald's Home Truth series of the last fortnight should have come with a censor's advisory: Not Suitable for Anyone With Apocalyptic Tendencies or Struggling to Get On the Housing Ladder.

I've read it all, binge-reading as if captivated by a series of blockbuster films. Specifically, gruesome, bone-chilling horror films, replete with those wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-recalling-that-unspeakable-bit-with-the-trapdoor moments.

But more than that, the grisly motion picture is projected on a screen glued to an almighty bloody freight train which is hurtling towards you, sparks flashing wildly from the wheels as it careers uncontrollably through the pitch black night. And you're just sitting there in your underwear weeping - actually, forget that last bit, that's probably just me. Please pass the inhaler.

Awoken, perhaps, by the screeching of the locomotive - and the small matter of some data scheduled to materialise in the next fortnight - the Prime Minister has put it about that a land tax could be imposed on those domiciled abroad.


The sowing of seeds for such a new tax, coming swiftly on the heels of a sort of capital gains tax in the form of a tightened brightline test on property owners, has understandably led some to holler "But you promised no more taxes!" and others to roar "But for years you said calm down dear there is no Auckland housing crisis and no foreign owner issues and this is an outrageous U-turn flip-flop somersault".

And while such complaints might well have the advantage of truth, when you're sitting there in your underpants and there's a runaway train bearing down with a macabre slasher flick inexplicably attached to it, the right and proper response is: Thank goodness, you're doing something, albeit slight, with the brakes; now more, more, more, for the love of God.

If I sound a smidgen panicky at this point, it is the Herald's series that is to blame, with its information and case studies and analysis what have you. Among some of the sit-bolt-upright-screaming facts that have featured in the coverage are these:

Auckland housing is now more costly than Sydney's

Sydney! Glamorous, shallow Sydney! Part Los Angeles for beginners, part gorgeous shimmering city, but all of it prohibitively expensive to live in. Everyone knows that. Except it turns out Auckland is now even pricier.

Four years ago, we were 25 per cent cheaper than them. New figures show that the average Auckland home now costs $931,000, versus $913,000 for Sydney. We might be hopeless at rugby league, but at last we've outranked them when it comes to grotesquely expensive property.

Beneath that Herald headline scrolled a litany of gobsmacking realities that have become so well trodden we tend to stop thinking about them, a bit like the essential meaninglessness of existence. Such as: An average Auckland house costs 10 times the average household income; prices have increased by around 300 per cent in the last 15 years while incomes have gone up by 66 per cent; and NZ is by some measures the most expensive place in the world to buy a home, measured against income. You scream but no noise comes out.

Four out of five homes in Otara are being snapped up by investors

Who are these investors? We don't know - anecdotally, many are based abroad, but there are New Zealanders, too, eager to add a bargain to their rental portfolio. As Fran O'Sullivan pointed out this week, many of these semi-professional landlords are better called speculators, because it's all really about capital gains. Who can blame them?

One of the Prime Minister's main arguments for partial asset sales was to encourage people to invest in the stock market; why do that when there is so much palpable advantage in jumping aboard the runaway horror train, in buying some more of those magic beans.

This so-called "investor overcrowding" lays bare the nonsense that places such as Otara are first-home buyers' paradises. But it also presages an inevitable exodus of many of the existing working-class population, driven out by rising prices and rents.

As Simon Collins has explored in his excellent reporting, homes are becoming increasingly crowded, with more and more people losing a place to call home. The research from New Zealand and elsewhere proves that the absence of a home has numerous knock-on effects, which are both heartbreaking on a human level and expensive in public cost terms.

Rents have not kept pace with price rises, meaning yields have dropped to historic lows of 2.6 per cent - below the cost of borrowing

As everyone knows, houses earn more in appreciated value than their owners tend to from working (the land on which our rundown three-bedroom house is perched, for example, laughs like an aristocrat at our pay cheques). And that's fine, because prices will keep on going up because they will because they will. Until they don't, and over-leveraged landlords have to sell, and the prices go down, and then what?

The culture of predominant home-owning in New Zealand is going the way of the Goodnight Kiwi.

That might not be such a bad thing were landlords as long-term focused as those in European countries where renting is the norm. Instead, here, even modest regulations around the safety of dwellings are treated with astonishment as if they might threaten the whole enterprise.

More worrying still, at a 2.6 per cent yield, maybe they could. Here's how the deputy governor of the Reserve Bank sees it: "Increasing investor presence is likely to amplify the housing cycle, and worsen the potential damage from a downturn, both to the financial system and the broader economy."

It's just a surprise more key workers, including nurses and teachers, have not yet been priced out of Auckland, which risks achieving a bastardised version of the mayor's vision, and becoming one of the world's most leavable cities.

Based on 15 per cent price rises and current median price in Auckland, you need to save $473/week just to keep pace with deposit appreciation

That terrifying calculation wasn't actually in the Herald itself but posted on Twitter (a social network for elderly journalists) by one of the paper's razor-brained reporters, Matt Nippert. He added: "That is, if you're saving less than $473 a week (more than half the average wage, pre-tax) you're doomed. Happy hunting!"

Of course, first-time buyers are likely to be looking at properties below the median price, but all the same those numbers are the stuff of a thousand metaphor-soup nightmares.

If only the yoofs would stop moaning and start saving

The most stunning revelation in the Herald's series came courtesy of a conveyancing lawyer and a home loans firm boss, who exposed those who complain about struggling to afford a first home as insufficiently "disciplined".

Apparently these complacent, materialist miscreants - the would-be home-buyers, that is, not the property guys - are squandering their incomes on Sky TV, sofas, sound systems, leased BMWs, $200 bar tabs, and twice-yearly trips to Bali. I don't know about you but I was totally sucked in by these characters, up until the reference to "42-inch Plasma TVs". Plasmas? So 1995.

It was then I clicked that this was clearly some kind of subversive performance as part of the Auckland Comedy Festival.

When you think about it, it must all be some elaborate, tragicomic, railway-themed, magic-bean-fuelled modern-day Nosferatu fever dream. Surely no responsible government and council could have let it come to this.

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