Rotorua appears to be the place of choice for many of the Bay of Plenty's first home buyers, with property experts putting the city's popularity down to its affordability and lifestyle.

There were 105 First Home Buyer mortgages issued by Westpac in the year to September, a decline from the 121 mortgages issued in the year to September 2016.

But Rotorua remained at the top of the list compared with other Bay of Plenty areas, Tauranga, Whakatane, Papamoa and Mt Maunganui.

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Westpac New Zealand chief executive David McLean said it was heartening to see first home buyers "finding places to put down roots".

"The housing market has slowed and that's good for New Zealand. We need a sustained period of flatter prices so that as incomes grow, houses become more affordable.

"In many places we're seeing a welcome increase in young New Zealanders getting a foothold on the housing ladder.

"It's pleasing to see plenty of activity in the regions, which are the engine room of the New Zealand economy.

McLean said the Reserve Bank introduced more restrictive loan to value ratio rules for property investors last October which appeared to have given first home buyers "more room to make purchasing decisions, and contributed to the increase in sales".

The Mortgage Centre owner Graeme Leigh, based in Rotorua, said the city's popularity among first home buyers came as no surprise.

"The interest is not as high as it was, but I think that comes down to a lack of suitable housing in their price range.

"That said, the feedback I'm getting is that first home buyers are more likely to find a really nice property within their price cap in Rotorua, as opposed to places like Tauranga.


"Those that are coming to Rotorua to buy think the city is magic. It's affordable, central and has a lot to offer - particularly for those who like the outdoors."

Steve Lovegrove, Professionals McDowell Real Estate co-owner and principal, said for young "outdoorsy" families, Rotorua was an ideal place to get on the property ladder.

"There are a lot of factors that come into the mix that influence first home buyers. There is confidence in Rotorua property values but it is still affordable compared with major centres.

"There are more employment opportunities and roading between Rotorua and Tauranga has improved, making the commute more appealing for those who have employment in Tauranga, but cannot afford to buy a home there.

"For a long time first home buyers have been frustrated constantly competing with investors and missing out. Now those investors are not as active and we are seeing more first home buyers getting their foot in the door.

"I think Rotorua could end up being a real star in the real estate realm for first home buyers."

Simon Anderson, chief executive of Realty Services, which operates Eves and Bayleys, said they were seeing strong first home buyer activity across the board.

"There are a lot of younger people who can afford to buy their own home in Rotorua.

"There is confidence in the Rotorua market and with the help of the first home buyer's grant and KiwiSaver, property ownership has become a reality for many."

Anderson said employment prospects and affordability were draws for families keen to get on the property ladder in the Bay of Plenty.