Hot takes on housing affordability is a dinner-party conversation which signals the beginning of the night's end for me.
There's a merry-go round of opinions and experiences which usually indicate a person's journey (or non-journey) in the property market.
To start, it can be variations of "Yes, we are still renting". Or something a bit more exciting like "I'm trying not to get too far ahead but pre-approval came through today". Then there's situations like "Unfortunately, the landlord is selling so we need to find somewhere ASAP". Sometimes, there's even specific accommodation requests - either for themselves or someone close to them: "I'm actually looking for a short-term place that allows dogs and is close to public transport". When these come up, I silently wish them luck and give thanks I've got somewhere to live.
Anything around the non-existent capital gains tax can be particularly enlightening. Not long ago I sat across from someone whose protests against a CGT was based on its unfairness for those who'd worked hard to get into the property market. That same night we toasted him and his partner's new home purchase in Auckland. They'd had help from their parents to get it over the line. I squinted through my mouthfuls of ice cream trying to understand the basis of his anti-CGT stance before concluding I just wasn't going to get it.
But that's what discussion around home ownership and the housing crisis does. It brings out the best, worst and most nonsensical in all of us. What everyone around the table always seems to agree on is the importance of owning your own home. Even when the median house price tops $700,000 nationally, and comes in at $1 million in Auckland, it is still the number one priority. Seems crazy, right?
To untangle this for myself, I like to think of the hats I wear when it comes to housing and income. First, I'm a freelance journalist. I'm nearly two years into that, and while it's not billed as the most secure lifestyle, things are going well. Saying that, on my savings and earnings alone, I'm a few years away from securing a deposit of at least 10 per cent for anything around $600,000 (the KiwiSaver cap for existing homes in Auckland).
The second hat is one around circumstance and privilege. Like the anti-CGT dude, my parents own their home and will be able to help me get into the property market. That advantage makes every difference because it means I can rent without the overbearing pressure to save everything else for a deposit. It gives me choices around how I work, what I spend money on and the amounts I put aside each month for something like a house or even a holiday.
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The third hat is prospective homeowner. A quick disclaimer: I'm not scouring listings at the moment. Why? Because renting simply isn't an attractive long-term option and I'm fortunate enough to have familial help for a house. Home ownership - like the dinner chat reckons illustrate - offers stability and security no one voluntarily turns away. For me, access to that is a direct consequence of hat number two. If we're being totally honest, it's also probably in spite of hat number one. With an accounting degree in my pocket, a far smarter financial choice would have likely involved a career route directly related to that after university. But that's the luxury and choice that privilege affords.
Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr phrased it in his own way while discussing policy around inflation, unemployment, and lending to banks. Impacts on the housing market came up in the Newshub interview.
"The fact that we're talking here and complaining about house prices and all these types of activities, that's a problem but it's a first-class problem," Orr said. "The alternative is being in a recession or depression and having high unemployment. We are working strongly to ensure that is not the problem we are dealing with."
Yes, Orr and I are coming from vastly different perspectives, but there's a common message which must be highlighted. For those in jobs which pay enough to get a mortgage or have a family safety net for housing, you'll be okay as we navigate the next few years. For those not captured in these demographics, be aware a substantive shift to a fairer housing environment is not a priority. Because unless our very top policy makers enact that change, the status quo which currently works for select groups of people will remain in place.