Labour housing spokesman Phil Twyford's old journalistic instincts got the better of him. Leaked a wodge of confidential real estate sales statistics, he couldn't resist the temptation of a big byline.

Mr Twyford and Labour leader Andrew Little should have walked away from the quick headline.

Claiming the overabundance of Chinese-sounding names in the sales documents proved some causal link to Auckland's house price escalation is not just inflammatory in a city as ethnically diverse as Auckland but also far-fetched.

The Auckland house market has been a speculator's goldmine long before New Zealand opened the doors to widespread immigration from Asia.


In front of me is a 2008 flier from Barfoot & Thompson proclaiming that "after more than 80 years in business what we've observed is that over time there's only one direction that Auckland property consistently heads - and that's up".

It's dominated by a blacked in graph that looks like a Himalayan mountainside that Ed Hillary once climbed. We're told Auckland residential property is "a proven performer" as a retirement "nest egg" and as "a key component of a balanced investment portfolio". Given the number of mum-and-dad investors who've lost their life savings in spectacular investment company collapses since the 1980s, the attraction is obvious.

The 2013 Census underlines the results. Rentals make up 38.5 per cent of Auckland's 473,451 occupied dwellings. Most are owned by private landlords.

The graph shows that since the early 1970s, when Barfoot's average Auckland sale price was $20,000, the price escalation has become steeper each decade, apart from a couple of plateaus following the crash of 1987 and another a decade on. By 2007, the average $20,000 house was fetching $496,603. By June 2015, it was worth $787,364.

Of course in gentrifying areas like Ponsonby, the $20,000 villa of the 1970s is now fetching closer to $2 million than $1 million. All without anyone from mainland China in sight.

The only ethnic change in these desirable suburbs is the Polynesian renters who'd made the suburb home were driven out to the fringes by Pakeha baby-boomers like myself.

Now, having enjoyed the ride, the baby-boomers discover their kids can't afford to buy a ticket on to the escalator themselves unless the parents front up with a massive deposit. So the hunt is on for scapegoats.

Unfortunately, the finger is being pointed at citizens from our largest trading partner, flush with the cash we and other developed countries have sent them in payment for the appliances and clothes and kitchenware and even the Kiwi tourist souvenirs we can no longer be bothered making for ourselves. Why not? We're too busy investing all our spare cash in the property merry-go-round.


The leaked documents, we're told, back up the anecdotal evidence that people of Chinese ethnicity are buying houses in Auckland. Why wouldn't they? The new residents need somewhere to live, and for those in China seeking an investment in the land of milk and honey, the property market has been the best money-making show in town for decades.

If I'd been sensible, I would have joined in myself. But I never thought the escalator would continue ever upwards. That, and I could never see myself as a landlord, changing tap washers, checking for P labs and chasing up late rents.

How to tame the feral beast after nearly 50 years on the run seems beyond both the experts and the politicians. Many of the latter, as I pointed out in a previous column, are enjoying the ride with investment properties of their own, so one suspects they are in no great hurry to do anything.

At the last election, Labour promoted increasing housing supply as a solution, by building 100,000 low-cost houses over 10 years. The New Zealand Superannuation Fund is now talking of investing in new longer-term rentals.

Both seem more positive lines to pursue than pointing the finger at an ethnic group keen to follow native custom by indulging in a money-making pastime the locals have been playing for decades.

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