By ANNE BESTON
The small Waikato town of Tokoroa is a big hit with the Aussies, who are snapping up cheap houses as investment properties.
Tokoroa real estate agents say inquiries from Australia suddenly took off about a year ago, although no one is sure why or how many have sold.
Liz Padman, a member of an economic development trust partially paid for by the South Waikato District Council, believed property investment seminars were behind the Aussie invasion.
"Someone over there is pushing investment and apparently suggesting Tokoroa and Taumarunui."
One Melbourne woman turned up on her doorstep six to eight weeks ago after initially being prepared to buy a house over the phone. She ended up buying two during her visit.
"She went for a tour of the district and is now very probably going to come and live here," she said.
Rumours that about 150 houses in Tokoroa now belonged to absentee Aussie landlords were probably not true. "I would be surprised if it was that high," she said.
Wade Fergusson of Harvey's Real Estate also suspected investment seminars were behind Tokoroa's popularity.
"It started with people from Sydney and it's moved to inquiries from people in Melbourne and Adelaide like a travelling investment roadshow."
Pam Harrison of Century 21 had had two Australians in her office the morning the Herald rang. They bought three properties from $42,000 to $66,000 to rent for between $120 and $140 per week.
"They come over here because they can't get into the Australian investment market," she said.
"Prices in Australia are far higher than here."
The New Zealand property market was less regulated than Australia's, with investors not having to worry about the same property-related taxes this side of the Tasman.
"Basically, these guys are picking up Tokoroa from the net, most buyers we've had have been from Sydney."
She estimated her firm had sold between 30 and 40 properties to Australian buyers in the past six months.
Carter Holt Harvey's $350 million investment in the Kinleith Mill had helped stabilise the town, Liz Padman said.
* Population of Tokoroa 14,427, a change of -7.1 per cent since 1996.
* 4809 households.
* 67.3 per cent of dwellings were owned with or without a mortgage, compared with 67.8 per cent for all of New Zealand.
* Average weekly rent paid for permanent private dwellings $117, compared with $174 for New Zealand as a whole.
Source - 2001 Census.
By ANNE BESTON