Auckland's red-hot housing market is changing the face of the modern family.

Some dream of fame, some of wealth. Others aspire to great heights of sporting prowess. Debra Kane and Toni Cannons' dreams are much simpler — to have a home of their own.

"You never let go of wanting to own a place of your own, not seriously," says Kane.

Kane and Cannons are expat Aucklanders, now living in Hamilton. The move was born of the desire for a family life not dictated by the tyranny of rent.

They had long given up the dream of owning a home — the Auckland market was too hot even for a couple on two decent incomes. But Auckland's rental prices also made it impossible for the couple to spend time with their young son or to have a second baby.

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"We were both working when we had Curtis," says Kane.

"I had to go back to work when he was six months old as my job was more flexible and better-paying than Toni's."

It wasn't long before Cannons also had to return to work and Curtis was put in full-time childcare.

"He really didn't take to it. He has been a happy and sociable wee boy, but he started to suffer anxiety and developed eating issues," says Kane.

And the couple still struggled financially, with no end in sight.

"We really wanted to have another child, but there seemed no way we could afford one.

"I was feeling some pressure time-wise as I'm an older mum. So we started looking at house prices in Hamilton, where my parents live. It was much cheaper."

As a museum worker, the employment opportunities in Hamilton weren't as good as Auckland, nor was the pay. But housing costs were low, so they decided to up sticks.

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Finally, at 42, Kane had her second child, Emma, now 14 months. And the move from Auckland transformed family life.

"Living here means I can focus on my children and not have to worry so much about money. It has definitely been a lifestyle change — we were sad to leave Auckland because it is such a great city. But it was the only option we had."

We were sad to leave Auckland because it is such a great city. But it was the only option we had.

Increased parental age and later first-home ownership can't be blamed solely on prohibitive housing prices, but those on the housing frontline are seeing the role it plays.

Hannah McQueen, founder and director of Auckland-based financial advice service Enable Me, has seen dramatic changes in client behaviour over the past 12 months.

"The length of time people are taking off to look after their babies is dropping enormously," she says.

She says many clients are delaying having children because of the length of time it takes to save a deposit for a home. "This has become more pronounced with people from all walks of life."

McQueen says these behaviours make financial sense but they have a cost.

"If you have children earlier and wait longer to own a home there are financial implications. But there might be biological implications with the opposite."

Pregnancy after 35 is harder and there's an increase in the chance of miscarriage and genetic conditions such as Down syndrome — it increases from one in 2000 for women in their 20s, to one in 100 for women in their 40s — but the trend towards older first-time parenting continues.

All parents understand they are the best people to look after their babies. And most parents only return to the workforce reluctantly. They are doing what they have to, not what they want to.

"If you have the opportunity to remain at home until this age, it is a great investment in the child's development. But a lot of parents don't have that option."

Polly Atatoa Carr, associate director of Growing Up in New Zealand, says one in five mums said their housing situation was moderately to highly stressful. "There has also been a great deal of mobility: many of the subjects who were based in Auckland have moved since the study was undertaken."

Those families experiencing financial difficulties were found to be more likely to move often. According to international studies, children who move frequently are likely to suffer from poorer health than those brought up in one location.

Phil Twyford, Labour's spokesman for housing, says these factors are a strong indication that Auckland's rocketing housing prices are changing the way in which families live. "It's terrible that economics are changing family life. This will have a long-term impact on the quality of life," he says.

Deborah Levy, property professor at Auckland University, says the housing boom is such a recent phenomenon that the consequences haven't been studied. But anecdotally, she says there's a mindset change among young people who are coming to terms with never having children as they won't be able to afford it.

She and her colleagues are discussing whether it is a field that needs investigation.

Housing minister Nick Smith says the age that women have children has been increasing since the 1970s, even in times when housing prices were flat. "Families make their own decisions around when they have children and buy homes," he says.

Smith says home ownership is a key concern of the government, and he points to the Home Start Grant, introduced in April, as a key initiative for enabling Auckland families to buy their first homes.

Buying a house isn't easy. File photo / Michael Crag
Buying a house isn't easy. File photo / Michael Crag

In Hamilton, Kane is philosophical about her family's move. She is sad that owning a home in Auckland will never be a possibility, but she is happy with her decision to put family ahead of a rung on the property ladder.

"We miss Auckland but it's great to put my family first, rather than the weekly rent."