Sky-high property prices are sending Aucklanders scurrying to buy first homes elsewhere. Every week prospective first-home buyers give up on the Auckland market and start looking for what they can buy outside New Zealand's biggest city.
Clare Coulson-Dalton and husband Paul Dalton are a classic example. The pair lived in inner Auckland for a decade and felt at home in Grey Lynn. They were a part of the community, helping to launch the local farmers' market.
Buying in their beloved suburb, however, was something they couldn't bring themselves to do.
"Even if the bank had wanted to lend us three quarters of a million dollars, we were loath to borrow that sort of money," the journalist says. "It's a millstone around your neck and that was before the prices got really bad."
A throwaway line by Paul in late 2012: "We don't buy in Auckland and move somewhere else," got them thinking about their Plan B — Hamilton. The pair had family there and houses were far cheaper.
"For us, Hamilton was the obvious choice," says Clare.
As they drove back to Auckland from their Christmas holiday they stopped in Hamilton and checked out a couple of properties to get a feel for the city.
"We then had to work out the details." Clare loved her job at iStart Technology In Business publishers. So she put the idea of working remotely for at least some of the week to her boss Hayden McCall. "Hayden was very gracious, allowing me to relocate, and with cloud computing and a bit of flexibility, working from home part of the week has been straightforward."
Buying a property was the easy part. The couple spent a lot of time checking properties online and then two weekends in Hamilton checking out properties.
"We were very organised and knew what our non-negotiables were. There were some houses where we pulled up outside and told the agent to keep driving because we couldn't see ourselves living there."
Fortunately, they found exactly what they were looking for in Hamilton East and negotiated a price just over $360,000. The 1920s villa is a nicer house than they would have had in Grey Lynn and less than half the price.
Their home is four to five bedrooms on a full section in a desirable part of the city.
For Clare's job they have rented a room in Auckland, which she uses two nights a week. The combination of the cost of the Auckland room and their mortgage payments is less than the rent they were paying in Auckland before they bought. Clare takes the 7am InterCity bus to Auckland once a week arriving at 9am in time to start work. A couple of evenings later she catches an evening bus home.
"It's not that bad. I come from London where my dad used to commute an hour each way every day and didn't blink an eyelid."
The bus has free WiFi and on the way home she continues to work for two hours (although she is now on maternity leave).
She often sees the same faces on the 7am bus. Some of her be-suited fellow passengers don't have luggage, which suggests that they are daily commuters.
The work move was easier for Paul because he bought the Cornish Pasties (NZ) business in Cambridge. It's just 10 minutes' drive from home, which some locals think is excessive.
Clare's advice for people who are house hunting in Auckland is to be willing to consider a wider range of possibilities and ask themselves "what is the broadest set of options and what would life look like for us if we did X, Y or Z?".
"You can come up with all kinds of solutions that way."
One advantage of buying property in Hamilton is that there are fewer auctions, says Clare. That means you're not going to get outbid with an astronomical price.
The couple bought their home in 2013. Even now, says Clare, you can buy a nice house in Hamilton East for $400,000. You'd be lucky to get an apartment in Auckland for that price.
Dean and Nafiza Pilkington were watching TV one night when an item came on about house prices in Huntly. The couple had been searching with little luck for a property they could afford in Manukau and it set the pair on a different path.
In Manukau they would have paid $500,000 to $600,000 for their first home. Harcourts Huntly agent Shelley Moffitt had the perfect three-bedroom home on her books for $230,000. The house is in a newish subdivision and less than 15 years old, says Dean.
Last year, approximately 32 per cent of the Huntly Harcourt's agency sales went to Aucklanders. From January to April 2015 it was 48 per cent.
The Pilkingtons work in Mt Roskill and Manukau and commute daily in Dean's company car. It takes them about 45 minutes in the morning and an hour each afternoon.
When they moved in, Dean and Nafiza found that their next-door neighbours were also house-price refugees from Auckland. The husband now commutes to Hamilton and his wife to Auckland.
Moffitt's phone has been running hot with Aucklanders looking for cheaper property.
"It seems to only be getting stronger," she says. "The most common reason we are hearing is that most purchasers, especially those that are first-home buyers, just cannot get on to the housing ladder up there.
"We have good-quality, affordable homes for sale on the west side ranging from the low-to-mid $150s and on the east ranging anywhere between the high-$100,000s to mid-$200,000s. There are homes to cater for the higher budget also."
Some buyers commute and others have found work locally, says Moffitt. "With the new Expressway, Hamilton is only 20 minutes away."
The added bonus of Huntly says Moffitt is a great community where people have a sense of belonging and know their neighbours.
"With my job I work with a lot of new people to the area and most are surprised at what our small town offers — beautiful lakes and walks to explore, recreational clubs, a range of great schooling options."