More than one-in-three Auckland suburbs have defied the market slowdown and risen in value, partly thanks to resurgent first-home buyers, according to the latest OneRoof housing market figures.
But the city is also home to some of the country's biggest house price drops, with some suburbs dipping out of the $1 million club.
And while historic low interest rates are helping buyers get a foot on the Auckland ladder, a property expert warns high prices still present a huge challenge for would-be homeowners.
Nine out of 10 of the nation's biggest fallers in median house values are in Auckland, including the country's wealthiest neighbourhood, Herne Bay, which slipped 12 per cent to $2.19m.
The OneRoof and Valocity figures, published in Tuesday's OneRoof Property Report, show the Auckland market is still strong in Papakura and Rodney, where house values rose by more than 2 per cent in the last 12 months.
Values have fallen by more than 5 per cent in the North Shore.
Just under 20 per cent of Auckland suburbs experienced value drops of more than 5 per cent and seven suburbs - Kumeu, Whitford, Albany, Herne Bay, Pukekohe East, Ti Point and Sunnynook - suffered double-digit slumps.
Sunnynook also dropped out of the million-dollar median value club, as did fellow North Shore suburbs Northcross, Hillcrest, Rosedale and Torbay.
Sunnynook's median value was $1.14 million a year ago, but is now $995,000. However, that's still up from three years ago when the suburb's value was $720,000.
Kumeu on the city's north western fringe is New Zealand's biggest faller, dropping 18 per cent on a year ago (from $1.455m to $1.195m), while Albany is down more than 12 per cent, off $140,000 from its high of $1.145m last year.
While Herne Bay has slipped from last year's peak of $2.49m, it also clocked Auckland's second highest sales price - $12m for a mansion on Marine Parade in November.
OneRoof editor Owen Vaughan said the swings in median values reflected the change in the sorts of properties now selling.
"Price is driving much of the house value growth in New Zealand. The six regions and towns that have experienced the biggest leaps in median house values in last year are Wairoa (29.1 per cent); Opotiki (25 per cent); Tararua (25 per cent); Kawerau (21.9 per cent); Hawke's Bay (21.4 per cent); and Whanganui (20.4 per cent); and they all have median house values of less than $400,000.
"Price is also behind the big drops in Auckland. When we look into what is selling in the city, there is a greater share of lower priced stock than a year ago and lower price points are popular with first-home buyers, who now represent the largest share of new mortgage registrations in the city - more than 27 per cent.
"The impact of this on headline value movements for a suburb can sometimes be misleading as it may appear a suburb is declining or collapsing in value, when in fact there has simply been a bigger share of lower priced housing selling."
James Wilson, head of valuation at OneRoof's data partners Valocity, said the lack of activity in the higher price brackets reflected homeowners deciding not to sell until the market picked up or withdrawing if prices didn't meet their expectations.
"Because the upper end of Auckland's market is not as active as it once was and there's more activity in the lower price brackets median values have dropped in some of the city's wealthier suburbs.
Some of the suburbs that had taken a hit in the North Shore were some of the fastest rising in previous years, and particularly popular with overseas investors, he said.
"They had higher value because of that coastal influence, good housing stock and proximity to good schools, they grew faster and reached higher price points.
"But now there's anecdotal evidence that in a generally less heated market, they're also seeing the 'double whammy' of fewer foreign buyers."
On the other side of the harbour, Lynfield, Three Kings and The Gardens, near Manurewa, also dropped below $1m but other parts of the south are growing. Manukau, Otara, Mangere all rose by about 5 per cent over the past year.
Wilson saw it as a switch in buyer types, with investors in those formerly landlord-attractive suburbs being replaced by more first-home buyers.
"These suburbs are still well priced – between $505,000 and $665,000 – so they're attracting first-home buyers who are buying slightly better properties, at higher prices, because they want to live in these houses themselves.
"These median value rises and drops are just reflecting the composition of who is buying and selling."
Loan Market mortgage broker Bruce Patten said they had seen a "big uplift" in first-home buyers entering the market.
"The market has been flat for a period of time, and we don't think much will change for the next couple of years, so that has allowed incomes to catch up a little, whereas before if you waited a year prices might have gone up $100,000 to $200,000."
Low interest rates, expected to stay low for a while, added to first-home buyer confidence, Patten said.
But Patten warned that buying a first home was still "tough", especially in Auckland.
"The cheapest home is still going to cost $650,000, if you can find one – Kiwibuild was meant to fix those issues. So it is still a big mortgage to take."