Auckland real estate agents selling top-end properties are fielding inquiries from wealthy expat Kiwis spurred to consider returning home by the pandemic.
Michael Boulgaris of Boulgaris Reality in Remuera said he got 15 inquiries from expat Kiwis last week alone and is handling more this week. Megan Jaffe of Ray White Remuera said people put their safety first but then considered house buying and the Remuera Rd-headquartered business was also busy. Graham Wall said his agency in Ponsonby continually received inquiries from expats in the multi-million dollar category.
"They've have been flying back into Australia and trying to arrive here from that point," Boulgaris said of the worried expats who had contacted him with their requirements for the types of places they wanted to buy.
But whether the rush from offshore will eclipse New Zealand's national record of $39m for an Orakei mansion in 2013 is yet to be seen.
New rules since the lockdown came into force just before midnight last Wednesday mean anybody returning to New Zealand needs to self-isolate in the city they arrive in for two weeks.
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"Some are really big flyers who have made their names off shore want to come back with their families and to be with families. What was expressed was there were no rentals of substance," Boulgaris said.
Many were also in a hurry to get their families back here because they perceived New Zealand to be safe, did not want "to be stuck in a hotel" yet could also not stay with family who were living in New Zealand because they did not want to impose, he said.
Asked if the pandemic panic could result in house-buying like the post-9/11 boom, Boulgaris said: "It is not financial this time. It is to be with family."
Successful Kiwis who had made money overseas now wanted to return to live nearer their parents, siblings and relatives, he said.
Criteria was predominantly the best areas for schooling, number of bedrooms, bathrooms, land size or sea view, he said. The more properties had of these features, the more attractive they were to the expats.
Apartments were becoming a growing trend now as many Kiwis who were now living overseas had become accustomed to that style of living, Boulgaris said.
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People were looking for apartments as a tradeoff to stand-alone homes because now they didn't so much mind paying annual apartment fees: "Trades are so expensive such as gardeners and painters," he said. Ten years ago, the top end of the market was solely houses but that had changed now.
New Zealand's most expensive property for sale is the $40m Pakatoa Island in the Hauraki Gulf. It has been on the market for 14 years without any takers and is one of the few privately owned islands in the area. That and many other unsold mansions in the $20m-plus league featured in the Herald recently.
Graham Wall said he'd received a number of inquiries lately and not just for Auckland but more remote waterfront positions. Ollie Wall noted steady increase in inquiries from London and Hong Kong-based Kiwis "with the plan to move back eventually, to give their kids the life they had, or dreamt of having growing up, usually a water view, with plenty of space to kick a ball but still close to the city".
But the Real Estate Institute has estimated that more than $200m in daily residential property sales had been shelved until the end of April as buyers and sellers sit out the four-week covid-19 shutdown period. Around 5800 residential deals, worth some $3.7b, will be delayed until late April or possibly into early May, REINZ has estimated.
Jaffe of Ray White Remuera said New Zealanders living in Britain and New York had been active in the last week, looking at top-end places: "They go into lockdown, then they get onto the key board."
Steen Nielsen of Ray White Remuera said most overseas inquiries came from Kiwis working in Sydney and Melbourne businesses "but also from England, Poland and Germany".
Expats were looking to first establish a relationship with an agent, he said, "then they're looking for eastern bays places which are good homes in double-grammar school zones".
The Herald reported on February 18 how the coronavirus outbreak was prompting Chinese to investigate buying New Zealand properties as boltholes, despite this country's foreign buyer ban on house sales.
Owen Vaughan, editor of NZME-owned property listing site OneRoof.co.nz, said sales figures from OneRoof and its data partner Valocity indicated an appetite for high-end properties in the six months from September 2019, and chimed with agent sentiment that momentum was returning to the top-end of the market in certain regions, such as Auckland.
"While the period covered does include several stand-out purchases, $5m-plus sales in 2019 were down from market peak, with Queenstown and Auckland still feeling the effects of the foreign buyer ban. The hope had been that the expat market would fill the gap.
"The lockdown and the spread of the coronavirus have brought uncertainty to the market. Expats who were well advanced in their plans to move back to New Zealand will undoubtedly still be active players – and can take advantage of digital tools to inspect and buy property - but recent figures show how quickly the market is moving. Figures are changing fast and buyers and sellers will be more reliant than ever on current sales to gauge the market."
Georg Chmiel, executive chairman of Juwai IQI, said: "Chinese online and social media real estate buying inquiries in New Zealand have jumped 32 per cent during the period of the coronavirus. Only Vietnam is seeing a bigger increase, up 43 per cent."
But the Chinese were only looking online and not visiting, he said.
"On-the-ground and in-person Chinese buyer activity in New Zealand will remain low as consumers restrict their travel and their public activities," he said.
Barfoot & Thompson will release its March sales for Auckland and Northland early next week, then the Real Estate Institute will release national sales data around the middle of April.