In May last year, a group of local businesses and people put together an affordable land and house package to entice people to move to Kaitangata. The deal hit international headlines and the group was flooded with inquiries from around the world. Samuel White visits Kaitangata to find out how things have changed in a year.

On Poole St, Kaitangata, there is a pile of dirt and the makings of a future fence around it.

Timaru man David Ferguson is visiting the pile of dirt.

He is thrilled to be one of the successful applicants for one of 12 much sought-after Kaitangata sections, but has recently become unemployed, and is taking a break from building while he finds a new job.

Five blocks away in Market St, a red shed-like structure nestles in the trees facing towards the Clutha River.

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Evan Dick has been working hard to entice new people to Kaitangata. Photo/ODT File
Evan Dick has been working hard to entice new people to Kaitangata. Photo/ODT File

The house still needs internal work before its new owner can move in, but it enjoys a view of a rural idyll many would be jealous of.

These are the first homes being built as part of a scheme brought to life by a local group of people and businesses who got together to offer land and home packages starting at $230,000 to attract new blood to the town.

The plan was the brainchild of local third-generation dairy farmer Evan Dick, who has "lived the dream" in Kaitangata for all of his life.

Mr Dick wanted other people to be able to realise the same dream.

"If the Kiwi dream is to own your own home, it ain't going to be happening in the cities if you're a lower to middle income earner."

A starting price of $230,000 for a brand new house and section in Kaitangata was a much more achievable goal than the present New Zealand average house price of $634,018 (according to QV.co.nz), he said.

"I think it's the state of the country. People are looking for affordable housing. That's what we're all about.

"They can't afford to live in cities any more."

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Three of the 11 sections sold so far were his, while the rest were owned by local vendors.

The sections were all set at a fixed rate so as to keep the combined land and house as cheap as possible to attract new people to the town.

The house and land package was Mr Dick's way of making it possible for couples and individuals to come and nest in Kaitangata, a town with a population of just under 800.

The Otago Daily Times first reported on Mr Dick's endeavours in May last year. The story was picked up by national television, and from there UK-based newspaper The Guardian followed the story.

Inundated with thousands of requests from people living abroad, the group running the package had to move to organise a system to weed out non-genuine interest and control inquiries.

That was a year ago.

Mr Dick said after the surge in "accidental" international media attention and all that went with that, things were slowly starting to happen in the town.

Eleven of the 12 available lots for the house and land package, put together formally by the Balclutha branch of Bank of New Zealand, Downie Stewart Lawyers, Hoamz Ltd and Big River Homes, had sold.

Vetted buyers came from all over the country, as well as from England and America.

One house was complete, work had started on several other sections and a couple of houses were being built off site, to come to the empty sections, though that would take time.

With most houses unlikely to appear for at least another year, Mr Dick acknowledged it was moving at a slower rate than he had anticipated, though he was not disappointed with the pace of progress.

"If you'd asked me a year ago, I would have been, but now that I know what the process is I'm not.

"It just takes time."

Under the land and house package, buyers have 24 months to build a house on the section.

"There's probably about 10 [houses] that're going to go up in the next couple of years."

It was just happening slowly.

"People are asking: 'When are these houses going up?' but everything just takes time."

The promotion was having an effect wider afield too.

It had brought Kaitangata to the attention of others too, who had bought or expressed interest in buying or doing up other properties in the township, or wider district.

Property consultant Margot Berney said the package had also attracted people looking for other options.

"A lot of out of towners are looking at purchasing . . . in the wider area. They are looking at Kai, but they're not just looking at Kai.

"It's a pleasant surprise."

She believed the interest had also contributed to positive effect on the selling market, as the average house price in the Clutha district increased by 7.1% since May last year, from $177,180 to $189,770.

However, as per the agreement, the sections listed under the land and house package remained fixed.

"They're [the vendors] doing that to enable a good price for people to come in and build their houses."

With only one section remaining from the original listing, there were "more coming on".

The Clutha District Council, which pledged to build a "spec house" at Kaitangata as part of a turnkey package, had not done that yet, but intended to as another way to make buying the land and house package easier for first-home buyers.

Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan said the project had the green light, but he understood there was a process to go through.

"Good things take time."

He said he applauded all the groups and the "stalwarts of the town" who worked to bring the package together.

"Kaitangata has shown us that a wee bit of positivity and you never know where it can take us."

While there were new houses being built, which Mr Cadogan said was a bonus, it was more important that Kaitangata was feeling good about itself.

Mr Dick thinks once the houses start going up people will take another look at the district too.

In five years' time he reckons there will be 20 new houses in Kaitangata.

"That's what we want. That's what we need."

But the town did not need too many houses, he warned, otherwise it would wreck what has always been a "hidden gem".