Whanganui is experiencing skyrocketing housing demand, and builders, developers and surveyors are scrambling to keep up.
The demand for housing began in 2016. Building consents have virtually doubled from about 50 a year to more than 100 since then, and applications to subdivide have more than doubled over the same time.
In the months from January to August this year, 103 consents were issued in the Whanganui district.
In 2015, there were 39 subdivision applications in the district, which resulted in 47 new house lots.
By 2019, the applications had ballooned to 90, with 200 new house lots resulting.
The district's population grew from 45,309 in the 2018 Census to 47,300 in 2019, according to Statistics NZ.
"Our planning, building and infrastructure teams are helping facilitate a city-wide growth phenomenon not seen in Whanganui for decades," Whanganui District Council planning manager Hamish Lampp said.
Zoning changes, resource consents and the addition of infrastructure all take time. The lag in supply of subdividable land is limiting the prospects of Whanganui developer Bernard Reuters.
He owns the Devon Homes franchise and has sent staff to Auckland, Hawke's Bay and Wairarapa to work.
"We get several inquiries a week. If we had the land we would be able to build more houses. Developers can't develop, because there isn't the land to develop," he said.
Stonewood Homes Whanganui sales manager Jamie O'Leary is in a similar position.
"Land ready to build on is getting scarce. We could be doing more projects if more land was available," he said.
Stonewood Homes is working on 11 house lots in Sussex Rd, has done five in Springvale Rd and eight in Oxford St. It has a 16-lot subdivision coming up, 10 houses on the go and more irons in the fire.
It took three to five years from a zoning change to land being available for building, O'Leary said.
"It's not the council's problem. It's just that everybody has to work within the requirements of the RMA [Resource Management Act]," Reuters said.
Construction of the Fitzherbert Ave extension will begin in late October, Lampp said, opening up the Springvale growth zone and a potential 600 house sites. A zoning change has also made land in northwest Whanganui available.
Developers are getting a steady level of inquiries. O'Leary says young people are looking, but so are retirees and people returning to Whanganui from elsewhere in New Zealand or overseas.
The scarcity of land is making buyers less fussy about which suburb they live in.
"Most will consider any land at all now."
With land scarce, higher-density housing such as apartments and duplexes were becoming more popular - a trend that was likely to continue, Lampp said.
"We are seeing the demolition of older building stock making way for multi-units; the type of urban renewal traditionally only seen in our largest cities."
Reuters has two apartment projects on the go.
Infill housing - where extra houses are added on existing large sections - is another option.
"With so many low-density, under-developed sections in our established suburbs ripe for intensification, infill housing consents are flying out the door," Lampp said.
O'Leary and Reuters are looking at infill options all the time - and they're quickly snapped up. In 2020 there were 31 applications for infill housing consents, resulting in 73 new house lots.
Tim Easton and Rebecca Hay have an application in. They own a narrow 1000sq m section in Smithfield Rd and plan to build a new house for themselves on the back and rent out the existing house at the front.
The project has been complex and expensive, with power, driveways, sewerage and water connections needed. The cost is equal to buying a whole new section - if there were sections available.
"They're like hen's teeth," Easton said.
Luckily they share the cost of a driveway with a neighbour, and will configure their back section in a way that suits both.
Interest rates may be low for those intending to build, but there are other pitfalls.
Lenders were imposing conditions that sometimes made finance difficult, O'Leary said.
Getting materials was taking longer, and subcontractors were busier - which made building take longer. Council consent processing was getting faster though, he said.
For Reuters, finding tradespeople has become difficult, too.
"Everybody is screaming for staff - not only staff but competent, qualified, motivated staff."
Builder Shane Stone is not a developer who sells house and land packages. He has found another way to ease the housing shortage.
Four of his staff are building Bunnings' Clever Living Homes at his Wilson St base. Each house has three bedrooms and two bathrooms and sells for $240,000 plus GST if landed on a site within 50km.
He has seven going, and they are being trucked to Marton, Turangi, Ohakune, Waipipi and Aramoho.
"Demand is going crazy for them at the moment. We haven't advertised them at all."
The demand for rural subdivisions was just as fierce as in town, Lampp said.
The council is analysing population trends to decide how long this growth will continue. Central to its longer-term residential growth plan will be an "up not out" theme, of consolidation rather than spread, with sustainable transport options provided.
"We are seeing a good range of housing types coming to the market, with smaller homes on infill plots and family homes on larger plots in new subdivisions," Lampp said.