One of the World’s Hottest Real-Estate Markets Tries To Cool
New Zealand is pulling every lever to tame property prices.
New Zealand is pulling every lever to tame property prices.
New Zealand is emerging as a test case of whether authorities can restrain rising home prices without tanking the market and destabilising the economy at the same time.
The South Pacific nation’s efforts could offer a blueprint for the many other countries facing a similar dilemma after the coronavirus pandemic. A combination of low rates, economic stimulus and changes in buying patterns as people work remotely is pushing real-estate values higher all over the world, pricing out many first-time home buyers.
The problem is particularly acute in New Zealand, where housing supply failed to keep up with population growth over much of the past decade. Home prices have risen more than 30% in the past year, according to a property-price index from the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand.
The country’s home-price-to-income ratio, a measure of affordability, is the highest compared with the long-run average among 30 key economies analyzed by research firm Capital Economics. For each economy, the firm created an index setting at 100 the long-term average of the ratio of home prices to incomes. New Zealand’s score on the index was 178, or well above its long-term average.
Governments have several tools at their disposal to influence real-estate prices, including boosting housing supply either through direct investment or changing land-use regulations, restricting mortgage lending and offering financial assistance to first-time buyers.
Economists and policy makers debate whether central banks should use interest rates to try to rein in housing prices by influencing the cost of borrowing. Higher rates could make mortgages more expensive and cool demand for housing, but they could also have unwanted impacts on inflation or employment, the traditional areas of focus for central banks.
New Zealand is pulling every lever. In October, the country’s central bank raised its benchmark interest rate to 0.5% from a record-low 0.25% and signalled more increases over the next year, in part because of skyrocketing home prices. And earlier in the year, New Zealand’s government, in a novel move, directed the central bank to consider home prices when making decisions about monetary policy, even though bank officials warned that would have little impact on the market and could lead to lower employment and below-target inflation.
New Zealand has also restricted low-deposit lending, a move designed to reduce risky mortgages and lower the chance of a damaging housing market correction, which could destabilize the broader economy. Starting Nov. 1, only 10% of lending to owner-occupiers can have a loan-to-value ratio of more than 80%, down from the 20% of lending that is allowed now. It is working on debt-to-income restrictions as an additional tool.
The government also plans to make higher-density housing easier to build in cities and limit the deductibility of interest costs on residential property investments. The tax change aims to stem investor demand for existing residential properties, a dynamic that has contributed to higher real-estate prices in the past and made it more difficult for first-time buyers to get on the property ladder.
Whether New Zealand’s efforts have a measurable impact on housing prices, without any unwanted economic or social side effects, isn’t yet clear.
In September, the latest month for which data is available, property prices in seven of New Zealand’s 16 regions reached record median levels, according to the Real Estate Institute. Prices in Auckland, the country’s biggest city, declined 4% from August to September, but a Covid-19 lockdown in the city had curtailed buying and selling. The institute said it expects activity to pick up when the lockdown lifts.
Gareth Kiernan, chief forecaster at Infometrics, doesn’t expect New Zealand home prices to fall soon. All the government and central-bank measures combined might succeed in slowing price increases, he said, but that still means a grim outlook for first-time buyers.
Demand is also likely to increase, Mr. Kiernan said. The government recently decided to allow residency for tens of thousands of people on temporary visas, which means more people will be looking to buy homes. And the construction industry is still struggling to build houses fast enough to meet existing demand.
Mr. Kiernan said interest rates would need to rise by quite a bit more than currently expected to bring about a fall in prices. New Zealand’s central bank in August projected that the cash rate would reach 1.6% by the end of 2022 and 2% in the second half of 2023.
Even if home prices stopped rising, and assuming incomes grow 3% a year, the home-price-to-income ratio would take until 2050 to decline to its level in 2000. Mr. Kiernan said.
“It’s going to remain very painful I think, very difficult for people wanting to get into the housing market, for a long time,” he said.
Capital Economics, in its recent analysis, expects home-price inflation in major economies to moderate naturally in the coming months and isn’t expecting a destabilizing drop in prices.
However, it said the risk of a crash is elevated in countries such as New Zealand where affordability was stretched even before the pandemic. Other countries in a similar situation include Canada, Denmark, Australia, Sweden and Norway, the firm said.
“We would not say that house price falls in any of these countries are certain or imminent—some have been flashing red for several years yet house prices have continued to defy gravity,” the economics firm wrote. “But it would not take much to tip them over the edge.”
Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: November 7, 2021
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You’ll never guess where they found a little extra room when renovating this west coast house
There was a time, not too long ago, when the most important must-have for would-be renovators was space. It was all about space to be together and space to be apart.
But as house prices increase across the country, the conversation has started to shift from size for the sake of it towards more flexible, well-designed spaces better suited to contemporary living.
For the owners of this 1920s weatherboard workers’ cottage in Fremantle, the emphasis was less on having an abundance of room and more about creating cohesive environments that could still maintain their own distinct moods. Key to achieving this was manipulating the floorplan in such a way that it could draw in light, giving the impression at least of a larger footprint.
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Positioned on a site that fell three metres from street level, the humble four-room residence had been added to over the years. First order of business for local architect Philip Stejskal was to strip the house back to its original state.
“In this case, they were not quality additions,” Stejskal says. “Sometimes it is important to make sure later additions are not lean-tos.”
The decision to demolish was not taken lightly.
“Sometimes they can be as historically significant as the original building and need to be considered — I wouldn’t want people to demolish our addition in 50 years’ time.”
Northern light hits the site diagonally, so the design solution was to open up the side of the house via a spacious courtyard to maximise opportunities to draw natural light in. However, this had a knock-on effect.
“We had to make space in the middle of the site to get light in,” Stejskal says. “That was one of the first moves, but that created another issue because we would be looking onto the back of the neighbouring building at less appealing things, like their aircon unit.”
To draw attention away from the undesirable view, Stejskal designed a modern-day ‘folly’.
“It’s a chimney and lookout and it was created to give us something nice to look at in the living space and in the kitchen,” Stejskal says.
“With a growing family, the idea was to create a space where people could find a bit of solitude. It does have views to the wider locality but you can also see the port and you can connect to the street as well.”
A garden tap has also been installed to allow for a herb garden at the top of the steps.
“That’s the plan anyway,” he says.
Conjuring up space has been at the core of this project, from the basement-style garaging to the use of the central courtyard to create a pavilion-like addition.
The original cottage now consists of two bedrooms, with a central hallway leading onto a spacious reception and living area. Here, the large kitchen and dining spaces wrap around the courtyard, offering easy access to outdoor spaces via large sliding doors.
Moments of solitude and privacy have been secreted throughout the floorplan, with clever placement of built-in window seats and the crow’s nest lookout on the roof, ideal for morning coffee and sunset drinks.
The house has three bedrooms, including a spacious master suite with walk-in robe and ensuite overlooking the back garden. Adjustable blades on the bedroom windows allow for the control of light, as well as privacy. Although the house was designed pre COVID, it offers the sensibility so many sought through that time — sanctuary, comfort and retreat.
“When the clients came to us, they wanted a house that was flexible enough to cater for the unknown and changes in the family into the future,” Stejskal says. “We gave the owners a series of spaces and a certain variety or moods, regardless of the occasion. We wanted it to be a space that would support that.”
Mood has also been manipulated through the choice of materials. Stejskal has used common materials such as timber and brick, but in unexpected ways to create spaces that are at once sumptuous but also in keeping with the origins of the existing building.
Externally, the brickwork has been finished in beaded pointing, a style of bricklaying that has a softening effect on the varied colours of bricks. For the flooring, crazy paving in the courtyard contrasts with the controlled lines of tiles laid in a stack bond pattern. Close attention has also been paid to the use of veneer on select joinery in the house, championing the beauty of Australian timbers with a lustrous finish.
“The joinery is finished in spotted gum veneer that has been rotary cut,” says Stejskal. “It is peeled off the log like you peel an apple to give you this different grain.”
Even the laundry has been carefully considered.
“The laundry is like a zen space with bare stone,” he says. “We wanted these different moods and the landscape of rooms. We wanted to create a rich tapestry in this house.”
The owners now each experience the house differently, highlighting separate aspects of the building as their favourite parts. It’s quite an achievement when the site is not enormous. Maybe it’s not size that matters so much after all.
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