9 Jul 2015

Property market picks up in north as Aucklanders quit the city

3:39 pm on 9 July 2015

The property market in Northland has sprung back to life for the first time since the global financial crisis.

Real Estate Institute figures show house sales in Whangarei  were up 38 percent in May, compared with May last year, and up and 28 percent across Northland.

Real Estate Institute figures show house sales in Whangarei were up 38 percent in May, compared with May last year, and up and 28 percent across Northland. Photo: 123RF

Sales and values in the region took a big hit in 2008 - and they have been in the doldrums ever since, but both are now on the rise, driven in part buy an exodus of Aucklanders for the provinces.

Real Estate Institute figures show house sales in Whangarei were up 38 percent in May, compared with May last year, and up and 28 percent across Northland.

A director at Bayleys Real Estate in Whangarei Tony Grindle said the trend began quite suddenly, last summer.

"It was like someone flicked the switch," he said.

"Come Christmas time, it was all go. And since January, it's been a different period. If we look at the figures, we haven't had sales figures of that nature for residential house sales in Whangarei, since 2007, the peak of the pre-crash."

Real Estate Institute chief executive Colleen Milne said property sales in all the regions were picking up.

She said the strong growth in the Northland market and places like Tauranga and Hamilton was being fuelled by Auckland buyers, including investors looking for affordable rental properties, and a wave of baby-boomers, looking to down-size.

Ms Milne said the buyers included investors, looking for affordable rental properties, and a wave of baby-boomers - looking to downsize.

"People are cashing up," she said.

"They're able to buy a freehold property (in the regions) and then also just have some funds, to make life comfortable, and obviously they've been able to do that with the large gains they've achieved in the Auckland sale prices."

One couple in their 60's who have sold up in Auckland and bought in Northland said the time was right for a move.

Bryan Staff and Philippa Thomson

Bryan Staff and Philippa Thomson Photo: Supplied

Bryan Staff and his partner Philippa Thomson sold their house in Titirangi last December for more than $600,000 - and bought a new home at Hihi beach near Mangonui, for just over $300,000.

The well-known music producer, writer and radio man said Auckland with its traffic woes and rate increases had become less attractive as a place to live, and the lure of warmer climes and money in the bank, won out.

"We lived in half an acre of bush, which was very damp and enclosed, and .... a bit like living in a Vincent Ward movie," he said.

"And last winter, Philippa got chillblains. We're both in our mid-sixties and so I said, 'Let's move - let's move to the warm'."

But not all the Auckland refugees are baby-boomers looking for a warm burrow.

Bernie Rowe and Roel Jongbloed, who are in their 30's, bought a character bungalow in Whangarei with a big section last summer for just over $400,000.

Ms Rowe said the couple could now afford to start planning a family, which was looking increasingly unlikely in Auckland.

"We were paying more in rent there for a two-bedroomed, crappy little unit that was damp all the time and freezing in winter, than we are for our mortgage in Whangarei," she said.

"And we have a lovely home."

Bernie Rowe's still working in Auckland three days a week as manager of a health clinic, but said Whangarei's ultra-fast broadband allowed her to work from home on the other two days.

She said she missed the social life but Northland offered compensations including the beaches and outdoor activities.

Brian Staff and Philippa Thomson are also working online, from Hihi beach - chillblain-free, and showing unmistakable signs of becoming locals.

"We bought our government-issue Crocs, which are the mandatory footwear, and a pair of jandals for best, and some gumboots with the change of season. We bought a little boat," Mr Staff said.

"We've been back to Auckland a couple of times since we moved and I just know why I left - every time."

The influx of Auckland buyers has not had much impact so far on house prices in Northland: the median price has increased by about $7000 since last May.

But real estate firms are now reporting a shortage of listings, which they say could drive prices up come spring, if the exodus continues from the big city and competition increases for the available properties.