12 Nov 2013

House prices reach new high

10:20 pm on 12 November 2013

House prices have hit another all-time high, though new loan restrictions appear to have slowed the pace of sales.

Housing in Auckland is the least affordable in New Zealand.

Housing in Auckland is the least affordable in New Zealand. Photo: PHOTO NZ

Real Estate Institute figures show the national median price rose 2% to $407.525 and Auckland, Canterbury and Waikato regions all had new record medians.

In October, 6778 houses were sold - an increase of 2.1% compared with the same period a year ago.

But on a seasonally-adjusted basis, sales fell 4.1% in October compared with the same period a year ago, which the institute blames on the Reserve Bank's restrictions on low deposit loans.

Restrictions on bank mortgage lending to people with deposits of less than 20% came into effect on 1 October this year.

Real Estate Institute chief executive Helen O'Sullivan says it appears that uncertainty about the effect of loan restrictions has prompted prospective buyers and sellers to hold off for the moment.

Ms O'Sullivan says sales volumes change more quickly than prices and, overall, sales have been lower than expected for the time of year.

She says the full effect of the restrictions on prices may not show up for a few months as buyers with pre-approval purchase houses.

The stratified house price index reached a new high, and is up 9.9% compared with October 2012.

Commentators are divided over whether the new loan restrictions are cooling Auckland's overheated housing market, despite signs that sales have slowed.

Along with declining mortgage approvals in the past few weeks, some economists say the latest figures tentatively suggest that the restrictions are working. However, they warn record high prices - particularly in Auckland - show that demand remains robust.

Real estate firm Harcourts argues that loan restrictions or even higher interest rates won't dampen prices, saying the only way to lower them is build more houses.