Coronavirus: Expat Kiwis rush to buy houses back home - but few on offer

New Plymouth
Most of the offshore traffic is coming from countries with large Kiwi populations. Photo credit: Getty

Despite few homes going on the market under the pandemic lockdown, interest from overseas in New Zealand property is booming.

New figures released by website show almost a quarter of the site's traffic at the moment is coming from offshore.

"There has been a real increase in interest from overseas people," said spokesperson Vanessa Taylor.

"Certainly we have seen US, UK and Australian users searching for property here in New Zealand... we may see a bunch of Kiwis wanting to come home, with New Zealand being a bit of a safe haven."

Though it's not clear if they're Kiwis looking to come home or foreigners interested in making a new start, Taylor suspects many would be expats, as most of the offshore traffic is coming from countries with large Kiwi populations. 

Most foreigners can't generally buy property in New Zealand anymore, until they're a resident or a citizen. 

And it's been a struggle for locals too, with few homes going on the market since the lockdown began in March. Listings hit a high on March 20, the day before the Government unveiled its pandemic alert level system and a week before we went into level 4. 

New listings slowed to a crawl over the next few weeks, hitting almost zero by April 13, but have slowly crept back up under level 3.

Taylor said it's not as if people don't have homes they're looking to sell - they just can't. 

"While we did see a decrease in the number of new listings coming onto the market, this is purely because real estate agents couldn't get into homes. Moving into level 3, we certainly have seen those new listing numbers pick up. 

"The restrictions under level 4 meant there were no real estate agents going into homes, therefore their ability to do appraisals was restricted, and also there was no ability to do videos, 3D walkthroughs or take photos of the homes."

Graph showing how new listings have plummeted.
Graph showing how new listings have plummeted. Photo credit: REINZ

At the moment only two prospective buyers can look at an open home per day.

"We're hoping to see open homes being available under level 2, with obviously physical distancing and recording in place."

In the weeks ahead of the foreign buyer ban coming into place, more than a third of visitors to were from overseas. 

There have been forecasts house prices could be knocked back 10 percent by the time the pandemic is over. Real Estate Institute of NZ chief executive Bindi Norwell isn't so sure.

"There is a lot of speculation around the property market right now, but I’m not convinced that it’s all doom and gloom. We have seen sharp drops followed by gradual recoveries in several overseas markets and there is no reason to believe that New Zealand will be any different."

She said it's likely the effect on prices will be different across the country, with different types of industries harder-hit than others.

"The number of government jobs in Wellington might mean more job security, so it will be interesting to see how this impacts buying and selling in the region compared to other parts of the country."

Being stuck at home has seen people spend longer looking for new places on she said, with viewers looking at 28 percent more pages and spending 36 percent longer browsing. 

The average asking price in February, before the outbreak was declared a pandemic, was $702,510.