First-home buyers unimpressed with being told they're making housing crisis worse

By Hamish Cardwell for RNZ

Property investors are being slammed for claims first-home buyers are making the housing crisis worse.

It comes as house prices break records around the country and mortgage lending is at an all-time high. Limited supply, historic low interest rates and huge post-lockdown demand has the housing market boiling over.

Adding to the heat, the Property Investors Federation is pointing the finger at first home buyers, saying they are "making the housing crisis worse".

They contend new entrants to the property market are displacing renters who on average have more dwellers per household.

The Federation's comments to RNZ prompted a huge backlash and it has been excoriated online.

Wellington first-home buyer Mia Grant took a dim view.

"I think that it is totally entitled, like they see that it's their role to be purchasing these properties and then making money off them - and they're being stopped from doing that.

"It means that they will suffer financially potentially because they're competing against these first-time buyers, we're moving into the properties instead of them becoming rental properties.

"It's just a totally selfish way of thinking about it."

Grant, who moves from her shared flat December into her new home, taking on three boarders so she can afford to pay her mortgage, says she knows many first-home buyers in a similar situation.

"It sounds like flawed logic, it's as if people are sort of popping up out of nowhere as if they haven't been living in rental properties this whole time.

"I mean, where do they think that these new home buyers are coming from, it means that then their property that they're leaving will then be available for rent."

Housing information analysed by ASB Bank shows lending to investors and first-home buyers is neck-and-neck, making up about 20 percent of market sales - a record high for first home buyers.

Since May when the Reserve Bank temporarily removed rules around the size of a deposit buyers have to stump up, lending to investors has tripled.

Lending to highly-geared investors is up a whopping 134 percentage points.

Sharon Cullwick from the Property Investors Federation said census data showed that on average rental properties have an additional person more living there compared to owner occupiers.

Stats NZ said running the numbers on the years leading up to the 2018 census, and excluding social housing and properties owned by trusts, puts the figures almost in a dead heat.

Nick Goodall from property data analysis firm CoreLogic said even stipulating that more people live in rentals there was no evidence first-home buyers were exacerbating the housing crisis.

"Overall homeownership levels are still much lower than they have been in the past. So to say that something is contributing to the housing crisis right now is because first-home buyers are so active.

"I think because ownership levels are so low, that actually the connection doesn't quite line up for me."

Economist Shamubeel Eaqub said the flood of cheap money meant there was huge demand and the biggest growth was coming from investors, not first-home buyers.

He was not impressed with the property investor's comments.

"Look, it's pretty tone deaf, there is no reason for... property investors to point the finger at somebody else.

"The reality is they're doing extraordinarily well in the current environment where not only is the value of the properties skyrocketing, but rents are also rising really fast.

"So really, I think it would be much better for them to stay mum."

Cullwick said first-home buyers were contributing to homelessness.

"We've gone from 5000 people that were in emergency housing up to 20,000 now."

She clarified that while she did not think first-home buyers were making the crisis worse, she was not resiling herself from the substance of her claim.

"I do stand behind what I'm saying but I do think there are other things in there, like lack of the supply is the main thing that's causing the housing crisis.

"[First-home buyers are] a market pressure, I wouldn't say it is one of the highest ones though."

Eaqub said if property investors wanted to contribute to a solution they should be adding to the rental housing stock, rather than snapping up what was already out there.

"Because we know there is a real shortage of rental properties and we should be building new properties to rent, there is a real opportunity there for property investors to do more on that.

"That will be far more helpful than pointing the finger at first homebuyers who are finally getting into the market."

Economists are widely tipping the Reserve Bank will bring back some form of LVR for investors.