Housing crisis: Share of homes being sold to people who already own property at record high

The share of houses for sale being snapped up by people who already own property is at a record high, new figures show.

In January and February, 41 percent of all sales went to investors - 29 percent of them taking advantage of low-interest rates and in some cases interest-only loans, and 12 percent paying cash upfront. 

"February has been another really strong month for mortgaged investors - both in terms of the number of purchases that they're making, but also market share," said senior property economist Kelvin Davidson.

"Those two months are both records for the last 15, 16 years. Previous to that, the highest level was 28 percent at the end of 2016."

Davidson told Newshub it made sense for investors to get into the market in the first two months of the year, with loan-to-value restrictions kicking in on March 1 and 40 percent deposit requirements from May 1. He suspects many sales that would otherwise have gone through in March, April and May were rushed. 

 "There's probably been a rush of investors, they've been trying to push deals through and get them done in January and February before these rules kick in. I wouldn't be surprised if this was more or less the high point for investing."

He expects more restrictions on investment to come soon, with the Government and Reserve Bank under pressure to do something to cool the market. The average house price in New Zealand is bearing down on $800,000, and in some places - including Auckland, where a third of the country live - they've already passed $1 million. 

"We're probably going to be looking at a situation fairly soon where there's going to be restrictions on interest-only lending for investors as well as possible caps on debt-to-income ratios for their mortgages. The game is really changing for investors."

Meanwhile the share of homes going to first-home buyers is shrinking, falling to 22 percent in February, down from 25 percent late last year. 

"It's not a disaster yet, but the fact it has tailed off from that 25 percent figure suggests there's a little bit of pressure coming on first-home buyers - prices are rising quickly, so those deposits are rising," said Davidson.

The median price paid by a first-home buyer in February was $615,000 - 18 percent higher than a year ago, an increase of $93,700. 

According to CoreLogic's data, 21 percent of all sales are now going to people who own three or more properties already - 5 percent with 10 or more. 

Twenty-seven percent of sales are to people moving house, 5 percent to people re-entering the market and 5 percent 'new to market', such as foreign buyers. 

Davidson said the figures will "give comfort to the Reserve Bank" they've done the right things in tightening the screws on investors.

"Your views on whether it's good to have investors in the market or not I suppose are to a degree subjective. But I think most people would agree that there's a lot of heat in the market coming from that investment community, and that access to cheap mortgages and interest-only loans are a key thing in their favour. 

"The Government's got this intention, rightly or wrongly, they want to level the playing field, as they call it."