Economists pick when the 'turbo-charged' New Zealand housing market will stall

The last time the country exited a strict lockdown, property prices exploded - but that's unlikely to happen a second time, experts say. 

On Monday, property market analysts CoreLogic reported of 983 suburbs across New Zealand, 771 of them saw median values go up $100,000 in just 12 months. Values in Auckland's Ponsonby rose nearly $600,000 and Herne Bay $450,000.

Independent economist Cameron Bagrie told The AM Show on Tuesday the top 15 or so areas saw "turbo-charged" increases.

"You're basically talking about Queenstown and a whole lot of expensive Auckland suburbs. If you rank the numbers a little bit differently - by the percentage movement within the value of the house - then you go into areas such as Pahiatua, Ruapehu District, a couple of suburbs in Whanganui. So you can tell two different stories depending on what sort of statistics you look at."

"If anything it's the more provincial markets that have the suburbs that have seen the biggest percentage rises," said Kelvin Davidson, chief property economist at CoreLogic.

"In dollar terms of course when you start from a higher level, suburbs like Ponsonby and Remuera... the percentage gain in those expensive suburbs translates into a bigger dollar increase."

But the vast majority of winners from the seemingly unstoppable rise in property prices are investors, he said - not necessarily homeowners. 

"For investors of course a big rise in capital values can be crystalised - they can sell, that's a genuine capital gain they can cash. For owner-occupiers, sure it's good on paper... but it's only on paper until you sell," said Davidson.

"In a given suburb, if you're buying and selling in the same suburb or a neighbouring area, probably everything else has gone up to a similar degree. So you may not necessarily be getting further ahead, it's not as clear-cut as that. In some cases if you want to trade up to a bigger property, get that extra bedroom, you may actually have to borrow quite a bit more."

And as usual, there's one big loser in all of this.

"For would-be first-home buyers this is not good news at all," said Davidson. 

The median house price nationwide has doubled in the past seven years, and is up 60 percent since Labour took power in 2017. Prices have risen more than a third since the end of the 2020 lockdown. 

The Reserve Bank has been blamed for some of the rise, with record-low interest rates over the past 18 months designed to support the economy during uncertain times leading to a boom in asset values. It's expected to lift interest rates in the next 12 months, and is tightening bank lending rules.

The rest is down to decades of underinvestment in building, which is only slowly being turned around. 

Bagrie said while annual price rises are still showing 25 to 30 percent growth, behind that growth is "effectively going from a gallop to a canter". 

"Annual price movements… tend to be a little bit lagging in regard to picking turning points," he said.

"I think the rubber's going to hit the road… in 2022 for Auckland and 2023 for the rest of New Zealand, because the rest of New Zealand comes with a little bit of a lag. That's when we get that supply side response coming online and we see the effect of interest rates moving up."

Davidson said the present growth is "as strong as it's going to get".

"We're looking at mortgage rates going up, we're looking at lending rules being tightened... I think we'll see the market slow over six to 12 months - very different to last time we came out of lockdown."