Wage subsidies: Real estate agents claim more than $1m during lockdown

By Nita Blake-Persen for RNZ's Checkpoint. 

Real estate agents have claimed more than $1 million in wage subsidies as listings lag during lockdown.

The claim is a lot lower than it was last year, with bigger agencies like Barfoot and Thompson not receiving it this time around.

Bayleys Real Estate has received $157,662.00, and Property Brokers has $356,094.00. In a statement managing director Guy Mordaunt said its revenue dropped by as much as 60 percent during lockdowns. 

"Our primary reason for taking the subsidy is that it is not possible to claim retrospectively. The subsidy has been set aside until we fully understand the impacts this round of lockdown will have on our business and the economy.  

"The future is still uncertain. As we head into Spring, stock levels are the lowest for many years, and prices are flattening," he said.

The company remains open to return the subsidy, should the economy continue to remain strong.

Searches of the wage subsidy register completed by Checkpoint show at least $1.3m has gone to real estate agents in the latest rounds.

Bayleys and other agencies contacted about the wage subsidy did not respond to requests for comment.

Property commentator Ashley Church said many agencies would be competing for houses to sell at the moment.

"So you need to be getting people who are prepared to list their property with you, and then you need to be able to sell that property.

"At the moment because listings are so short, it's generally the better salespeople who are getting those listings. And if you're not getting listings, essentially 50 percent of your income's been cut out."

Latest data from CoreLogic does not fully include the latest lockdown, but it shows that in the 12 months to August, all major centres saw house prices rises.

A total of 771 of the country's 983 suburbs saw median increases of $100,000 or more, and only 24 saw increases of less than $50,000.

Ponsonby saw the biggest jump in median value, with a gain of $597,550 - Te Anau was the only suburb to record a growth rate of less than five percent.

CoreLogic head of research Nick Goodall said the market has generally been slowing but there could be a slight boost after lockdowns lift.

"Because there's limited supply, we do have strong demand and that can be boosted by people who are sitting at home in lockdown and want some more space or to move to a different area and they can start to look for property once they can come out of lockdown.

"That can be a short-term boost to demand, a short term drop in supply, and that can mean you see a little bit of support for prices... but we wouldn't expect that over the longer term," he said.

It is not just prices that the housing market affects, but access and equality too.

Housing advocate and architect Jade Kake said government interventions to limit the surging prices were proving too slow and too late.

She expects the housing waitlist will grow again after this lockdown lifts, with Māori and Pasifika whānau over-represented in the figures.

"It's quite sobering when you look at the figures year on year, or quarter on quarter, and just see that persistent increase and it's not evenly felt."

Kake said lockdowns are highlighting issues around grossly unaffordable and inappropriate housing in Aotearoa and more government action is needed.