Dunedin high on unaffordable list

Dunedin is among the top five least affordable places to buy a house in the country, with its...
Dunedin is among the top five least affordable places to buy a house in the country, with its December median price at $255,500. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Dunedin's house prices may place it among the country's top five cities in terms of lack of affordability, but the majority of city sales remain in the under-$399,000 bracket, albeit with high demand in a sector where listings have declined.

Despite 40-year record low mortgage rates, new entrants to Auckland and Queenstown were last December bracketed into respective median prices of $535,000 and $568,000.

The Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey found New Zealand had no affordable housing markets with an affordability multiple of 3.0 or less, nor moderately unaffordable markets at 3.1-4.0 - as is the case in Australia and the United Kingdom.

The survey found housing around New Zealand was severely unaffordable, with the median multiple of 5.3, slightly higher than last year's 5.2.

''Houses in New Zealand are now nearly 80% more expensive than the historic affordability housing norm of 3.0, last experienced in the 1990s,'' the survey said.

ASB chief economist Nick Tuffley said the fact New Zealand had neither affordable or moderately affordable markets, and signs of recent price buoyancy, did not equate to a new property bubble forming.

''There is not as much high risk as in the last boom,'' Mr Tuffley said when contacted.

''There's no surprise that a large chunk of the price pressure is coming from Auckland and Christchurch''.

Real Estate Institute of New Zealand director for the lower South Island Liz Nidd, of Dunedin, said while Dunedin featured on the unaffordable list, it was still possible to buy a ''tidy bungalow'' for around $250,000 in the city, but with ''some compromise'' required on choice of suburb.

''Our market is still accessible. Demand is bigger than supply in the $200,000-$300,000 [range],'' she said.

Mr Tuffley highlighted that national listings were lower than the mid-2000s boom and outside of Auckland and Christchurch the housing price increases were ''modest''.

The ''broader risk'' lay in mortgage rates being at 40-year lows.

''People have more confidence and courage to enter the market, which is where the risk is,'' Mr Tuffley said.

With the Government wanting people's earnings put into more productive parts of the economy, Mr Tuffley believed it, and the Reserve bank, would ''act far more swiftly'' to raise interest rates at signs of a another housing bubble developing.

Queenstown does not feature in the survey, but with a median December price of $568,000 it far overshadows Auckland and New Zealand's median price, equating to requiring a median household annual income of almost $190,000 to be considered affordable.

For December, of 170 houses sold in Dunedin, 85% of those sales were below $399,000, Ms Nidd said. At the time, the national median hit a record $389,000 for December''You can see that this is where the Dunedin market [majority] is sitting,'' she said.

A decline of median Dunedin prices from $275,000 for November to $255,500 for December was ''closer to reality'' for the day to day market, she said.

She said ''top end'' sales appeared to take an ''early Christmas break'', with just seven for December in the $500,000-$600,000 range, three in the $600,000-$700,000 range and only one at more than $700,000.

Listing numbers for Dunedin had fallen from 1001 in November to 903, ''somewhat depleting'' the inventory, but Ms Nidd expected a post-holiday ''influx'' in coming weeks.

While Dunedin features as being unaffordable, Ms Nidd believed it was less the actual house prices responsible, than lower household incomes, which propelled the city into unaffordable.

While 60% of the New Zealand markets rate as severely unaffordable, more than 75% of the Australian markets are also severely unaffordable.

Queenstown has often topped previous New Zealand-based affordability surveys, and Ms Nidd said its desirability, popularity and prices meant it ''blurred'' Otago's statistics, which is why the REINZ reported it as a separate entity.

Housing affordability
The affordability multiple is ideally three times a household's gross annual income being the area's median house price, or less. Dunedin households, faced with a median December price of $255,500, would require a gross annual income $85,166 for the city to be affordable, at a multiple of 3.0.

Severely Unaffordable (5.1+)
Auckland (6.7), Christchurch (6.6), Tauranga-Western Bay of Plenty, (5.9), Wellington (5.4), Dunedin (5.1)

Seriously unaffordable (4.1-5.0)
Palmerston North (4.4), Napier-Hastings, (4.5), Hamilton (4.7).

International Rankings
Hong Kong (13.5), Vancouver (9.5), Sydney (8.3), San Jose (7.9), San Francisco and London (7.8), Melbourne (7.5).

Most affordable: Atlanta and Detroit (2.0 or less).

• Auckland more affordable than Sydney and Melbourne but less affordable than Adelaide (6.5), Perth (5.9) and Brisbane (5.8)

- simon.hartley@odt.co.nz

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