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Sales in the under-$400,000 bracket last year made up more than 50% of the total at 3919, but in May this year declined to 44.7% at 2939.
While median prices rose almost 10%, by $38,000 to $430,000, more than 76% of that was credited to sales in Auckland and Canterbury-Westland.
ASB economist Christina Leung said the decline in house sales since the loan to ratio (LVR) restrictions took effect in October had been concentrated at the lower end of the market, suggesting the restrictions had had a greater effect on first-home buyers.
The data from the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand (REINZ) yesterday said national sales of 6572 homes in May were down 14.8% on a year ago.
Otago sales dropped 19.3%, from 285 to 230 for the month, and Central Otago Lakes dropped 10.7% from 122 to 109, but both regions posted median price gains.
Otago was up 2.3% at $237,750 and Central Otago Lakes was up 7.3% to $499,000, the latter underpinned by Queenstown prices, up 5.2% to $598,000.
REINZ chief executive Helen O'Sullivan said all regions had a decline in sales in May, compared with 12 months ago.
She said the May decline in sales below $400,000 followed a fall in the same bracket of 31.6% from April 2013 to April 2014, which might indicate fewer sales in lower price brackets since the LVR restrictions were imposed.