1491702208417 - Is it time for New Zealanders to get over aversion to apartments?

Is it time for New Zealanders to get over aversion to apartments?

High-density housing may not be the “Kiwi way” but we are going to have to get our heads around it unless we all want to quit New Zealand’s biggest cities, experts say. A development on Auckland’s North Shore made headlines last week when locals said the plans for 1000 apartments were not “in the Kiwi spirit”. “I think apartments are being built for foreigners, people from overseas moving into the country, and I don’t think it’s a Kiwi lifestyle,” one neighbour said. Martin Dunn, founder of Auckland apartment-specialist real estate agency City Sales, said it was time that people realised that apartment living was part of living in a growing city.

READ MORE: Is it the Kiwi way? Over 1000 apartments planned for Auckland’s North Shore 

He said there was a “second renaissance” happening in Auckland housing as people moved into the central city, into apartments.

Data from Auckland Council shows the number of people who live in the central city is expected to reach 45,000 this year, 15 years earlier than expected.

It is then predicted to grow by another 30,000 people over 10 years.

 “After the yuppies came in and took over the workingman’s cottages around Ponsonby and Freemans Bay, that was the first major culture change. But there is another one happening now in the apartment market,” Dunn said.

He said some of the movement was driven by Baby Boomers who found they wanted a property that required less maintenance, once their children had left home.

Other buyers were young people who chose apartments for the price and lifestyle.

“It’s like the city is finally growing up,” he said.  “It’s the normalisation of apartment living.”

He said traffic congestion was driving it, in part.  People did not want to spend hours commuting into the city from the suburbs.

“Auckland has got no chance of ameliorating the frustrating transport system through the city in the short- to medium-term. There’s a nascent reaction building to these frustrations.”

Trade Me data shows the average asking price of an apartment in New Zealand is $590,050, compared to $614,000 for a three- to four-bedroom house.  In Auckland, the apartment price is $622,400 compared to $911,000 for a house. 

Apartments usually have to be at least 50 sq m for banks to be willing to lend on them, although BNZ now requires 65 sq m.

New Zealand Property Investors Federation president Andrew King said New Zealand’s small population had meant apartment living had come to its cities more slowly than in other parts of the world.

“We’ve got used to big sections and we like to having the space.  These things take a while to change. It’s not something that happens overnight.”

In 2015, research for Auckland Council sought to find out what was important to households choosing where to live.

Things such as a safe neighbourhood, natural light, a house that was easy to heat and secure topped the list of priorities.

Respondents were offered housing options within their budget and asked to choose one. About half chose a detached house as their final choice, a quarter an attached dwelling such as a unit, 15 per cent opted for a low-rise apartment and 8 per cent a high-rise apartment.

Financial adviser Lisa Dudson lives in an apartment in central Auckland.  She said her partner grew up on a farm and, had either of them been told they would end up living in an apartment, they would thought it highly unlikely.

“Now the chances of living anywhere other than an apartment are highly unlikely.”

She said it was a lifestyle choice that they would not want to give up.

“You don’t have to move the lawns. We travel a lot and we just lock the door and go. We don’t want to spend our weekends on maintenance. We like to walk to the gym at the weekend and on the way back pick up some vegetables from the growers’ market. Or if we go out for dinner we walk down the road, it works for us.”

She said the right solution for New Zealand would probably be a mixture of good quality apartments and traditional houses. 

But she said people would often have to be willing to make compromises if they wanted a big section. “If you want a quarter-acre section and you don’t want live miles from anywhere, you have to have a chunk of cash or move elsewhere. There are plenty of quarter-acre sections in other parts of the country. Auckland isn’t the only place in New Zealand to live.”

Economist Shamubeel Eaqub said what would be needed in Auckland was medium-density development, such as terraced housing.  He said 70 per cent of new housing demand was for one- and two-people households. “To keep building four-plus bedroom homes for that changing demographic is madness.”