Generation Emigration

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Explore the great indoors

New Zealand may not attract as many Irish as its Aussie neighbour, but its more temperate climate, stunning scenery and lower cost of living make it an attractive option for young people and families, writes Ciara Kenny.

Thu, Jun 21, 2012, 09:11

   

NEW ZEALAND may not attract as many Irish as its Aussie neighbour, but its more temperate climate, stunning scenery and lower cost of living make it an attractive option for young people and families who are looking to find a new home Down Under, writes CIARA KENNY.

Auckland is the largest and most expensive city, with prices soaring for properties close to the sea.

The most popular areas for new Irish arrivals in New Zealand are Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, followed by Queenstown and Dunedin.

The biggest factor influencing the price of property to rent or buy is demand, with homes in the cities costing more than twice those of rural areas. Auckland is the largest and most expensive city, with prices soaring for properties close to the sea or in sought-after grammar school zones (see schoolzones.co.nz).

Residential property prices rocketed between 2002 and 2007, with increases of between 10 and 15 per cent per year, but statistics from Quotable Value Limited, a government-run property information service, show that the market has stabilised since the peak five years ago. Values rose by approximately 3 per cent last year, but remain almost 3 per cent lower than 2007 levels.

“The media here has a fascination with the property market – they talk about housing booms and busts, but it has been stable now for a number of years across New Zealand,” says Ciaran Lowney of the Irish People Living in New Zealand social network.

“The exception is a few central suburbs in Auckland, where houses have being selling well above the asking price. The media have portrayed this as a new bubble, but it is confined to small areas which are skewing the overall numbers.”

According to QV data, the average price paid for a residential property over the past three months was $397,000 (€237,000) nationally. Properties in Auckland fetched $523,000 (€312,000), with those in Wellington averaging $443,000 (€265,000). Homes in Christchurch were below average at $382,000 (€228,000), and in smaller cities like Dunedin, prices were much lower, at around $265,000 (€158,000).

Lowney says that while buying a home can be a worthwhile investment for those who get permanent residency and intend to stay long term, the majority of Irish are arriving on a one or two-year work visa, and will rent rather than buy.

Periodic tenancies are common, where no fixed time period is specified on the lease. New arrivals who are uncertain about where they want to live should look out for this type of rental, which will allow you to try out a property or area without making a long-term commitment.

Tenants need to give the landlord three weeks’ notice before vacating a property, which means that short-term lets are technically possible on a periodic lease.

While rents are reasonable in most areas, start-up costs can be huge when renting a home for the first time in New Zealand. Tenants are legally required to pay between two and four weeks’ rent as a bond, which is deposited by the landlord with the Ministry of Housing. Landlords will usually request two weeks’ rent in advance in addition to the bond, and if you have found your home through a real estate agent, they will charge you a fee equivalent to another week’s rent.

The costs add up. An apartment to rent for $250 (€148) per week could cost you $1,750 (€1,038) upfront, and that’s before you consider buying furniture, appliances and other household items. The majority of rental properties are leased unfurnished, but will have a cooker, fridge, carpets and curtains or window blinds.

It is possible to rent furniture to fill a modest home for about $200 (€121) per week if you don’t intend to stay long in a property, and second-hand furniture can be found on websites such as trademe.co.nz. Council rates are paid by the homeowner or landlord. Rates vary depending on the particular council and the location of the property, but usually amount to about 0.5 per cent of the property value annually. Water and refuse collection are not covered by council rates, and are paid for by the tenant.

Good-quality rental properties with three or more bedrooms are in short supply in all of the main cities, according to Julia Brooke, director of the Wellington office of Relocations International NZ. “A high percentage of New Zealanders are home or apartment owners, so the rental market for family homes is limited,” she says.

“Demand for homes to rent peaks in December and January as families move before the new school year begins. For the rest of the year, 85 per cent of properties are let within two weeks of coming onto the market, so you will need to act quickly to secure the property of your choice.”

Housing is in shortest supply in Christchurch, where major earthquakes in September 2010 and February 2011 damaged about 10,000 homes. Prices to rent and buy have been pushed up in unaffected areas, and Irish architects, engineers and construction workers who are moving to the city to assist with the rebuild can have problems finding somewhere to live. ContractAccom.co.nz can help those looking for full or half-board accommodation, or while they search for a more permanent home.

Maureen Crowley, a real estate agent and secretary of the Christchurch Irish Society, says the most important thing to investigate if you are considering investing in a property in Christchurch is whether you can get insurance before you buy – some companies insist that homeowners have an existing policy with them before offering a new policy on another house.

It is also advisable to get an independent valuation and building inspection of any property you are looking to purchase.

For around $5 (€3), QV will be able to tell you the price fetched for other properties in the neighbourhood, and how much a property sold for previously. Every property has a Land Information Memorandum (LIM), available from the local council for a small fee, which contains information about the property’s zoning, boundaries and building consents.

Ciaran Lowney advises Irish people looking for a home in New Zealand for the first time to be prepared for a different way of life to Ireland.

“Here, you live in an inner city apartment block, or a fully detached, individually built suburban or rural house. Rows of terraced or semi-detached houses are very uncommon,” he says.

Most houses are wooden with iron roofs. Houses more than 30 years old are not usually insulated, unless upgraded under the government scheme, and almost all housing lacks central heating, which means it can get very cold in the winter months, especially on the South Island.

“On a positive note, homes here are very well set up for outdoor living, with a good flow from the house to the patio and lawn,” he says. “They also have big windows for the warm weather in summer, which is generally much better than home.”

One to buy, one to rent in Auckland

For sale: St Heliers Bay

FOR SALE: 3/164 St Heliers Bay Road, St Heliers

This freestanding townhouse in the popular suburb of St Heliers is ideal for families. The house has four double bedrooms, a designer open-plan kitchen, underfloor heating and an outdoor deck area. The garage can accommodate two cars. Several schools are located within walking distance, as is St Heliers Bay, a soft sandy beach with a promenade and cycle path. The city centre is just 15 minutes away by car or public transport.

Price : $630,000 (€375,000)

Agent : David Nightingale, Harcourts.co.nz 0064-9575-2535

To rent: Tower Hill

TO LET: Tower Hill, 1 Emily Place, Auckland Central

The Tower Hill apartment block is located right in the heart of the city. This unfurnished two-bedroom unit has been recently renovated, with a large open-plan lounge and kitchen overlooking Britomart Place, which leads to the waterfront. One of the bedrooms has en suite access to the bathroom. Rent includes use of the building’s gym and an allocated parking space.

Rent : $550 (€331) per week

Bond : $1,650 (€995)

Agent : Tobias Reynolds, Harcourts.co.nz 0064-9354-0935

This article was printed in the Property section of The Irish Times today, as part of a series on finding a new home abroad.

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