Ban on foreigners won't solve NZ's housing woes: Critics

WELLINGTON • Many foreigners will be banned from buying homes in New Zealand from today, unless they are newly built apartments, as the Labour-led government fulfils an election promise that critics say could be a popular move but will not solve the lack of affordable housing.

Housing became a major campaign issue for an election last year that ended the National Party government's near decade in power and landed Ms Jacinda Ardern the premiership in a surprise result.

Ms Ardern had blamed overseas speculators for driving up prices, making it unaffordable for young Kiwis looking to buy their first home.

Nationwide prices have gone up 60 per cent in the last decade, and in Auckland, the largest city, prices are almost double.

But critics say the Labour-led coalition's answer to the problem - banning foreigners - will not make a big enough difference in a market where economists reckon there is a shortage of around 100,000 homes.

"Increasing the level of supply, speeding up the consenting process, creating consistency at councils around New Zealand and reducing loan-to-value restrictions for first-time buyers are all more appropriate measures that will help with affordability ahead of banning offshore investors," said Ms Bindi Norwell, chief executive of the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand.

Official figures suggest foreigners, mostly from China and neighbouring Australia, account for only 3 per cent of the homes bought nationwide, though the data does not capture property purchases made through trusts and corporate entities.

Australians and Singaporeans are exempt from the new ban. Resident visa holders in New Zealand are also exempted.

The government slightly relaxed terms of the ban in June, when it decided non-residents could still own up to 60 per cent of units in large, newly built apartment buildings, but not existing homes.

Ultra-rich investors have been drawn to New Zealand, by the islands' unspoilt, scenic landscapes and clean environments.

Real estate data showed foreign buyers, particularly from China, rushing to buy property before the ban comes into effect.

Chinese buyer inquiries for houses in New Zealand rose by 59 per cent in the third quarter, according to Chinese real estate portal Juwai.com. Data on actual purchases was unavailable.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2018, with the headline 'Ban on foreigners won't solve NZ's housing woes: Critics'. Print Edition | Subscribe