New Zealand Property Investors' Federation

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Wellington's rental pain is Auckland's gain

Rental vacancies remain low in Auckland while Wellington is suffering, and across the country vacancy rates are double the level of last year as house sales continue to dawdle, according to First National Group.

First National's quarterly survey of its property managers across the country has found an overall vacancy rate of over 6%, twice the 3% figure recorded in January 2010.

"This level for vacancy is more normal for winter than summer," said First National general manager John Stewart.

"However, it reflects the current low sales volumes and restricted migration levels New Zealand is currently experiencing. Volumes of unsold houses becoming rental oversupply is no surprise."

The survey found Auckland was experiencing strong demand for all types of properties, with the vacancy rate at just 0.7%.

"Rents in that city have crept up between 3% and 10% as ex-pats returning home and immigrants from the UK and Asia are fuelling demand."

At the other end of the spectrum Wellington was seeing unusually high vacancy rates.

"Wellington property managers are now reporting the highest vacancy rates in 20 years. It's right across the market but especially in upper end properties and apartments. Contract work being lost to Auckland is one of the main explanations I am hearing for the decrease in executive accommodation required," Stewart said.

"It seems fewer new senior roles of the type and scope that attract population inflow to the capital are being advertised presently."

Stewart said another factor adding to the vacancy figures was business closures and downsizing in regional centres prompting people to move looking for work. While unable to sell property, these people were placing their homes privately into the rental market ahead of a sale.

"Those vacating rentals are placing yet more property onto the tenancy market."

"At the same time, pressure has come on rentals in those areas where increased or stable employment opportunities exist," Stewart said.

The Nelson Tasman region and Bay of Plenty region were also experiencing strong demand consistent for the time of year and anticipated economic activity in the regions.

"In the late 1980s and again later in the 1990s similar drifts to those to those two regions occurred, often based on climate, lifestyle and aspiration rather than real work opportunities. Such movement certainly puts pressure on rentals, existing property for sale and building starts."

Across the rest of the country there was more supply than demand, but rents remained mostly stable.

Rents fell in some types of property in just 14% of locations, but were stable or rising in the remaining 86%.

Marlborough continues to have high vacancy rates due to ongoing challenges in the viticulture industry, with rents having dropped on average between 5-10%.

"Marlborough has had a tough time but due to attractive land prices, there are now some good opportunities for landlords prepared to build with the long term in mind."

Country-wide, demand for high-end properties increased with shortages reported in 67% of locations.

"Landlords would do well to consider raising the standard of their rental property holdings given the higher expectations from potential tenants," Stewart said.

He also said an increase in house sales could quickly reverse rental trends.