9 Jun 2015

From neighbourhood to land bank

8:38 am on 9 June 2015

I used to live in a neighbourhood. Now I live in a land bank - and the bank manager is about to change the rules.

For Sale sign on land in proposed Future Urban area.

Photo: RNZ / Todd Niall

When we bought our quarter acre 25 years ago in rural Kumeu in Auckland's northwest, it was an area popular with "lifestylers" buying 10-acre blocks to run a few animals or graze ponies.

That has all changed.

Investors, or speculators, are snapping up blocks of rural fringe land at an increasing rate, partly encouraged by the "Future Urban" zoning which exists beyond the urban limit in some areas.

"People aren't buying for lifestyle, they are buying for land banking and future investment," says Bob Howard, a long-time Kumeu resident.

Mr Howard, a former chair of the council's Rodney Local Board, who also sells real estate, says there has been a dramatic surge in investor buying in the past year.

"It started 18 months ago and we thought there was a bit of a surge then, but in the last 12 months it's gone up 50 percent again," he says.

'For Sale' signs pop up in my neighbourhood and have a 'Sold' sign on them often within weeks - like the price flags on old-fashioned cash-registers.

Owner-occupier blocks are rented out, and the tenants become "cashflow".

Buyers looking for future gains pay anything from 40 percent to 90 percent above council valuations updated just last year, according to data from the Auckland Council, and valuer QV.

In one 1500m stretch of rural road, five properties have changed hands in the past couple of months. They are mostly 4.6 to 4.8 hectare blocks - the old 10-acre blocks - and with or without houses.

One sold for $5 million, a 65 percent premium over last year's valuation, a nine-hectare block for $4.75 million, 86 percent above valuation.

A similar-sized property which sold for for $3.8 million - 79 percent above valuation - was back on the market within weeks seeking a higher price.

Some sell in response to buyers walking in off the road to properties not on the market.

One major residential developer told Radio New Zealand the activity of speculators in the northwest and the southeast is making it hard to find viable land for new housing.

'Future Urban' blamed

Town planner Peter Sinton, who also chairs the Kumeu-Huapai Residents and Ratepayers Association, blames the council for imposing the Future Urban zoning, which means at some time in the next 30 years, the land is likely to be used for housing.

"They should only zone for what is need for seven to 10 years and after that the council planners should be thinking about when it's appropriate to zone the next lot rather than do the 30 year thing that everyone speculates on," he says.

"It's created a problem out here, that's not easily solved."

The council disagrees, and is on the verge of releasing new guidelines on when land in the Future Urban zone might be developed.

"We have clearly indicated it could take 30 years before it's rezoned urban, and it's the buyers' choice if they want to make those decisions now, if the land isn't to be re-zoned for sometime yet," says the general manager of plans and policies, Penny Pirrit.

For some investors hoping for quick gains, the council may have a nasty surprise with guidelines due out next month dividing "Future Urban" into three development timeframes.

These will indicate which land is likely to be able to be developed in the next decade, 10 to 20 years, or not for at least 20 to 30 years.

The council says the guidelines will reflect the ability to roll out infrastructure such as water, sewerage and roading, and take a big picture view of the city, not just local development hopes.

In my neighbourhood, those lines on the map may divide up some of the recent investor purchases into different zones, leaving those close to the outer limits of "Future Urban" with a long wait.

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