29 May 2020

Covid-19: Auction tests demand for Queenstown property

7:53 pm on 29 May 2020

Bidders in Queenstown have started testing the water in one of the country's most expensive property markets.

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Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Twenty one residential properties were up for sale today when Bayleys Queenstown conducted its largest auction post-lockdown.

But despite only five going under the hammer, real estate leaders say it is too early to panic.

Last year, Queenstown's average asking price surged past $1.1 million.

Fast forward a year, and the formerly prosperous resort town is battling rising unemployment and low job opportunities.

The rental market has been flooded with available properties, lowering prices, as people leave town and Airbnb owners look for longer term tenants.

Speaking before the auction, Bayleys sales manager and executive director Stacy Coburn said no one knew what that meant for property prices or demand.

"Certainly key, I think at the moment, is no one really knows where the market is, no one really knows where values are, so this will certainly help to settle things down and gives us some benchmark values to push back on. People can see perhaps where the market's at and give them some reassurance in terms of values going forward," Coburn said.

He was pleased to see people returning to the auction house.

"There's people that are not too bothered with the current environment and the Covid period doesn't bother them too much.

"We've still got people keen to acquire property in Queenstown. We had some deals conclude over the course of lockdown."

Independent economist Benje Patterson said necessity would spur most early sales as many lives and livelihoods had changed dramatically.

"The only reason that you'd be selling at present really is because you need to in quite a hurry, that you've decided for whatever reason your circumstances have changed, and you want to cash in your Queenstown chips and today has to be the day," Patterson said.

"In Queenstown, everything is quite raw. We've seen an initial wave of redundancies. There will be more to come over the months ahead and there will be secondary wave in some of those support industries that do emerge. But at the same time, there is some optimism."

The auction was such an early barometer of property demand as no one wanted to be the guinea pig and set a pricing trend, he said.

But the demand for the Queenstown lifestyle would not have disappeared, Patterson said.

The first property to go under the hammer was a three bedroom, two bathroom property in Lake Hayes - it sold for $950,000.

As the auction progressed, bidding was hesitant, with multiple separate meetings being held.

The top price was $1.25m for a seven bedroom, five bathroom home built last year in Lower Shotover.

Real Estate Institute of New Zealand chief executive Bindi Norwell said the Queenstown auction was not a straight-forward gauge of demand.

"We've got more expats wanting to move to Queenstown, the better lifestyle choices. But on the other side of that, you know it's an area that's been significantly impacted by the tourism market as well and may see more unemployment," Norwell said.

"I think we're being quietly optimistic at the moment, but today will be a really good indicator of how the market is faring at the moment."

Only five - including one in Gore - of the 21 properties were sold, the rest were passed in as they did not reach the lowest price the owners were willing to sell for.

Eight of them did not receive a bid.

Stacy Coburn from Bayleys said the figures did not show the full picture - they sold one before and had three offers after the auction.

"There's been incredible buy activity, a lot of buyers there looking and not sure where the values sit.

"We know there's a lot of buyers now going to act when they've got a better feel of where the market is. I know a lot of agents are in negotiations at present. Post auction, clients have got a better feel for the market.

"We certainly had, I guess, bids across two thirds of the properties," he said.

Bindi Norwell was not too phased that many properties did not sell at auction either.

"We are in a post Covid environment so we are trying to find our new normal at the moment, and I think what's happened is the expectation between buyers and sellers ... they're just a bit out of whack. We need to find our new normal."

Instead, she said many would be negotiated on and sold over the coming days.

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