1 Aug 2022

The town where you can buy your first home for $325K

11:56 am on 1 August 2022

A South Island town is increasingly attracting first-home buyers, with average house price at a third of the national average.

Fishing fleet in Westport,

Fishing fleet in Westport, Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Westport has an average price of $325,000 compared with the national average of over $1 million, and that's appealing to people who cannot afford a house in the main centres and want to work from home.

Daimon Schwalger, an award-winning artist known as The Nomad, has become part of the furniture since moving to the Westport in 2019.

"I never actually thought that I'd end up in a small place like Buller. There's a really beautiful community connection where people sort of watch out for you," he said.

After decades as a touring musician and city-dweller, Schwalger and his wife bought a house for $240,000.

It became a base for their dream businesses - an audio-visual production company and a massage therapy business - and they haven't looked back since.

"You're driving back over that Buller bridge back into town and you're just loving it, it's just amazing, and it's so good to be home."

Buller District mayor Jamie Cleine said a steady stream of professionals have been arriving from main centres since Covid kicked off.

"Covid has been quite good for regions like Buller. A number of people have discovered that they can work from home, and so that's opened their eyes to what the Buller has to offer."

Westport after heavy rainfall on the West Coast, 3 February 2022.

Photo: RNZ / Samantha Gee

West Coast Development chief executive Heath Milne said the salary-to-house price ratio gives young professionals a leg up.

"Salaries and wages on the coast, including the Buller are very comparable, but you've just got that much lower cost of living," he said.

But the affordability comes with a caveat, with Westport facing a major infrastructure problem.

More than 500 homes were flooded in a storm in July last year, and about 70 percent of those still aren't fully repaired.

More flooding in February cut the town off, and Cleine said there is no quick fix.

"I think we're looking at another two years of pretty significant infrastructure spend," he said.

The Buller and West Coast Councils are waiting for government approval for a $56 million flood protection programme, which would include a ring embankment around most of Westport's residential area.

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