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The Press-News Column May 26

Existing housing should be off-limits to non-resident foreigner buyers.

As the dust settles on Budget 2015’s big bangs, notably the looming hardship hand-outs, the big housing bogey will continue to dog the government’s agenda. Ten days ago, National hoped the big reveal on cracking down on quick-flicking property speculators, would have a chilling effect on this very hot potato. But the overwhelming reaction by market analysts to the impending residential property rule change, merely underscores its timidity and inadequacy. It may have amounted to one of National’s more circus-like flips, flops and pirouettes, on capital gains,  but it’s not going to lead to the retreat of offshore buyers, gaming the New Zealand housing market. The requirement for foreign buyers to register for an IRD number and have a New Zealand bank account, will finally see the creation of an official data stream, but the stable door has already fallen off its hinges. It’s ludicrously belated. Based on self-reporting data from the Real Estate Institute, we already know how potent their purchasing power is, with roughly 15% of residential property sales being hoovered up by non-resident foreign investors. Not only do their ultra-low-interest deep pockets constantly outbid and outprice local prospective buyers, but in many cases their prized accqusition sits idle in suburbia. Talk to any Christchurch real estate agent, and they all know about the swath of unoccupied “ghost houses”, snapped up by foreigners, without any intention of residing or contributing to the local community. How does that help take the steam out of the rental market? A recent BNZ report revealed the majority of Chinese buyers had no intention of occupying them. It is equally distasteful that some Christchurch real estate firms have brazenly embarked on a global marketing campaign, spruiking Christchurch homes to the world’s highest bidders. Bayleys has been particularly active in Shanghai and Beijing, touting trophy homes to the Chinese “mega-rich.” Meanwhile, for the past 9 months, Ray White has been advertising all of its New Zealand listings  to China, via the Juwai website. A quarter of all inquiries are for its Canterbury listings. Call me old-school, but it’s gross that residential property in Canterbury has become playdough for foreign speculators. The government’s planned changes in October, to tax short-term property speculators, woefully falls short of what needs to change. Across the Asia-Pacific, we are the odd man out, dragging the chain on blocking or severely restricting non-resident foreigners from owning homes. Australia is tightening its rules further.  National needs to bite the bullet and shield existing residential property from non-resident foreign buyers, in the interests of domestic supply.

Mike’s weekly current affairs column, first published in The Press. May 26.

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