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House hunting in a hot market 'just too hideous'

An Auckland house hunter is shocked by the number of properties she's missed out on that have come onto the rental market just weeks after being sold.

Data from economists and banks show the buy-to-rent market is running hot.

But the Property Investors Federation argues it's actually first home buyers that have the bigger impact on the housing crisis.

Renee and her family want to buy their first home - they have a healthy deposit, bank approval and stable incomes, but every house they look at remains out of reach, despite their $950,000 budget.

The businesswoman and mother of two has been house hunting with her partner since lockdown.

She said they aren't fussy, they don't need a big place, or a garden.

At this stage, they'll take anything to stay in their area, so their children can continue their education at the same school and they can remain part of the community they've come to love.

"The properties we've been looking at are really varied, from small little two bedrooms, to something larger that we could maybe convert. We are just looking at anything to try and get a foot on the ladder."

Weekend after weekend, they traipse through homes, hoping to find the one.

The same faces turn up at the same homes, time and again: families, couples, young people with their parents.

The mood is sombre.

"There's no excitement there. There's this kind of inevitability that this is either going to go over budget, or it's going to stretch them, or they are going to miss out. And you look around and think 'I don't even want to be here, I don't want to do this'. It's just too hideous."

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When a friend returned from the US, Renee offered to help her find a rental in the same area of Auckland.

She switched over her search terms on TradeMe from 'sales' to 'rentals' for the same suburbs and was shocked at what she saw.

"I started seeing all these houses, where we'd gone to open homes, or driven past, or missed out on, pop up in the search. Some of them had a lick of paint, or a new fence up, but they were the same houses."

Seeing the odd house up for rent is fine, she said, and acknowledged that people's plans change, or they may be in the process of moving.

Investors owning properties here and there also made sense, she added, given how the housing market operates.

"But I was shocked because I didn't just see one," Renee said.

A cursory search of recently listed rentals in the area shows many of them were sold in the past few months.

Groups like TradeMe and the Real Estate Institute don't hold the data so it's hard to know if these houses were already rentals.

But figures from the Reserve Bank and CoreLogic do show investors piling into property.

The chief executive of Auckland sales and rental company Crockers Property, Helen O'Sullivan, said it's too early to tell if houses were being switched from ownership to rentals.

"As to whether or not those are rapidly returning to the rental market, we're seeing a little bit of that, but not enough to say if it's a huge trend.

"We're having a lot of new properties brought to us by landlords, but generally we are seeing more activity in the market across the board."

Investors have an advantage over first home buyers, the managing director of mortgage broker company Global Finance, Ajay Kumar, said.

Since the lockdown, house prices have ballooned, giving property investors more equity to leverage off, he said.

"For first home buyers they still have to arrange a deposit for 10 percent or 20 percent, but for investors, those who have equities in property, they can buy without having that deposit because they already have that much equity in their existing property."

Property Investors Federation's executive officer Sharon Cullwick argued while property investors may not be helping the housing supply problem, they aren't hindering it.

But she said first home buyers are, when it comes to purchasing rentals off the market.

"If a first home buyer purchases a property that was a rental property, then you'll need another house to house the extra people living in that rental house."

"So every time a first home buyer buys a house - even though it's great they are getting into the market - it actually makes the housing crisis worse," she said.

The Reserve Bank said it will look at reinstating loan-to-value ratios if it thinks house prices are rising too rapidly.

Renee said it should act sooner rather than later, adding that the system is not fair.

"People who already have wealth and have houses, can now build more wealth and get more houses.

"This isn't about 'you're not a good saver, or you don't work hard enough, or you don't have a good job', none of those things are true.

"Who's actually winning? We're not winning as a community.

"When people rent, they don't put down the same roots as they do when they live somewhere. You don't build a community like you do when you own a home."

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