New Zealand homeowners feel the pain as loss-making resales spike

Properties reselling at a loss have reached a seven-year high in New Zealand as the impact of higher interest rates continues to hit homeowners.

The latest CoreLogic NZ Pain & Gain report shows 6.1 per cent of properties resold in the first three months of 2023 went for a price below what their owners previously paid.

This is up from 4 per cent in the final three months of last year.

While the median profit on the 93.9 per cent of resales that sold for a gain remains high, at $305,000, it too has fallen from the peak of $440,000 in the fourth quarter of 2021. 

At the same time, the median resale loss was $60,000, up from $45,000 at the end of last year.

CoreLogic NZ’s Chief Property Economist Kelvin Davidson said while the number of loss-making resales was still low, the softer trend for resale performance was evident across owner classification, property type and geography.

“It’s important to remember hold period plays a key role in the size of any resale profit or loss,” Mr Davidson said.

“Even in a down market, owners who have held property for several years will still tend to see large gains at resale time.

“Owner-occupiers generally aren’t making a cash windfall either, as the equity is generally recycled to make the next property purchase.”

Source: CoreLogic NZ Pain & Gain report

According to the report, Christchurch, where property values have been the most resilient, is showing the lowest portion of loss-making resales at 2.7 per cent (up from 1.7 per cent last quarter).

While the most pain is currently being felt in Auckland where 13.2 per cent of resales were made below the previous purchase price. 

That was up from 6.9 per cent in the fourth quarter and represented the largest quarter-on-quarter change of the main centres.

Hamilton had the next highest proportion of resale losses at 8.1 per cent, followed by Wellington (6.3 per cent), Dunedin (5.3 per cent) and Tauranga (5.0 per cent).

The report also found that properties resold for a gross profit in the three months to March 2023 had been owned for a median of 8.3 years, which was unchanged from the previous quarter and consistent with the longer-term average. 

For loss-making resales the hold period was 1.8 years, up slightly from 1.6 years in Q4 2022, but still low by historic standards. 

Mr Davidson said this was particularly striking.

“This means there was a tendency for recent loss-making property resales to have been originally purchased around the first half of 2021, when the market was very strong and looked different than it does now,” he said.

“Presumably, many of these resellers had intended to hold for longer, but perhaps had to sell due to changed personal or financial circumstances, such as the impact of rising interest rates.”

According to the report, loss-making resales are hitting the apartment market hardest of all, with 28 per cent of resales making a gross loss, the highest since 2012 (29.5 per cent) and up from about 5 per cent in mid-2021.

Mr Davidson said he wasn’t too alarmed at the trend given the proportion of apartment loss-making resales has been much higher in the past and the number of sales remained relatively low, at just 78 deals over the quarter.

He said it is still relatively uncommon for houses to make a gross loss at resale, but this had also turned a corner.

“From only half a per cent of house resales being made for a gross loss in Q1 2022, that figure has now risen to 5.1 per cent,” he said.

“That’s the highest since mid-2016, meaning relatively fewer house resellers are making a gross profit than has been the case for around seven years.”

In terms of the scale of profits and losses, the median gain for houses nationally was $302,000 in the first quarter of 2023, while the median loss was $50,000. 

For apartments, the profit and loss was $147,500 and $67,500 respectively.

While both owner-occupiers and investors saw an increase in loss-making resales in the first quarter of 2023. 

Owner-occupiers saw 5.8 per cent of resales make a gross loss, up from 3.4 per cent, while 7.4 per cent of investors made a gross loss, up from 4.7 per cent in the previous quarter.

Mr Davidson said despite these figures being the highest levels since 2015-16, there weren’t any major signs of owner-occupiers or investors hitting the panic button yet.

“Longer term landlords will typically have smaller mortgages and will have seen rents increase over time too,” he said.

“This gives their existing portfolio a degree of insulation, although it’s worth noting that their buying activity has been curtailed lately too. 

“For owner occupiers, continued high levels of employment are a buffer, meaning they’re not being forced to sell either. 

“However the growing uncertainty around the cash rate outlook could impact these figures.”

Looking ahead, Mr Davidson said with house prices likely to remain lower than previous peaks for a few years yet, there may well be further weakness for the performance of resales themselves too – with more pain and less gain to come.

“The growing uncertainty around the cash rate ceiling could also impact these figures in the months ahead if the RBNZ hikes rates again,” he said.

“However, with few signs to date of widespread mortgage repayment problems or ‘stressed sales’, a return to the 2000-01 and post-GFC pain and gain results seems unlikely.”

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Rowan Crosby

Rowan Crosby is a senior journalist at Elite Agent specialising in finance and real estate.