The overheated housing market saw home transfers surge 40 percent in December to a total of 19,224, led by an annual 53 percent jump to 5,919 transfers in Auckland for the month, up more than 2,000 year-on-year. 

The Stats New Zealand numbers — based on land transfer tax statements and incorporating both house sales and transfers for other reasons — showed 51,504 homes changed legal ownership over the December quarter, up almost a third from the final quarter of 2019.

That helped push total home transfers for the year up by 5.1 percent on 2019 to 152,532, about 8 percent of NZ’s total dwelling stock of 1.9 million homes.

Property statistics manager Michael Heslop said December was the fourth month in a row where Auckland home transfer numbers were at least one-third higher than the comparable 2019 month, following a sharp drop in April where transfers were impacted by the covid-19 lockdowns.

That probably reflected the “catch-up” from the covid response and the rise in new home building, he said.

The resurgence in home building saw new home consents at 38,624 for the year to November, a 4.2 percent increase on the prior 12 months and the highest level since 1974, underpinned by supply tightness across most regions.

Westpac senior economist Satish Ranchhod expects consent numbers to ease 5 percent for December, due to an easing in apartment consents which "tend to be lumpy on a month-on-month basis." But he said that would still leave annual consents at very high levels and signal "a strong construction pipeline for this year."

Offshore transfers slow to a trickle

While the majority of transfers, or 80 percent, were to NZ citizens, 11 percent of transfers went to corporate entities — either local or international — and a further 8.5 percent to resident-visa-holders.

Heslop said while the numbers didn’t specify how many buyers were NZ returnees, international buyers had slowed to 0.3 percent of overall sales for the last quarter, reflecting the ban on most offshore buyers in place since October 2018.

The bulk of those transfers were in Auckland’s inner city and Queenstown, which came in at 195 and 57 home transfers respectively.

Including marriage settlements, boundary or trustee changes that don’t involve a direct sale or purchase, there were 63,999 property transfers for the quarter, Stats NZ said.