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Avocado versus apple crates: housing woes through time

Auckland Council Chief Economist, David Norman
Auckland Council Chief Economist,
Publication date:  

  • New Zealand median house prices increased almost 18-fold between 1981 and 2019. In the same time, median household incomes increased only 5.4-fold.
  • The 1970s appear to have been the glory days for house buying, with much lower interest rates and inflation than in even the early 1980s,although data is too limited for the evidence for this period to be unequivocal.
  • Arguably the mid-1980s was the toughest in the last 38 years to buy a home in New Zealand.
  • Today’s lower taxes and inflation mean mortgage serviceability has improved, and on paper, median income households have a far larger share of gross income available for spending on the mortgage.
  • But median income households today often can’t secure loans because of small deposits and the share of gross income that would be required to service their loan, even though theoretically they could meet these payments.

Debate rages between generations. Each seems convinced the other “had it easier” in their day. If you were buying a house in the 1970s or 1980s, they were cheap relative to incomes, say today’s 20-somethings, allowing you onto the property ladder of untaxed capital gains. “We had no overseas holidays, avocado or regularly replaced cars, and had an apple crate for a dining table for the first three years,” says an older generation.

Is there validity to either view?