Home affairs: New Zealanders forced to turn to dating sites to find a mortgage mate

“It is a truth universally acknowledged,” Jane Austen wrote in 1813, “that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Lose the gender binary, swap the fortune for half of a mortgage deposit and you have a maxim for our times.

Two-hundred years later, young New Zealanders are still seeking partners to improve their otherwise-stagnant economic prospects, and as the country’s housing crisis worsens, more prospective first-time buyers are appealing to Tinder for a union that might assist them in acquiring a house.

Data provided by Tinder to Stuff found the number of users saying in their profile that they were looking for a partner to buy a house had more than doubled, increasing by 2.6 times year-on-year from June 2020 and June 2021. The company provided a range of bios, ranging from the playful to the straightforwardly transactional.

“Bank told me I needed to find a partner to buy a house,” one hopeless romantic said.

“Just want someone to buy a house with, nothing serious,” said another user.

“Apparently it’s easier to buy a house with someone else. Genuine outdoors bloke looking to settle down hopefully,” one man wrote.

“Looking for someone to combine incomes with so we can buy a house using the Kiwibuild $180,000 couples limit,” said another.

A spokesperson for Tinder wouldn’t provide the Guardian with raw numbers for users mentioning housebuying, so the company’s individual data points should be taken with a healthy grain of salt and not viewed as a lone measure. But the app’s finding matches with other trends, including the degree to which housing anxiety is occupying young New Zealanders’ minds.

Consumer NZ survey data released on Tuesday showed that housing was the number one concern for New Zealanders, ranking above issues such as Covid-19, crime and the cost of food. Partnering up – either platonically or romantically – is a logical response to younger New Zealanders’ increasing despair at being locked out of the market.

Across the country, average house price has soared to NZ$906,532, according to CoreLogic data, up 22% since this time last year. For the vast majority of homebuyers, banks require a 20% deposit, and across the country, that would mean a buyer mustering up $181,306.

For anyone who isn’t benefiting from intergenerational wealth, that’s an enormous sum, more than 3.2 times New Zealand’s average annual wage. Because house prices are increasing so quickly, even those close to a deposit can quickly have it slip out of reach. Someone looking to muster a 20% deposit in 2021 would on average need $33,662 more this year than they did last. Consumer NZ’s data found 20% of New Zealanders said they were saving for a deposit but couldn’t catch up, and 42% said they were locked out completely – a total of 62%.

‘We’re heading for two New Zealands’

For young people in particular, the bottom rung of the ladder is getting ever-higher. Data released this week by Consumer NZ found the majority of New Zealand’s current property owners – about 60% – would be priced out of their current house if they had to buy it at its current valuation.

But it’s far easier for a couple than a single person. Gemma Rasmussen, spokesperson for Consumer NZ, said many people were looking to pool resources – whether through romantic partnerships or platonic ones.

“I’m hearing instances of people getting together groups of friends and buying houses – because if you are trying to do it solo, you’re incredibly up against it,” Rasmussen said. “People are looking at alternative solutions – whether that’s pooling money together or potentially rentvesting,” – a strategy where people buy a small unit outside the main centres to try to leverage into the market.

More broadly, she said, the picture was bleak. “We’re heading for a place where there are two New Zealands: the people who have property, they’re secure and their capital gains will continue to grow, and then there are people who are locked out,” Rasmussen said.

“It’s no longer about, you know, if you get a great job and you work really hard, and you save and you cut back on everything, then you can maybe just push along and get a house. We’re reaching that point now where it’s going to be impossible.”

Consumer NZ’s surveying found sentiment across the country was not optimistic. Asked about their view of New Zealand’s housing market, just 1% said the market was underinflated or had room to grow; 82% said it was either overinflated or out of control.

New Zealand has one of the least affordable and hottest property markets in the world. The large cities where young people tend to live and work are most overpriced of all: Auckland’s market remains the hottest, with average prices sitting at about $1.2m. The city is now considered one of the world’s least affordable housing markets, with median house prices about 10 times median income.

Stats NZ shows homeownership rates in New Zealand have been falling since 1991 and recently hit a 70-year low. This fall occurred across all age brackets, but is especially pronounced for people in their 20s and 30s.

New Zealand’s housing affordability crisis has been building for over a decade, and worsened significantly over the past year. Years of tax-free capital gains have driven a thriving investor market that pushes out owner-occupiers. Longer-term issues with affordability, undersupply of building materials and regulations that have constrained urban supply have been compounded by ultra-low interest rates and a faster-than-expected economic recovery from the pandemic.

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