Country houses for sale

Buying property in New Zealand

The majestic, snow-capped peaks of New Zealand’s Southern Alps soar high over forests of mountain beech. The sea cuts deep slices of blue into the emerald coastline of South Island’s Fiordland. Boiling mud pools, steaming cliffs and sacred slopes ring the cobalt waters of Lake Taupo in North Island’s Waikato Region. And, almost everywhere, tidy rows of vineyards stretch green and golden under a warm sun. New Zealand’s allure as a property destination owes much to its dramatic landscape, which compresses an extraordinary diversity of flora and fauna in an area only just bigger than the UK.

What is less obvious, however, is that the country also has an equally appealing (and surprisingly wide) breadth of houses to choose from. Despite being one of the most recently settled landmasses in the world, over the past few centuries, remarkable buildings that reflect both its rich past and its multicultural present have been constructed. ‘New Zealand has a vast range of architectural styles, which is a reflection of the diversity of our population and our international outlook,’ says Alistair Helm, CEO of, the official website of the New Zealand property industry.

At first, local architecture echoed the designs that were common in the settlers’ homelands. So areas rich in colonial history -such as the cities of Dunedin and Oamaru, which were thriving capitals at the time of the Gold Rush; Auckland, which saw enormous growth in the second half of the 19th century thanks to thriving trade and an influx of British garrison soldiers; or the Canterbury region, which was colonised by 25 shiploads of immigrants between 1850 and 1853-showcase some exquisite examples of British-inspired Victorian and Edwardian architecture. ‘As a relatively new country, there are not so many really old buildings; however, there are some in Christchurch and Canterbury that date from the turn of the 19th century, and some gorgeous old villas in Auckland city,’ says Naomi Lindsay of Sotheby’s International Realty. Occasionally, late-19th- and early-20th century properties come onto the market. Buyers can find a choice of graceful neo- Gothic or Italianate villas, grand neo- Baroque mansions, postcard-pretty mock- Tudor cottages, Californian-style bungalows or Spanish-style missions from the 1920s.

The Hawke’s Bay city of Napier, which was razed to the ground in 1931 and entirely rebuilt during the 1930s, is the best place to find crisp, geometrical Art Deco villas. Prices obviously depend on a property’s size, position, and condition, but a four-bedroom Victorian villa can cost as little as NZ$385,000 (£181,720) in Oamaru or as much as NZ$2 million-plus (£944,000) in Herne Bay, one of Auckland’s most affluent suburbs. Grand Victorian properties, such as the 128-yearold Gothic manor of Earnscliff Estate, on Auckland’s North Shore, call for bigger budgets, but remain competitive when compared to what a similar type of home would cost back in the UK (Earnscliff, which spans some 3,552sq ft, has a capital value of NZ$3.1 million/£1,463,200) and price is on application through Bayleys, 00 64 21 947 080).

Obviously, there are more properties available from the second half of the 20th century and the first years of the present one -and the range of architectural looks and styles is correspondingly wider. ‘Architects in New Zealand draw their design inspiration from around the world,’ says Mike Bayley, managing director of Bayleys estate agents. ‘Therefore, we have Mediterranean influenced homes, Florida-inspired designs, modern penthouse suites that you would expect to find in tower blocks in Tokyo, Dubai or New York, replica Arizona haciendas, mock-English-Tudor mansions, or any combination of all of the above.’

Some of the most interesting homes date from the 1950s and 1960s, when New Zealand developed an innovative architectural language that reinterpreted the principles of Modernist architecture-simplicity, functionality and decorative sobriety-in a local key. The clean, streamlined, flat-roofed buildings of that time concentrated on materials (usually timber and concrete) over ornament and, although popular, they weren’t universally admired or understood. Today, however, such houses are seeing something of a revival in the new wave of cubic or rectangular homes with flat roofs, Minimalist façades and large glass panels cropping up throughout the country. ‘There was a big drive for the plaster-clad Mediterranean style in the 1990s, but this has, in some ways, been surpassed by ultra-modern design over the past decade,’ says Mr Helm. The contrast of solid concrete and glass walls, the sense of space and the sober elegance of their airy volumes make both Modernist and Modern revival villas particularly fascinating, despite their rather ample price tags. Depending on the location, architect-designed properties can cost well into the NZ$ millions. Apartments, both in original Modernist and in revival buildings, offer a significantly more affordable alternative -for example, a two-bedroom unit for sale on the outskirts of Wellington can cost in the region of NZ$300,000-NZ$350,000.

Whatever their architectural style, however, most New Zealand properties tend to complement, and often draw in, the surrounding scenery. ‘The predominant influence in creating any home plan is maximising the surrounding environment-from snowcapped peaks to glacial lakes, from neverending coastal vistas to lush forests,’ says Mr Bayley. Of course, the landscape is best enjoyed from waterside villas and wine estates, which are some of the most interesting property buys New Zealand has to offer. South Island’s Marlborough region, caught between the sea and the soaring Kaikura Mountain Ranges, is the perfect place to buy a wine estate. Famed for its crisp, clean Sauvignon Blancs, but also rich Pinot Noirs and aromatic Rieslings, this area is home to nearly half of the country’s vineyards. A clutch of them is usually available for sale at any given time, particularly so now after a couple of difficult years in the New Zealand wine industry, which saw some wineries going into receivership.

Acreage, location and quality of the vines will dictate the price, but, on average, figures have gone down from the heady NZ$250,000 per hectare of boom times to a bracket of NZ$100,000-NZ$200,000. As a guide, a 50-acre estate in Fairhall, which has 35 acres of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris vineyard, but no residential home, is on the market for NZ$3.4 million (£1,598,300), and a 31-acre property with 20 acres of Pinot Noir, 4.6 acres of Sauvignon Blanc and a four bedroom Tuscan-style home in Blenheim costs NZ$1.95 million (£916,700) (both through Bayleys, 00 64 3578 7700). Some properties in Marlborough offer the best of both worlds-vineyards with sea views -but they are rarely available. Bayleys have one for sale in the Awatere Valley. Castlebrae is a coastal estate of just under 1,848 acres, with a 50-acre established vineyard, two residences, plenty of outbuildings, fishing, hunting and shooting opportunities, and panoramic views over the ocean and across the Cook Straits to North Island. The price is rigorously on application.

But any waterside property, whether in Marlborough or elsewhere on New Zealand’s 9,300 miles of coastline and lakes, comes at a premium because it is highly sought after. ‘Waterfront property is always tightly held and in demand,’ says Jennifer Baird of Savills Associate Barfoot and Thompson. Even now that waterside home values have dropped slightly from the 2007 peaks, ‘they have certainly not fallen as much in percentage terms as those in residential areas,’ says Mr Bayley.

Nonetheless, the range of stock for sale is sufficiently wide to suit all tastes and pockets- from beach-view apartments in urban areas costing NZ$300,000-NZ$400,000, to grand estates such as the NZ$8 million (£3,760,700) Vara Prasada, near Taipa and Mongonui, in North Island’s Northland Region. This 3,500sq ft home stands in 40 acres of grounds and native forest above a golden (private-access) beach, and makes the most of the spectacular views over Doubtless Bay (through Bayleys, 00 64 9402 8089). It costs just a little less to buy 26, Oxford Terrace, a geometrical beachfront home, dating from 1939, in Devonport, on Auckland’s North Shore, which has uninterrupted views over Rangitoto Island and the Hauraki Gulf (NZ$7.25 million, £3,422,000, through Harcourts, 00 64 9 446 2030). Also on the Hauraki Gulf, Savills associates Barfoot and Thompson are selling Hurakia Lodge, a luxurious island retreat on Rakino Island, a six-minute helicopter ride from Auckland. Parts of America’s Next Top Model, a reality television show, were shot here, and the ultra contemporary lodge, whose floor-to-ceiling glass walls give magnificent sea views, easily rivalled the aspiring models for beauty.

Price is upon request to Savills (020-7016 3740), and likely to be on the high side. But, in New Zealand, even the most expensive properties make attractive purchases because you usually get plenty of house and acreage for your money. The country has less than one-tenth of Britain’s inhabitants, so space, both in and outside the home, is not at premium. ‘The amount of land available in here is sometimes incomprehensible to British immigrants who come from high density or terraced-housing suburbs,’ says Mr Bayley. ‘Generally, the higher value the home, the more land comes with it. Lifestyle blocks can have acres and acres of rolling lawn or countryside surrounding them-yet still be purchased for less than £1 million.’

Why buy property in New Zealand?

Elements such as an excellent lifestyle, a temperate climate, a great choice of private and State schools, a tolerant, multi-cultural society and plenty of outdoor sports in scenic surroundings conspire to make New Zealand an attractive destination for international property buyers at all times. Now, however, could be a particularly interesting moment to make the most of the local quality of life, because the country is experiencing a buyer’s market, according to Mr Helm. ‘The overall market has been very subdued with historically low sales volumes,’ he says. ‘As a result of the economic recession and subsequent slow recovery, property investment has been hit. Prices of properties sold have edged up and then down again in the past 12 months.’ And, although the relative strength of the New Zealand dollar plays against British buyers, the relative affordability of homes compared to Britain, and a favourable property tax system (no Inheritance Tax, no Stamp Duty and no Capital Gains Tax) help offset this.

Be warned, however-the market may soon see some signs of recovery, particularly at the upper end. ‘We have noticed a marked rise in listings and buyer-enquiry volumes since early August, and the industry’s forecasts are that this will continue-as the weather improves into our spring and summer- throughout the remainder of 2010,’ says Mr Bayley. This doesn’t mean buyers should have huge expectations of value growth, warns Miss Baird, but it appears that ‘across the board, the market activity in the high price range has stabilised. After the initial reductions from 2007 and into late 2008, top New Zealand homes are holding their value.’

NEED TO KNOW: Schools in New Zealand

* Children usually start school on their 5th birthday, or the first schoolday after it
* Academic years start at the end of January and finish in early December
* The Programme for International Student Assessment ranks New Zealand’s education as the 7th best in the world
* Annual fees for boarding at one of the top Auckland schools, King’s College, are $32,133 (about £15,000); top British public schools are often twice as much