When it comes to house price figures, fairly or not, Auckland tends to command all the attention. So the property headlines for 2019 were all about the Auckland slowdown and analysis of small movements in the city's market. But the big real estate story was actually 1,063 kilometres away.
Dunedin was by far New Zealand's best performing major metro. Property values there grew a record 16.9 percent in the 12 months to December, according to OneRoof figures, and that growth was consistent - there was no slump or slowdown that beset the Dunedin market in 2019.
In fact, the last time property grew at such a rate was back in 2005. But what has the boom meant for buyers and sellers in Dunedin, where the median property value has overtaken Christchurch, a city that's almost four times bigger population wise?
Agents in the city report that the good times have gone hand in hand with increased pressures on supply - with 2020 starting with fewer listings than would be normally seen at this time of year.
Joe Nidd, of Nidd Realty, says buyer demand remains “relentless”.
The median value of all residential properties in the city reached $450,000 in December - $5000 more than Christchurch but still well below Auckland's median property value of $885,000. The median house price for the city, and an indicator of the sums houses have been selling for, topped $500,000.
Nidd says there has been steady outside interest in Dunedin over the last 12 months with inquiries mainly from people who have already secured jobs in the city, or who are actively researching a move there.
There’s plenty going on in Dunedin, including the Dunedin Hospital redevelopment project.
Demand for real estate in Dunedin has been "relentless", according to agents.
Among those on the move are Aucklanders looking for affordable homes - but not everyone on the hunt is from Auckland.
Some, for example, have been taking part in the Christchurch rebuild but those jobs are starting to dry up and workers and employers are looking to Dunedin, says Nidd.
Locals are paying the price of the hot interest in the city, however, because some are missing out on homes.
“Probably the most common thing we’re encountering is buyer frustration at the sheer amount of demand and the lack of supply.
“We’re often seeing more than 10 offers on a property and two or three of those will often be unconditional and at a level beyond what we expected.
“Some of them have offered on six or seven properties and have been unsuccessful over and over again so naturally it’s going to cause frustration - but there’s no blame necessarily being attributed to any one group.
“It’s just a symptom of the city’s growth and the fact there’s not a huge amount of supply being addressed.”
LJ Hooker Dunedin’s managing director, Wayne Graham - who hasn’t seen such confidence in his city in 35 years of business - says Dunedin has been undervalued for years compared to other parts of the country but people are now realising what a great place it is.
Growth was “huge” in Dunedin terms but Graham agrees the downside is the short supply of housing and with little significant development land available he predicts apartments will become the new normal as the only way to build is up.
“Dunedin’s geographically hamstrung with where you can go because we’re surrounded by hills,” he says.
“It’s not like Canterbury or Christchurch where they can open up a 20 hectare subdivision and put in 1000 extra houses - that’s just not happening in Dunedin.”
The city is in the harbour basin with houses on and around the hills then the city flows to the Taieri Plains meaning there are geographical boundaries. That’s great in keeping a contained, friendly city but the natural boundaries also restrict the level of expansion.
“If you lived on the other side of the hills in Dunedin people think you live in the country,” says Graham. “Like, if you drive quarter of an hour to work that’s a big drive.”
While the Dunedin City Council was trying to address housing developing through the 2GP (Second Generation District Plan) Graham says there just isn’t significant land and for the first time people are cutting off the back of their sections and subdividing.
“Land is becoming a pretty valuable commodity around the town, especially close in.”
Nidd says the district plan is being overhauled and the council has acknowledged even the second generation plan needs to be expanded to allow for further population growth.
The current population, of around 130,000, has already nearly reached 2048 projections of 135,000.
Nidd says the focus is on increased density of building in the city and potentially more greenfields development. “That will happen but it’s just not happening fast enough to relieve the pressure we’ve got.”
Nidd says he hasn’t heard resentment towards the newcomers to the city, despite the pressures on the housing market. “I think it’s been so long that the city has needed that little shot in the arm in economic growth.”
Suburbs which have flourished include areas of former state housing, like Brockville, Lookout Point and Calton Hill, where properties often have great views, great sun and good proximity to schools.