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The emerging landowner class

Written By: - Date published: 8:05 am, August 31st, 2009 - 38 comments
Categories: housing - Tags:

Why are house prices rising at the same time as mortgagee sales are hitting record highs?

More people than ever are unable to meet their mortgage, and a growing proportion of them owned only a single home. It’s not just speculators losing their shirts. With so many people losing their jobs and few people getting payrises on top of all these mortgagee sales, you would expect houses prices to be falling. Yet, at the same time, there’s another group of people buying in sufficient numbers that they’re pushing prices up. They must have money and income security; that’s not ordinary people, it’s the wealthy elite.

A similar process is happening in the rural sector. Small farmers are going under due to the crash in dairy prices (just as small beef and sheep farmers have gone under over the last few years), while the big farming businesses with wealthy urban owners have the cash not only to survive but to buy up farms coming on the market.

The ordinary people are being squeezed out of the market, and a small group is taking over more and more land. The scary thing is that just as the housing bubble shut ordinary Kiwis out of owning property, so is the recession partially caused by that bubble. We’re becoming more and more a nation of renters, with a small, wealthy and powerful land-owning class. It’s not that the people in this class are ‘bad’, they’re just behaving rationally, but it’s an undesirable trend for property to be concentrated in ever fewer hands. That’s not the ideal this country was built on.

As we’ve discussed before, there are a number of sensible steps the government should take to discourage this overinvestment by a narrow group to the exclusion of everyone else, which threatens to cause another housing bubble.A capital gains tax and tightening the rules on tax write-offs on investment properties would help to keep prices down and favour people buying their own home over investors (not the mad idea of putting GST on housing, which would just be a gift to property investors).

Bill English is going to find he faces a lot of opposition from within the National caucus if he tries to push anything that depresses house prices- at least 27 of the 58 have investment properties or interests in property/farming investment businesses. Worried about a landowner class buying up property and keeping you from the chance of owning your own home? Well, their party is in power.

38 comments on “The emerging landowner class ”

  1. Nick 1

    Helen Clark has 4 or 5 houses as did Ann Hartley a few years ago. I am sure there are more. And a few “elitists” buying houses cannot cause a housing bubble: you cannot make a market.

    • Actually you can.

      That is of course not you and me but the New York federal reserve and the international banksters. Ohh oops, we just voted one of those in as our prime minister.

  2. Sigh. Labour MPs own loads of rental properties too Marty…

    • Marty G 2.1

      No-one’s saying they don’t.

      I did a little check and didn’t see many Labour MPs owning these property investment companies or nearly as many owning rental properties. I stand by what I said about National representing the wealthy, and the landowner class.

  3. infused 3

    God you make me laugh some times. “wealthy elite”. Get a grip buddy. The people I know that are buying houses now are the smart ones who held back the last 2-3 years as they knew the bubble was going to pop.

    I would hardly call these people “wealthy elite”. More smarter than anything.

    • Tigger 3.1

      No, I’m out there buying up property and our combined household is, well, heaps. Thanks infused, you just called me smart. But much as I’d love to take the compliment,let’s be honest, I’m not smart, I just have money.

      I’d be FAR more worried about the buy up of farming land…

      P.S. Anyone else ever had a Tory as a landlord? Worst experience of my life. Believe me, you WANT Labour MPs and loony lefties like me renting out properties.

      • infused 3.1.1

        Yes, and some fall in to this category as well. I’d argue though, more would fall in the former.

  4. loling 4

    Oh noes RedLogix is a part of the wealthy elite…..oh noes woe is me.

    • Marty G 4.1

      Oh noes, yes he is. No-one’s saying that the individuals are evil but I am arguing that as a social trend it’s not desirable for property to be concerntrated in ever fewer hands

      • RedLogix 4.1.1

        @Marty,

        Yes I agree that excessive concentration of land ownership is a bad trend. But as I’ve argued before, one that is actually made worse with a CGT, because such a tax creates a huge incentive to never sell.

        The average ‘landlord’ owns about 1.5 units, ie one or two other properties. They hope to retire with both them and their home mortgage free, and enough positive cash flow to give them a few more options than National Super on its own can.

        Some others like me are a little more ambitious and have a target of 10, five of which I plan on selling to get myself debt-free. (And yes I’m a pretty generous landlord, all my units are either new, full refurbished, well insulated, warm, dry, double glazed, heat pump or a really good fireplace… and the rents are around the 75% quartile. We do the lawns, and gardens, in one case provide dry firewood for a mum with four kiddies. I’ve always had happy tenants and almost 100% occupancy for many years.)

        Only a small minority of professionals go on to running big businesses with 20-50 units. Eventually most of them will run into an upper limit of what they can either manage, or they run out of banks who will fund them. In the long run they will usually finish up putting many of those properties back on the market.

        Note carefully that at some point, like all other businesses, we have a long run intention of selling down stock to reduce debt. A CGT changes that equation, in favour of accumulating property over time into intergenerational trusts.

  5. mikesh 5

    Reintroduction of land tax would make a lot of sense, offset by a suitable reduction in income tax.

  6. Redbaiter 6

    More tax and more regulation.

    The left’s perpetual answer to every perceived problem.

    When will you ever learn???

    • Marty G 6.1

      we’re talking revenue neutral measures baity

    • Zaphod Beeblebrox 6.2

      Yes, more regulation is likely to make things worse. The high cost of housing is part of the reason we have a housing shortage in the first place. If we could bring down costs that would allow for more investment in areas outside housing.

  7. Al-girta 7

    Tax em until they hurt real bad. Tax em I say. TAX EM!!

  8. ieuan 8

    Marty G (and the rest of the writers at the Standard) you guys need a wider circles of friends, it’s not healthy to be hanging out with unionists and activists all the time.

    Two sets of our friends have recently bought investment properties and they are not the ‘wealthy elite’, they are ordinary average New Zealanders just trying to get ahead.

    They are buying now because interest rates are low and the market is relatively stable.

    From reading the Standard I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the writers here see society as divided into two groups, ‘the poor’ and the ‘the wealthy’. This view ignores the 70-80% of ordinary New Zealanders who are (for want of a better word) the ‘middle class’.

    • Bright Red 8.1

      I think your definition of middle class is probably a bit skewed. The median income in New Zealand is $27,000 – so half are on less than that and less than 10% are on over $70K. To my mind, the middle class is on incomes between 40-70K. The 10% above that are wealthy.

      The vast bulk of people are working class on less than 40K. I realise that about 750,000 of those people are superannuitants or students but that still leaves 1.5 million or 45% of taxpayers in the working class – how many of the working class have a shot at home ownership?

  9. Zaphod Beeblebrox 9

    Don’t see why you have such an aversion to people renting. Surely one of the major factors keeping people poor is over-investing in property which causes most of their income to go directly to the Aussie banks!
    In European countries the percentage of home-ownership is much lower (unlike the US and Australia), I’m sure people renting in Europe are really happy they have minimal debt at the moment.
    Its all to do with your cultural expectations- we seem to have an obsession with the social status of our address no matter what the cost.

    • mikesh 9.1

      “Don’t see why you have such an aversion to people renting. Surely one of the major factors keeping people poor is over-investing in property which causes most of their income to go directly to the Aussie banks!
      In European countries the percentage of home-ownership is much lower (unlike the US and Australia), I’m sure people renting in Europe are really happy they have minimal debt at the moment.
      Its all to do with your cultural expectations- we seem to have an obsession with the social status of our address no matter what the cost.”

      So instead you would recommend that the landlord’s income goes directly to the aussie banks. I’m sure this would keep us just as poor.

  10. gingercrush 10

    I just love how National MPs are all put into the wealthy elite and somehow the Labour MPs are left out. I’m not saying Labour doesn’t represent the lower classes or that National doesn’t represent the wealthy. The problem is that you ignore the obvious. That most MPs in Parliament increasingly come from a very liberal high income backgrounds who circulate with other liberal high income people. Or that one of Labour’s strength is their support in liberal high income areas. And in some places such as Dunedin and Wellington, Labour overwhelmingly get support. Of course we must ignore those things because this is an argument that somehow this is all National’s fault.

    Of most concern is that one of the largest ever increase in house prices was overseen by a Labour party that if anything encouraged a market built on speculation and unsustainable growth. It made Labour look like it had built up incredible growth in the economy. Yet that was all unsustainable. You lot didn’t care that interest rates rose sharply preventing people from borrowing You certainly didn’t care that a number of people were buying property that they probably couldn’t afford. Its not like people weren’t buying rental properties when Labour was in power. Its also damn stupid to argue that somehow its National that has an interest in house prices. Yet you choose to ignore a strong Labour base that is very liberal, highly mobile and with very good incomes.

    Of course if you insist on pretending that somehow the vast majority of Labour MPs are poor and that some of the high income electorates in this country don’t vote left where else are you meant to go?

    • Bright Red 10.1

      Who said that Labour MPs are poor? doesn’t the post talk about who National represents, and that many National MPs are property investors?

      It’s the old reading what you want to see trick, eh ginger?

      • gingercrush 10.1.1

        Well you certainly only chose to read the last part. It is misleading of Marty G to suggest that Labour doesn’t have a strong voting base that are likely to buy rental property and have interest in all types of property ownership. Whilst a large number of Labour voters are low income urban workers (think South Auckland, Christchurch East, to a lesser extent West Auckland, other Christchurch Electorates, outward Wellington, Dunedin and Palmerston North). A big voting bloc for Labour are inner-city liberal suburbs (think Auckland Central, Wellington Central, Rongotai, Mt. Albert, Christchurch Central and the Port Hills).

        • Bright Red 10.1.1.1

          I read somewhere that only 8% of Kiwis own an investment property. So I think it’s safe to assume even among those wealthy urban liberals few are property investors. Most of them are saddled with student debt anyway well into their thirties.

    • RedLogix 10.2

      Of most concern is that one of the largest ever increase in house prices was overseen by a Labour party that if anything encouraged a market built on speculation and unsustainable growth.

      Not really. Dr Cullen’s and Bollard fretted in public on a number of occasions about what might be done to moderate the trend, but in the political context of the time ANY talk of a CGT, a Land Tax, a tightening of banking rules, was openly shouted down as ‘political suicide’.

      Imagine if Dr Cullen has once uttered the words ‘Capital Gains Tax’. The media would have heamorrahged blood in the headlines next day, National would have screamed ‘overtaxation’, and likely we would have had to suffer a re-run of the ‘WasteMaster General’ ads.

      Yet times change, Bill English gets to say the same words, and for some reason the world has not ended.

      • Bright Red 10.2.1

        Yeah, remember when Cullen said it was worth looking into the variable mortage levy idea?

    • chris 10.3

      I agree with ginger, I probably fit the bill of being from a “wealthy” urban labour voting family (wellington central nonetheless) but you guys are missing his point. As much as I still think Cullen was a great finance minister, more should’ve been done to stop the rampant asset speculation that is now biting the world in its collective ass and labour are complicit in this, although as you say it would’ve been political suicide, however it also would’ve been the right thing to do. So do you want to fall on the populist side or the right side of the argument?

      That being said this was all led from the United States where what we did wouldn’t really matter much as we don’t really mean shit in the world economy so……….

      • RedLogix 10.3.1

        And my point is simple. Times have changed. A few years ago it was all ‘good times forever’ and no-one wanted to hear that miserable overtaxing scrooge McCullen telling us it couldn’t last and maybe we should do something about it.

        Now all of a sudden everyone is tut-tutting about ‘asset bubbles’ and how dreadful they are, and ‘wots the govt gonna do about it?’

      • Pascal's bookie 10.3.2

        And whinges from points starboard about the bubble would have a tad more credibility if they hadn’t spent the last ten years moaning that interest and tax rates were too high.

  11. Ag 11

    This is not necessarily a bad thing. It has long been known that home ownership tends to be inversely proportional to the state provision of welfare, since people use their homes as a form of social security, and so are less likely to vote for generous welfare policies. It works the reverse way too, since people who live in states with generous welfare policies have less incentive to own a home.

    Given that welfare is much more efficient at dealing with poverty than spreading out home ownership, the left should not be encouraging home ownership. It’s absurd for a political movement that is supposed to oppose private property and its noxious effects to encourage people to become owners of property.

    Show me a home owner and I’ll show you a wingnut.

    • Pascal's bookie 11.1

      eh? So if I don’t oppose private property then I cannae be a part of your left?

      What if I just want to regulate the lunacy out of markets and get as close to maximising equal opportunities within the market as possible?

    • RedLogix 11.2

      Show me a home owner and I’ll show you a wingnut.

      Metric or imperial?

    • Quoth the Raven 11.3

      Ag – Who said the left is opposed to private property? I’m sorry, but you just pulled that one out of your arse. The left has a wide range of views on private property. I support private property rights. That’s not to say I think all claims to property are legitimate, what is is where the arguments come in. I urge you to read up about left wing history, the different views on property rights and about property rights theory in general (that stuff does my head in, but it is important).

      Making blanket statements like yours just raises needless arguments and allows the right to make their absurd strawman arugments against the left as all opposing private proeprty. Here is an interesting point: You will often hear a right winger quote Proudhon ( I doubt they’ve ever hear of him, but they quote him) “Property is theft”. They like to make it a strawman argument for the default left position. What they fail to do because they’ve never bothered to look into the subject, something I’ve found is common amongst righties, is quote Proudhon saying “Property is liberty” Yes that is right take note righties and anti-property lefties the man who said “property is theft” also said “property is liberty” .

      I think there is a lot of semantic confusion as well just ask a communist about possesion.

      What is your particular objection to private property?

  12. DavidW 12

    Aaaaahhhh the politics of envy have such a comforting feel. To be wealthy one must be part of an elite! Works for me!

    Now what was the level of income that made you “wealthy” over the last few years again? Phew, a pity that MC didn’t call himself a rich prick along with Andrew “great left hope” Little, Helen “”the house collector” Clark, Mike “hand me a shovel, I see some dirt” Williams and the entire balance of the Labour Caucus otherwise unmentioned.

    Great to see that elitism is alive and well in godzone.

  13. Zaphod Beeblebrox 13

    The whole point of the post is becoming a bit mute, as I see it, as it is very unlikely that property ownership is likely to be a great generator of personal wealth in the future. Those who feel that owning 4, or 6 houses is a short cut to riches may want to ponder what is likely to happen once Interest rates rise again and governments act to put a brake on their economies in order to reduce their deficits.
    Oh and I doubt many governments are going to be keen to produce policies that favour property investment and borrowing in general as they remember the scars of the past 2 years.

  14. Draco T Bastard 14

    Capitalism will always result in fewer and fewer people owning more and more of society. It must do simply because it requires poverty to work. If everyone was financially independent then no one would need to work for anyone else.

    No amount of rules and regulations will ever change that.

  15. mikesh 15

    Which is not to say, of course, that they would not choose to work for someone else.

  16. jarbury 16

    Simple solution – build more houses.

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