OneRoof: The best places in New Zealand to buy a family bach

The iconic Kiwi bach, painted a patchwork of greens and pinks and hung together by corrugated iron, is giving way to holiday homes with multiple bathrooms and internal-access garages.

But many of us still love the old-school models. And if you’re buying, they’re still out there. You just need to know where to look.

Northland is a good place to start hunting for somewhere to hang while Covid keeps the brakes on overseas travel.

It’s seen a big increase in demand in the last six months, mainly from Aucklanders.

Tom Rutherford, from Harcourts Bay of Islands, says his agency is asked daily about baches, locations and prices.

While there are fewer traditional baches around, they’re still out there – and more common the further north you go.

“I guess it’s a bit of a hide-and-seek scenario compared to what it used to be probably only five years ago,” Rutherford says.

“A lot of traditional family baches people want to stay within families. Covid has probably enhanced family values, with people wanting to pass them on to grandchildren.

While availability has an impact on prices, the age-old catchcry “location, location, location” is no less relevant when it comes to holiday homes.

“Those that are on the beach with lovely sea views have seen a substantial price increase over the years, but there are still little wonderful spots.

“At Karikari Peninsula [in the Far North] you’re still finding sections with a peek of the sea for 100-odd thousand to build on.”

Finished houses in Coopers Bay, Cable Bay and the Taipa area can be found for around $500,000.

“The closer you go to the water, the more price goes up and it’s not uncommon to see million-dollar houses in prime locations,” adds Rutherford.

There’s limited stock in holiday hotspot Paihia, but you should have more luck in Opua or Kawakawa, both short drives away.

“If you don’t want a sea view there are still places for around half a million,” Rutherford says.

“In Paihia, you’re probably needing three quarters of a million and if you have a peek of the sea you’re probably looking at $800,000-plus.”

Buyers from the Big Smoke who are happy with a four-and-a-half-hour drive might find a seafront bach at Ahipara on Ninety Mile Beach for $500,000.

Go back a few blocks, that figure could drop to $350,000 – with only a 10-minute drive to some of the world’s best surf spots.

Kaye McElwain, from Ray White in Mangawhai, says her patch has changed a lot over the last few years. While most properties still have absentee owners, more permanent residents are moving in.

The older part of Mangawhai still has traditional baches. Last year McElwain’s agency sold a section with a little shack and a shed on it in the mid-$500,000s; that would more likely fetch between $650,00 and $700,000 now.

“There’s certainly some high-value waterfront properties which are selling for considerably more.

“There’s been quite a shift and, like Auckland, it’s solely due to demand outstripping supply.”

There’s more affordable buying inland. Fifteen minutes away, Kaiwaka, on State Highway 1, is increasingly popular. McElwain’s agency recently sold a two-bedroom cottage with sleepover and water view on a little bit of land for just over $650,000.

It’s worth looking further west, too – drive 25 minutes from the east coast and you can be on one of the Kaipara Harbour waterways.

“It’s not necessarily a west coast beach but you can have access through to the harbour,” says McElwain.

“The Kaipara is a real break from the city whereas in Mangawhai you do tend to, in the busy periods, find it’s full of people from Auckland.

“But you do have the beautiful surf beach and the estuary gives lots of opportunities, whether it’s kayaking or swimming, jet skiing – all those things people like to do.”

If you’re set on the east coast, Mangawhai remains cheaper than nearby Omaha, where the flashest properties can fetch millions.

Much further south, old-school baches rarely reach the market in popular parts of the Coromandel, says Mary Walker of Bayleys.

“People today probably prefer more modern baches than what we would class a bach in the old days- people really want modern lock-and-go.”

Entry level in Whitianga is around $600,000, and that’s for something pretty basic. A beachside property can set you back $2 million.

But more entry-level pricing is available across the peninsula.

Thames, an old gold-mining town, has been undervalued for some time and there are some beautiful spots up the coast, Walker says.

Coromandel township, near the top of the peninsula, remains good value and has a ferry service too.

“Aucklanders can jump on the ferry, have the weekend at their bach and then go home again on Sunday afternoon.”

Some prefer North Island’s wilder west coast.

Greig Metcalfe, of LJ Hooker Raglan, says a run-down bach on a shared section recently sold for $500,000.

“It’s a Fibrolite box that’s had no work done on it for a long time on a half-share cross-lease section, so that’s entry level in Raglan now.”

More expensive properties can sell for $2.5m. He recommends looking further afield for a bargain. He’s just bought in Wairoa, Hawke’s Bay for $131,500. The little house needs another $25,000 of spending to transform it into a funky bach.

Back to Raglan, and properties on Māori-owned leasehold land are a more affordable option, says Metcalfe.

He owns a property at the head of the harbour, where a Māori trust owns about 40 baches which sell for about a third of the freehold price.

“There’s quite a lot of that through New Zealand. Kawhia has a lot of it, New Plymouth has quite a lot.”

People should check the lease conditions, such as whether there is right of renewal and any rent review dates, he says.

“It’s a way of getting champagne beach bach on a poor man’s budget, if you like. Europe’s full of leasehold-type property. It certainly works well for us and the other people out there.”

Head to the bottom of North Island, and anyone looking for a bach on the Kapiti Coast may be out of luck.

Ceinwen Howard, of Howard & Co Realty, says land is so valuable that most baches – particularly in prime beachfront spots – are being demolished.

“It’s very, very common. People do a brand new build on them, and people are building to live there.

“There used to be a lot of holiday homes that had been in the same family for generations. We’ve still got a bit of that, but with Transmission Gully under way and a great train and bus service, we’re really just a suburb of Wellington now.”

Buyers could look further north, at Waitarere Beach and Foxton, although even they are attracting more permanent residents, Howard says.

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