The Census captures information about unoccupied dwellings on Census night.
There were 191,649 unoccupied private dwellings as at Census 2018. “Unoccupied dwellings” is often misreported in the media and represented as empty homes. That's incorrect.
"Unoccupied dwellings" contains a significant number of properties where residents were temporarily away on Census night. They might have been staying with friends/family, away for business, or on vacation. To report these as empty homes is misleading as it includes a large number of properties that are usually occupied.
So, is it possible to identify the number of empty homes from the Census?
Yes. The Census further classifies “Unoccupied dwellings” into two sub-categories:
The number of actual private empty dwellings in New Zealand on Census night 2018 was recorded at 94,197.
Were there really 40,000 ghost houses in Auckland at the last Census?
No. Auckland is often the focus of media coverage when reporting on empty homes. It has been reported that there are nearly 40,000 “unoccupied dwellings” (or 'ghost houses') in Auckland. Claims are made that the number of empty homes are increasing.
Whilst it's true “unoccupied dwellings” is increasing, a closer look at the sub-categories tells a very different story when it comes to "empty dwellings".
Let's take a look at the numbers for the Auckland local authority:
Overall, the number of empty homes in Auckland has reduced in every Census since 2006, and so too has the rate of empty homes as a percentage of total private housing stock.
Let's take a look at the rest of New Zealand...
|Far North District||2,760||29,472||9.36%|
|South Waikato District||519||9,672||5.37%|
|Western Bay of Plenty District||1,647||22,044||7.47%|
|Central Hawke's Bay District||333||6,297||5.29%|
|New Plymouth District||1,203||33,579||3.58%|
|South Taranaki District||684||11,955||5.72%|
|Palmerston North City||861||32,634||2.64%|
|Kapiti Coast District||1,386||24,798||5.59%|
|Upper Hutt City||375||16,713||2.24%|
|Lower Hutt City||897||39,456||2.27%|
|South Wairarapa District||558||5,664||9.85%|
|Chatham Islands Territory||27||330||8.18%|
|Central Otago District||1,011||10,971||9.22%|
Is there anything else to take into account when looking at the numbers at a local authority level?
Whilst some of the empty home rates are higher than others, it's important not to jump to conclusions. Some can be easily explained because they are holiday destinations with high densities of holiday homes. It's also important to recognise that even for local authorities with lower empty home rates, there can still be significant diversity when you inspect more closely. The following map breaks these numbers down further (to the SA2 level).
Are there any limitations to the empty homes numbers from the Census?
Yes. The Census is a point-in-time measure conducted every five years. It can’t give an accurate picture of the number of empty homes today. There are also limitations to the types of information collected and the level of detail. The Census is useful, however, for understanding trends over time and identifying patterns.
Numbers from the Census convey some, but not all, of the story about empty homes. Property ownership and use is constantly changing. The Census can’t identify:
- why properties were empty,
- how long properties were empty,
- or the future intentions for the property.
This information is important to understand in order to explore solutions that could bring empty homes back into the housing supply. It can be easy to jump to conclusions about homes that are left empty. However, there can be many contributing factors and reasons that need to be better understood. How property owners use their homes is a personal decision. The Empty Homes project sought firstly to understand the reasons for homes being empty, without judgement, by engaging directly with property owners across New Zealand. This was the first project of this nature to be undertaken in New Zealand.
Are there any other sources of information that can help identify empty home rates?
Other than the Census, it can be challenging to find available and current data sources to identify empty home rates. The Empty Homes project connected with a number of stakeholders to explore potential data sources that could identify more current empty home rates and densities across New Zealand. Unfortunately, there was no appetite from these stakeholders to either respond or to assist with non-identifiable data.
For privacy reasons, the Empty Homes project did not collect addresses of individual properties. What this project was interested in was the percentage of properties that met relevant criteria that might indicate an empty home.
Why are homes left empty?
There can be many reasons for homes being empty, including properties that are:
- used for short-term accommodation, such as baches.
- second residences, used intermittently.
- in between ownership and are temporarily vacant.
- held under estate / probate.
- temporarily unoccupied for maintenance, renovation or development.
- normally rented, but in between tenants.
- awaiting consents or codes of compliance.
- awaiting insurance claims.
- being decontaminated.
- being repurposed for different use.
- used for seasonal workers with varying demand.
It’s also important to consider how long homes are left empty. Some of the factors above have a short-term impact on how long properties sit empty. Some of these properties will naturally return to the housing supply. Some are empty due to external factors that take time to remedy. In this case, being empty is not a signal that there is an intent to leave a the property permanently empty.
Yes. Experts have advised that a typical housing stock has between 2.5% and 3.5% of homes that are empty. There are exceptions though, such as in large geographical areas with low populations (e.g., rural or mountainous areas). Regardless, a high empty home rate does not necessarily signal an issue such as extensive land-banking.
This is a complicated issue. In areas with high rates of empty homes, the normal resident population, the size of the area, demand for housing, and whether those areas are holiday destinations must also be considered.