Properazzi musings on Facebook - 25 July

by Alistair Helm in

Here are the articles posted on Facebook over the past week - short, spontaneous insights and observations which I felt needed immediate discussion and didn't warrant long-form articles written.

Why are house prices so high?


Property Marketing - the tease and then the benefits!?

The headline of this listing teased the searcher however the opening paragraph foretold great benefits for the property which then seem to have been forgotten in the rush for gushing generalities - my opinions 


Around the world on $400,000

A review of a NZ Herald article on what the price of an Auckland apartment buys you around the world - or not!


REINZ - Excellence Awards

A chance for the Institute to celebrate excellence as a statement of public trust - not really; more an 'inside-baseball' celebration

Properazzi musings on Facebook - 18 July

by Alistair Helm in

Here are the articles posted on Facebook over the past week - short, spontaneous insights and observations which I felt needed immediate discussion and didn't warrant long-form articles written.

REINZ - Meet the CEO, but what about the future?

Better data could assist our collective understanding of the property market

by Alistair Helm in

A couple of news stories today prompted me to call for the access to better information on buyers in the property market to dispel what amount to pure speculation on matters such as the extent of overseas buyers buying investment properties in NZ.

The first such article in the National Business Review was by Jason Krupp of the New Zealand Initiative titled "Housing needs a flaming brand!" and then Bernard Hickey weighed in on the same topic "An ugly housing vacuum" - both articles decry the lack of hard data. Both good articles, however both bemoan the lack of good data on which to make critical decisions.

This desire to seek hard statistics resonates so well with me and it is something that I have long argued for. However I do not advocate the proposal from Jason that we should let the demands of a political organisation spearhead this information request, nor as Bernard advocates seek the input of the Reserve Bank. No, the request should be made to the organisation best placed to collate such information, yet which seem so oblivious to the value it would generate, I speak of the Real Estate Institute.

The current BNZ / REINZ survey is an embarrassment in my opinion. Whilst well intentioned and clearly a source of some data, it is weak. Look at the facts. The email survey is sent to 10,000 real estate agents and the response varies between 300 and 600 per month - that's barely 5% of the agents. The key question has to be asked why is this and who is responding? - is this survey completed by active successful agents or those simply with time on their hands?

The Real Estate Institute currently collects monthly sales data for every property sold in NZ by a licensed agent who works for a licensee company who is a member of REINZ (estimated to be 95+% of all licensees). Sadly the data set required in this current process is woeful at best, comprising:

  • Property Address
  • Property Type
  • Number of Bedrooms
  • Sale Price
  • Sale date
  • Listed date

What is also appalling in my opinion, is that this data is not aligned to the original listing data which is submitted when the property goes on the market to the property portals, especially in which REINZ holds a 50% stake.

An integration of listing and sales data into a single database would avoid duplication and provide rich data. It has been a discussion point within the industry for many years (over 3 years to my knowledge). Such a database could open up new data sets such as:

1. How long property really takes to sell - the current "days on the market" stat produced by REINZ is actually only  a reflection of how long it took to sell the property by the current selling agent, bearing no relevance to when the property was first marketed which may have involved a number of agents before its eventual sale

2. Asking price to eventual sale price index. All properties require an inouted price range to activate property portals search price function and this drives the asking price data

3. Asking price modifications during the period on the market

4. Property marketing methodology analysis - auction clearance rate / passed-in action to subsequent sale data

5. Buyer interest measured by page views & enquiry emails to sales time and price performance

6. Property marketing to sales performance analysis

7. Inventory data at suburb / school zone level


As well as this potentially beneficial data integration the Real Estate could instigate an email survey in a confidential manner (organised by a 3rd party company) based on the vendor's email supplied by the selling agent. In this survey the data that is so urgently required could be sought:


1. Profile of buyer - demographic

2. Profile of buyer - 1st home / investment / retirement

3. Reason for purchase

4. Financial arrangements

5. Prior address - indications of migration data

6. NZ national living in NZ or international investor / ex-pat kiwi

In addition to this valuable data, by the use of a confidential 3rd party company, the survey could also evaluate in an objective manner the performance of the agent as is done by some real estate associations in the US, notably the Houston Association of Realtors

By effectively distancing this survey from the selling agent (they would not be the best people to collect data) the data confidentiality could be ensured and the aggregated data anonymised which would be of huge benefit.

In my opinion these incremental data sets would serve to add value to better understand the property market and allow economic issues to be discussed in an objective manner rather than be hijacked by political organisations. Added to which this rich data would be of great value to the Real Estate Institute in building credibility in the industry and the organisation.



When is an auction not an auction?

by Alistair Helm in , ,

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The Real Estate Institute of NZ stated in their April property report press release that “Auctions are progressively becoming the favoured sales method in certain centres”. They went on to say that properties sold by auction represented just under 1 in 5 in April. In Auckland which they described as “dominating the auction market” 37% of all sales were by auction.

In Auckland their figures stated that 1,045 properties were sold by auction last month. As we all know Barfoot & Thompson is the largest real estate company in Auckland representing around 40% of the market. As their advertisement in a recent property magazine states they reported 593 successful auctions in April. That would mean that Barfoot & Thompson represented 56% of all Auckland auctions which clearly shows that this is without doubt their favored method of sale.


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However if you read into the advert a little deeper, the headline figure seems to be somewhat misleading.

The facts state that only 410 properties sold under the hammer. To this final total of 593 “Successful Auctions” they have added 15 properties sold before the auction; 25 properties sold on the auction day (but not under the hammer) and a further 143 sold after the auction (and not on the day of the auction).

I was interested to see if I could find a definition as to what is an auction in the context of real estate sales. I chose to turn to the government body tasked with regulating and administering the industry – The Real Estate Agents Authority. In their auctions information sheet accessible as a download pdf document on their website they state:


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My clear interpretation of this is that a property that is sold in a private agreement between a buyer and a seller after the “passing in” of a property at an auction is not an auction sale, despite the fact that the property was marketed as an auction. The same goes for properties sold before an auction. A successful auction is defined and assumed to be an unconditional sale on the fall of the hammer in an open process.

Therefore rather than the claimed 593 “Successful auctions" by Barfoot & Thompson in April, the reality was that just 410 successful auctions were achieved in the month. It further means that of the 707 completed sales which had been marketed as auctions in the month – 58% were sold successfully at the auction; whereas more than 4 in 10 of the properties marketed as auctions did not sell “under the hammer”.

The fact is that only Barfoot & Thompson publish this degree of insight into their auctions, I congratulate them for their openness. One only wonders as to the number of real estate companies who submitted statistics to the Real Estate Institute stating for auction sales in April making up the total of 1,045; as to how many actually sold under the hammer as a true auction. Maybe, just maybe, the statement made by REINZ should be restated as “Property marketed as auctions  is becoming the favoured marketing strategy in certain centres”.


Let's get rid of Property CV's !

by Alistair Helm in


I doubt that there would ever be a conversation between an agent and a prospective buyer of a property without reference to the CV of the property. It is judged by most people in NZ to be the “official” valuation of the property, almost as though the government (local or national) should provide such a service.

At least that is what buyers and sellers tend to think.

The fact is there is an argument that in NZ the whole property industry would be better off without a CV for individual properties. It would at least reduce the proliferation of media stories featuring references to selling prices measured against the CV of which there would be almost a daily flood. Such stories only perpetuate the myth that because a property sold at a price 20% / 50% / 100% above “its CV” there must be basis upon which all properties are rising in price by 20% / 50% / 100%!!

You look overseas and find that in most every other country there is no such number for an individual property. You will get the local council rates assessment, the local government tax, the capital value of the land or the rentable estimation for the property,; but never an estimation of valuation.

Let’s be very clear here to ensure complete clarity the Capital Value (CV) is based on what a property is used for (land use) and the rateable land value of the physical land the property sits on. Quotable Value New Zealand (QV) is the agency contracted by Councils to assess property values, and it reviews these valuations every 3 years. Some Councils state that the CV is an estimate of the probable selling price of the property as at the effective date of valuation, other steer clear of such assertions.

QV state on their website that “Formerly called Government valuations (GVs), council rating values (RVs) are compiled by statute, under the Rating Valuations Act 1998, mainly as a uniform basis for levying local and regional council rates. Rating values also serve as a useful guide for property owners and other interested parties, as they are impartial and independently assessed as at the same date for every property in a Local Council.

A Council Rating Value (RV) comprises 3 main components:

The Capital Value (CV) which is the assessment of the probable price that would have been paid for the property if it had sold at the date of the last general revaluation.

The Land Value is the probable price that would have been paid for just the land as at the date of valuation.

The Value of Improvements, which is the difference between the capital and land values. It reflects the additional value given to the land by any buildings, other structures or cropping trees and vines present on the property, and any landscaping that adds value to the land.

The CV is in my view misleading and potentially damaging to the process of real estate.

Here are the reasons for this assertion:

1. It is a computational figure; no human is generally involved in its assessment. It is arrived at by the use of a computer algorithm that analyses recent sales within a geographical radius of the property in question. The pairing of such properties is based on property and section size. The process though takes no account of the condition of the property, the quality of improvements to the property aside from any general lodged building consents.

2. It is assessed on an infrequent basis (3yrs) and therefore is almost always out of date. The CV’s for Auckland for example were published in 2011, the prior CV’s were published in 2007 or 2008. The work to compute the CV is undertake months before publication and is based on sales data in the months running up to the computational so the Auckland CV’s are based on sales in mid to late 2010. So thereby the references in Auckland are over 3 years old and the property market (and general economy) are vastly different to 3 year ago.

3. The true market value of a property is the value assessed as between two private parties; that being a willing seller and a willing buyer. It may well be that the accepted price between these two private parties has no bearing on either the council valuation or even a valuation by a qualified valuer. That is just a fact of the market.

4. Having a CV for a property becomes a crutch for the real estate industry that does nothing to add value to their services. Imagine for a minute if there was no CV. A real estate agent would use skill and local knowledge to assess recent sales, ensuring that local knowledge could ensure that truly comparable properties were evaluated in order to come up with an intelligent estimation of the true market price. Instead almost in defense of real estate agents they have to start with the CV and then justify why that is not the “market expectation”, or as is more likely today why the price expectation = CV +25%!

5. Without CV’s for properties we might actually get more property advertised with a price indication. At present around 30% of all property being marketed for sale in NZ is without a price indication, in Auckland that total is closer to 50%. Because of this fixation of the CV being a “market indicator” and the lack of confidence in agents to the true value, property is marketed without a price. This situation is unsatisfactory for buyers who stumble around in the dark unsure if their favourite property is within their financial means.

Putting a price on a property is not the same as a price ticket on an item in the shop – it is an indication of what the vendor (in consultation with their agent) considers the property to be worth. They as the vendor know that they may have to accept an offer below or maybe above that price. They are never forced to sell and can refuse an offer that they feel does not match their expectations; simply put they need to be that ‘willing seller’.

The epitomy of what I consider the ridiculous situation with comparisons to CV’s and benchmarking to CV was seen in a recent advert by a local real estate company. They advertised how much more than the CV they had achieved.

RE agent advert of sale vs CV.png

The data is meaningless, there is no correlation between the actions of the agent and the sale price above CV. Selling price over and above a professional valuation maybe; a speedy completed sale certainly; a competitive bidding situation absolutely; but not the benchmark of the CV.

Clearly it is highly unlikely that NZ will change the system of CV’s providing a basis for assessing local rates. I just wish that there was less focus on the CV and more on the local market of truly comparable sales stats presented by professional local agents to help buyers fully understand the true vendor expectations, and thereby bring greater transparency to the property market.

Making sense of the monthly property statistics

by Alistair Helm in

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We are fortunate in NZ to be blessed with a rich and comprehensive database of property statistics. Many countries have to wait many months between data releases, which tend to provide quarterly trends. We have the benefit of insight into the property market with stunning regularity, all crammed into the first 10 days of each month.

However a common complaint is that the data is not consistent and it is presented using different metrics; for example median price, stratified median price, average price, valuation, seasonally adjusted truncated mean asking price, rental rates, to name but a few. So as a smart property buyer or seller it is important to understand what these metric can tell you and what you should pay attention to, to be ahead of the game.

There are 3 sets of data that I consider critical. These are property sales data (the measure of what is happening as a function of buyer activity), property listings data (the measure of what sellers are doing and how they judge the market) and then rental data (the measure of how landlords are pricing their rental properties).

Property Sales Data

This is probably the best-known sector of real estate data with both the Real Estate Institute (REINZ) and QV pitching their data to the market within days of each other. Data that on first impression appears similar, but on further investigation is somewhat different and the difference can be significant.

REINZ provides rich data on property sales, median prices and days-to-sell, across not just the major regions of the country but right down to clusters of suburbs. Sadly the full data set is not accessible online in a machine-readable format, rather it is published as a pdf with prior year and month comparisons.

The data is collated by the reported unconditional sales of properties by licensed real estate agents who are members of REINZ, submission (as I understand it) is not compulsory, but in spite of that it is very comprehensive, and its timeliness provides for the prior month insight within 10 days of the end of the month. The data goes right back to 1993 and using their online tools you can access databases for particular suburb clusters.

REINZ present the majority of pricing information in the form of median price, this is statistically appropriate as it ensures that extremes of sale prices within data sets don’t skew the data. However in preference to the raw median price I tend to focus instead on the Stratified Median price, this data set developed in cooperation with the Reserve Bank is sadly only published for the 3 major cities as well as the national figures. It is a far more accurate indicator of true price movements as it applies modeling to ensure that higher sales volumes in high price suburbs for example are normalized and thereby don’t result in an overall rise in prices.

QV produce a well-recognised set of statistics on the property market based on their rich database covering every house in NZ in their role as the government rating valuations organization. This database is updated on a daily basis by the transactions of settled sales as registered by LINZ. This process captures all property transactions irrespective of whether the transaction was undertaken by a licensed agent or a private sale (estimated at around 10% of all sales).

QV do not report selling prices, rather their business is valuation estimation and it is this index, which is published monthly. Their computational models analyse the actual sales prices for individual properties matched to prior valuations and thereby create an index of house price movements. This provides a good representation of trends of price movements rather than actual figures for property prices regionally or nationally.

One drawback to the QV data is that it uses a broad time period, each report is based on the prior 3 month’s settled transactions. This is further impacted by the fact that long settlement on some properties could mean the property sold unconditionally may not appear as part of the QV dataset for anything from 3 to 5 months. Despite this timing issue the trend indicators of price movements from QV are very useful and accurate.

Property Listings Data

Property listings data provides a vital insight into the supply side of the market and has only become available since the ascendency of the web as the definitive search process for buyers. The monthly data is provided by in their monthly NZ Property Report published within a day or so of the start of every month.

The report details the number of listings coming onto the market in the prior month, the asking price of these listings as an indication of the sellers / sellers’ agent’s expectation, as well as the level of stock of houses on the market at the end of the past month. The report is very detailed in printed form and also provides the ability to download the full data sets with both raw data and seasonally adjusted data.

As the originator of this report during my time at the company, I believe the report  holds a unique insight into the supply side of the market, as a key lead indicator of the market. As an example of this is the fact that the current shortage of listings was flagged as early as April 2011 in the report by which time there was a clear trend as to how this would lead to price pressure in the medium to long term.

One key data set within the report that I think is worth focusing on is the Inventory as a measure of available stock of property on the market. This is presented not in absolute numbers but as a representation of the number of weeks that it would take (based in current rate of sales) in theory, sell all of the houses on the market. Nationally this has fallen from a high of over 52 weeks (a full years supply) to now barely half that at 27 weeks.

I have recently taken these key numbers and produced what I call a Property Dashboard - this simple gauge shows where each of the 19 regions of the country are at, in respect of experiencing a sellers market, a buyers market or a balanced market.

Rental Data

Weekly rental rates are published from the Department of Housing and Buildings (now known as The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment)

Tenancy Bond database. This monthly data is published in the NZ Property Investors magazine and provides great insight into the state of the rental market.

The Agency has recently opened up their data sets going back to 1993 by each local authority, so if you are keen to play with spreadsheets to analyse the data this is highly valuable.

Trade Me has also started providing some valuable data on the rental market. It is sadly rather infrequent, being on a quarterly basis and not as detailed as many would like, however I am sure that with the passage of time they will provide richer information, as they hold an incredibly rich data set of listings, rental prices and transaction pace, covering every property type, size and location.

Having begun by saying that we are fortunate in NZ to be blessed with a rich and comprehensive database of property statistics, I would actually conclude by saying that we are actually lacking real in-depth information and statistics. In a recent article I posed the question "Do we really have the property data we need?" I hypothesized as to what type of statistics would be really valuable, for example how would it be if we could for example understand:

  • What is the percentage of residential property buyers that are sold to first-time homebuyers, typically what are they buying, where and for how much; how has this changed over the years?
  • Equally imagine if we could understand how many properties in Auckland are bought as investment properties and how many of these are managed privately as opposed to being managed by a property manager?

Such rich data would provide so much more insight and assist consumers, economists and many other businesses to better plan and offer services.

This data is not beyond the bounds of capability. Real estate agents or the Real Estate Institute could capture all of this data in its capacity as the organization representing the industry and its professional practioneers.

This article is also published in the May edition of the NZ Property Investor magazine

Property data - do we really have what we need?

by Alistair Helm in

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The question might be better phrased as do we have what we want or what we need? The fact is we are well served with property data in NZ as compared to some other countries.

We get monthly reports on sales volumes and median prices as well as valuations and listings volumes. Each month the data is published across all media and a regular flow of analysis is applied to give us a sense of what it all means. Economists and commentators (myself included) provide our take on the data and by the 10th day of the month we are back to other property stories until the next month comes around.

Just this week we saw a new quarterly REINZ/Fairfax media report on suburb level property prices and sales - headlined as "property news you can use" . Valuable information, but nothing new. The core data is what the Institute has been collecting and squirreling away for years.

Scanning the wider property media from around the world I am beginning to think we are fooling ourselves; as we are actually only seeing a very thin layer of data. The property market in NZ at residential level is worth $34 billion and supports over 9,000 salespeople who charge out a collective $1+ billion in fees each year. Should we not expect greater insight from the real estate industry?

Let me hypothesize some scenarios of property data that I think would be valuable to all and is not available at this time:

1. What is the percentage of residential property buyers that are sold to first-time homebuyers, typically what are they buying, where and for how much; how has this changed over the years?

2. How many of the properties sold each year are sold to people within a 5km radius of where they currently live and how many are sold to people who move from another part of the country or from overseas; if from overseas, then from which country, are they returning kiwi’s or new immigrants?

3. What is the median price for 3 bedroom homes in a suburb as opposed to a studio apartment in that suburb and how have these prices changed over the years?

4. How many sales in Northland last year were of holiday homes (as second homes) and what was the median price and how does that compare to the past 5 years?

5. How many properties in Auckland are bought as investment properties and how many of these are managed privately as opposed to being managed by a property manager?

6. Over a 3 year period approximately x% of properties are sold to a new owner. What is the true value increase of these properties in total, and also what change in value were the result of improvements or renovation and how much for properties that were not subjected to a renovation?

7. What percentage of property purchases were made without a mortgage and of those purchased with a mortgage what is the current mortgage to equity ratio?

8. What is the median advertising spend by price range of property by region of the country?

Such richer data would provide so much more insight and assist consumers, economists and many other businesses to better plan and offer services around the buying and selling process.

This data outlined above is not beyond the bounds of capability. Such data could be captured by real estate agents or the Real Estate Institute in its capacity as the organization representing the industry and its professional practioneers.

What would be needed would be a more comprehensive data collection system adopted by the industry. A report could be required as a mandatory part of the reporting for every sale completed by a real estate agent. Currently all an agent has to do is identify the address of the property, when it sold and for how much, when they listed the property and how many bedrooms etc. Much of this data is duplicate for the data held by (a subsidiary of REINZ) anyway and therefore should share data

A new more comprehensive reporting system could capture all the necessary data identified above. An online system would intelligently align questions to known data sets regarding the property so for example questions for a property listed on as a lifestyle property would be tailored to that type of property, and would pre-populate with historical sales data, listing information and analysis based on property identification.

In addition the Real Estate Institute in its role of upholding professional standards could implement a consumer survey for all completed sales which could be sent via agents to vendors and could collect information to supplement that collected by agents. It could survey professional standards and seek to provide the industry and the consumer with feedback and insight as to the professional services offered by real estate agents.

I believe the real estate industry needs to be more transparent and accountable for the services it offers and also to be a more valued provider of rich information and trend analysis. The challenge is once again made to the industry at large and the Institute in particular to step up and adopt some of these proposals.

Are there really more overseas buyers snapping up NZ properties

by Alistair Helm in

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Today has seen a lot of discussion on this topic following the publication of the monthly Tony Alexander / BNZ Residential Market Survey.

The survey states that "The evidence (from the survey) does not support the anecdotes that Chinese buyers are snapping up properties".

The data says that 9% of all sales were to people offshore, with 40% of these buyers indicating that they intended to shift to NZ, by implication indicating that 60% of the buyers were buying and would not be moving to NZ to live in the property. In Auckland the figures were higher at 11% of sales to foreigners and 42% planning to move to NZ.

I have a problem with this data and the survey on a number of counts.

Firstly the methodology. The results come from an email survey of real estate agents. The survey is sent out by REINZ to its database of agents. There are c. 10,000 agents and for this month 355 agents responded - that means 96.5% of all agents did not respond. The response rate was well down on the January survey when over 500 responded.

If the data is to be believed 9% of all sales in NZ being made to foreigners that would mean that in a year over 6,500 properties would be sold to foreigners - that would be over $3 billion of sales largely supported by foreign funds - I don't think so. I think if we started to see 1 in 10 of all properties owned by foreigners we would really notice this.

The problem is that the survey has a natural bias. Real estate agents are very focused people, they are self employed and if they don't work they don't earn. If they are successful it is because they focus on their market, their customer base and are really not too worried about the big picture and the world of surveys and data analysis. To validate this just look at the volatility of the other survey questions. I fear that those that respond are either agents with time on their hands or branch managers who poll the views of the sales team and not in first hand contact with buyers.

The other issue I have from the survey is the view that 60% of these overseas buyers are not planning to move to NZ. The survey asked the agents to answer Yes / No / Don't know to the question: Did the overseas buyer intent to move to NZ? The judgement was made that the 'don't know's' were classified as NO and that is why we get the 60% - the more likely fact is the agent did not ask the buyer at the time and therefore the 'don't know's' cannot be inferred as No.

So I think the fact is, little can be drawn from this survey either way. It is however likely that we are seeing more foreign buyers, and we will see more in the future - why? Well NZ is attractive to overseas property investment - no GST, no stamp duty, accessible immigration, trustworthy society, good education, strong legal titles, great environment,  safe and friendly - who would not want to invest here?

I was interviewed on TV One Breakfast on this subject, the video is accessible clicking below:

How should REINZ invest its asset sale – how about technology investment?

by Alistair Helm in

The Real Estate Institute (REINZ) has announced that it is selling its head office in Parnell to move the offices to the city fringe.

This seems a pretty sensible decision. The section has a capital value of $6.1m and is in size, in excess of its needs. The property is outdated and from personal experience (I worked there for 2 years) it is a very antiquated office layout far from conducive to modern work environment.

So what to do with this capital gain of $6+ million given the financials of the Institute can more than maintain a new city fringe office and staff – income from fees alone totals over $2m a year.

The article in the NZ Herald stated that the Institute was "looking to invest the proceeds in buying an investment property". Why? The role of the Institute as I read it from their website is to promote professionalism and quality and represent the interests of its members.  Surely there are more productive ways of using $6+m then buying a dead asset?

As a starter and to prove that I am not just being negative about REINZ. How about REINZ taking a leaf out of their sister organization in the US – National Association of Realtors (NAR).

NAR announced last year that they were establishing a tech incubator – ‘NAR Reach’ is a tech accelerator programme which will help up to 10 companies develop useful tech tools for Realtors and others.

The real estate industry is by comparison with other industries a technology laggard. This has to change. This will change. The only question is - does the Institute consider its role includes facilitating and driving this change?

Would it not be of great long-term value for REINZ to invest and support technology companies who could provide services and tools to the industry to assist its member become more productive and enhance professionalism.

Smart technology for real estate agents would also be financially beneficial as the processes of real estate in NZ are almost identical to Australia, UK and many other markets, thereby creating export opportunity and credibility for REINZ as well as a valuable long-term asset through equity ownership in start up companies.

Now as with any incubator investment programme there are going to be winners and losers, however if REINZ were to invest $100,000 in each of say 5 NZ companies equating to less than 10% of the proceeds of their property sale; in 3 years they would likely be down no more than a couple of hundred thousand as a worst case scenario, but more importantly they would have challenged their members to embrace new technology ideas and systems and maybe created a new toolset of long term value. They might just be held up as a progressive industry organisation investing members assets in growing the smarts of the very future of its industry!