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  • Writer's pictureGrant McLachlan - New Zealand Herald - Column

Market forces will make the Kiwi bach extinct

My sister and I had to make the most serious decision of our lives this week. Faced with near-crippling council rates and building compliance costs, we had to accept that we could no longer afford what previous generations of our family had enjoyed and what we wished future generations could enjoy - the Kiwi bach.

The family bach was a lakefront property in Taupo in now exclusive Waitahanui, famous for the "picket fence" of fly-fishers at the river estuary.

My late grandfather, a keen fly-fisherman, built it out of dense bush as one of the first fishing lodges on the shore, using the first harvest of pine from the central North Island forestry and rocks he moved from Bluff Hill in Napier, where he raised my mother.

The property meant everything to my sister and me because it was the house my grandfather retired to, where my grandmother lived for more than 20 years as a widow, and where, more tragically, my mother died.

Now the property has suffered the same fate as other traditional Kiwi baches and become a victim of market forces.

After the passing on of my family's friends in neighbouring properties, their children decided to sell their properties to overseas investors, who have the money to stifle any emotional attachment.

The higher the prices these investors were willing to pay, the higher went the Government valuation and the higher were the council rates.

Before too long my grandmother, living in her sunset years, could no longer afford to live with the view she loved, in the house where she shared so many heartfelt memories. The family had to put the property on the market.

Property prices in Waitahanui have been an amazing phenomenon. When Pop hewed the property out of the land in 1961 it was worth a few thousand pounds.

When he died in 1981 it was worth $100,000, and now it is worth well into seven figures.

Some might think that is an amazing investment. But it was not an investment; it was the family bach where we spent Christmases, built our first sandcastles, caught our first fish, first learned to swim, married, spent New Year, birthdays, holidays, retired and eventually died.

Now the old baches are gone, replaced by "mansionettes". The boatsheds are no longer occupied by aluminium dinghies but by the latest Miami Vice-shaped speedboats. The community spirit has been replaced with hardened-steel window shields and burglar alarms.

I am left searching my conscience, wondering how to prevent what has happened to my family happening to others. The fact is that other families provided the momentum. Our family held out the longest and we benefited by a considerable sum.

Market forces caused it and no regulation could prevent it. The councils cannot hold back the tide of family-bach sales by providing separate rates for the retired or holiday baches. Baches would become a tax dodge or an even better investment, which would force up prices further.

The Overseas Investment Commission cannot regulate sales because most of these property sales are to returned expatriates who made their money overseas, or those wishing to retire here.

The death of the Waitahanui bach is not a one-off. The wave started in Mt Maunganui and will finish in Pukenui, consuming Coromandel, Wanaka, Matauri Bay, Havelock and the Tutukaka coasts in its wake - just to name a few places.

The stark reality is that the Kiwi bach will soon be the exclusive domain of the wealthy - and the next targets will be coastal farms, Maori reserves and caravan parks.

The Kiwi bach is headed for extinction, and the best we can do is enjoy it while we can.

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