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Experts call for changes in KiwiSaver rules to help home buyers

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As housing prices rise in New Zealand, there have been calls for KiwiSaver regulations to be relaxed.

KiwiSaver has helped thousands of New Zealanders own their first home in the past few years. Despite this, some people want the rules further relaxed to help others get into the housing market.

A recent Newsroom article showed some experts expressing their opinion about how KiwiSaver could be changed for the better. These expert’s opinions are ones that will be talked about and quoted below.

Janet Harris, a mortgage advisor, is one person who believes the KiwiSaver rules should be changed.

She told Newsroom that some people who have withdrawn money from their KiwiSaver account to buy a house are unable to keep their first home. As a result, they should be able to have a second go at withdrawing money from their KiwiSaver account to buy property.

"The circumstances can be wide. It could be a relationship split-up, it could be a business having failed and you have to sell your house to pay things back."

At the moment, New Zealand law allows someone who has previously owned or currently owns property to withdraw their KiwiSaver money to buy a home. However, one must fall under the limited number of exceptions to be eligible. 

These exceptions include if the property you owned was leasehold land, or if instead of holding the property in your name, you owned shares in a company that owned the land. Depending on whether you meet the exceptions or not, you may need to apply to Kāinga Ora to confirm you are in the same position as a first home buyer.

However, if you have withdrawn money from your KiwiSaver account to buy a home once, you cannot withdraw your KiwiSaver money to buy a home a second time.

This isn’t the only exception that experts think might be useful to review.

Furthermore, a person cannot currently withdraw money to build a first home on land or to buy a rental property.

The Commission for Financial Capability (CFFC) has asked the Government to project what could happen if one was allowed to withdraw their KiwiSaver funds to buy a house that wasn’t owner occupied.

Tom Hartmann said that there is a lot of fear in such a proposal. He therefore believes people with housing expertise need to help out by modelling the impacts of this.

Hartmann points out that owning a home is one way to grow wealth. For those shut out of Auckland’s housing market for example, one could potentially buy outside of Auckland to increase their net worth.

Others, like Frasey Whineray, argue that our KiwiSaver money should be invested into local housing projects, so that us Kiwis will have a stake in infrastructure investment. Whineray is the Chief Operating Officer of Fonterra and chair of the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council.

This can be considered a double knockout punch - KiwiSaver investors get more diversified investments, and supply of housing will increase as well. 

However, economist Shamubeel Eaqub points out that if supply does not increase in the housing market, then simply relaxing the KiwiSaver withdrawal rules will increase the prices of housing. 

He believes the reason why we have high housing prices is because of a lack of supply. Eaqub is weary about relaxing the rules for a KiwiSaver first home withdrawal if there is no simultaneous increase in the supply of housing.

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