New Zealand is ranked as the best country in the world for ease of doing business. The country attracts much foreign investment and has multiple free trade agreements, low taxes, and top-ranking universities.
Property buying regulations are straightforward and you’ll come across fewer hurdles compared to investing in developing countries like Vietnam and the Philippines.
With that said, you must get your feet wet before engaging in the market. This is particularly the case if you plan to invest in commercial real estate and where properties can cost tens or hundreds of millions of US dollars.
In this article, I explain the basics when buying office space and buildings in New Zealand, covering the most important topics.
- Can foreigners buy office space in New Zealand?
- Regulations When Investing in Office Space
- Assessing Office Space & Buildings
- New Zealand’s Office Market
- Best Cities to Invest in Office Space
Can foreigners buy office space in New Zealand?
New Zealand’s residential property market is one of Asia Pacific’s most overheated, a reason why the government has introduced strict foreign ownership requirements.
Many foreigners immigrate here, buy property for their children, or invest in vacation homes. What many are unaware of are the promising yields offered when buying commercial real estate.
Foreigners don’t have any particular issues to invest in office space and buildings and also have access to industrial properties, retail premises, and hotels, for example. You can buy foreigners as:
- An individual
- A partnership
- Through a company
- Through a trust
Even if corporate investors typically invest in office space and buildings, you have no issues investing in these kinds of properties as an individual. That’s not the case in Thailand, for example, where you have to acquire office space through corporations.
Regulations When Investing in Office Space
Foreigners who invest in significant business assets have to get approval from the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) before they can engage in the local commercial real estate market.
The OIO defines foreigners as persons or companies that are:
- Not New Zealand citizens, and don’t ordinarily live in the country
- Are other entities like companies, trusts, and joint ventures, with more than 25% overseas ownership or control
- Associates (including New Zealanders) of overseas investors
Significant business assets are valued at a minimum of NZD 100 million (around USD 72 million) and securities, assets, or businesses. Keep in mind that approval is sometimes needed for assets that aren’t considered significant.
You must confirm with your partner what regulations apply for your specific property to avoid unforeseen issues later.
Assessing Office Space & Buildings
Working with a local partner that understands New Zealand’s real estate market, interesting areas to scout for properties, and buying regulations is a must. This will minimize the risks that you come across time-consuming and costly issues later.
One of the most important steps is to assess the property correctly and investors shall obtain a so-called Land Information Memorandum (LIM).
This document typically includes the following information:
- Features about the land such as potential avulsion, erosion, slippage, falling debris, and possible hazardous substances
- How you’re allowed to use the land. For instance, council restrictions and zoning can prohibit you from using the property in certain ways. Such details should be confirmed before the purchase
- Public and private sewerage and stormwater drains available
- Outstanding liens, unpaid rates, and similar
- Previously recorded or issued certificates, notices, consents, orders, or requisitions that impact the land and related buildings
- District Plan classifications, relating to the property
- Information relating to network utility operators available
Keep in mind that the information can vary by councils.
New Zealand’s Office Market
Auckland receives the most attention when analysts and investors review the office market in New Zealand.
While the market was hit badly in 2020 due to the pandemic and vacancy rates reached 9%, there’s much supply planned for the market in the coming years.
Vacancy rates in the CBD generally stay way below 5% though and in normal circumstances. Preferably located properties generate the best yields and properties that are worse positioned attract fewer investors.
Below I’ve included an overview of various districts and what we can expect for prime quality units in the coming year:
- Demand: Steady
- Supply: Shortage
- Net rent: NZD 350 – 500 / sq.m.
- Demand: Steady
- Supply: Shortage
- Net rent: NZD 350 – 550 / sq.m.
- Demand: Steady
- Supply: Shortage
- Net rent: NZD 385 – 400 / sq.m.
In Wellington, on the other hand, we saw a rebound in the office market in 2021. The average vacancy rate is around 10% at the same time as rates have returned to post-pandemic levels.
Christchurch has seen average vacancy rates of around 5%, but with lower upcoming supply compared to Auckland.
Best Cities to Invest in Office Space
New Zealand is a small country by Asian standards and most commercial activity can be found in three cities, namely Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch.
Let’s take a look at why these cities are interesting for investments in office space and complete buildings.
Auckland is the biggest city in New Zealand with more than 30% of the population. The city is well-known for being the most important in terms of economic output and is the home of many financial institutions.
It contributes to 37.5% of the total national GDP, according to the government.
Most large-sized and international companies prefer to be located in the most expensive areas of lower Queen Street and the Viaduct Basin in the Auckland CBD.
There are more than 8,500 companies in the central business district of Auckland and the biggest employment sectors include construction, financial services, information, and communications technology, transportation, and business.
Examples of companies that are located in the CBD include McKinsey & Company, various construction companies, and logistics companies. Having two ports, the logistics and the construction sectors are vital to the economy.
Wellington is the second-biggest city with a population of around 440,000 people. It’s the capital of New Zealand and located on the North Island, same as Auckland.
Wellington’s economy primarily relies on the finance industry and business services. Being the capital, there are also many government-related jobs and buildings here.
Compares to Auckland, Wellington is not as bustling, but still home to companies and government agencies such as:
- Bank of New Zealand
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment
- ANZ bank
- Inland Revenue
Areas of interest for office space in the CBD include Willis Street, Featherston Street, Jervois Quay, and Manners Street.
Christchurch is the oldest and the biggest city on the South Island with a population of around 390,000 people. In contrast to Auckland and Wellington, the agricultural industry has played a vital role in Christchurch’s economy.
Interestingly, Christchurch is the second-most important contributor in economic terms. In recent years, the ICT industry has become increasingly important as well.
Not to forget, its beautiful nature and proximity to the ski fields and other attractions of the Southern Alps, and hotels, a casino helps to boost the economy.
Despite being the oldest city in New Zealand, Christchurch is also called the newest city as it will attract many investments and focus much on business.
Christchurch’s residential property market is not as overheated as Auckland’s and there’s still much room for growth potentials.
New Zealand might not be the first option that comes to investors’ minds when they plan for future investments in office space.
With that said, New Zealand is, despite its small population, extremely competitive in terms of ease of doing business, innovation, and attracting investments.
Entrepreneurs and thought-leaders like Jack Ma and Elon Musk have hailed the country and even invested in units here. Truth be told, many see New Zealand as a safe haven as it’s well-functioning and safe.
Over the years, many residential property investors have entered the market and particularly from China. This has left the government with no other option than introducing ownership regulations.
This is not the case for commercial property whatsoever where we still see much room for growth. With low taxes and competitive markets, the most interesting cities that come to mind are Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch.
Even if the cities have the most expensive rates and prices, you’ll find the most economic activity here.