Landlords across the country are slashing rents to avoid having their properties stand empty as tenants find themselves in the best position for a decade.
Figures released by Crockers Real Estate this week showed substantial decreases across some of Auckland's most prestigious suburbs.
The picture is similar in other centres, such as fast-growing Tauranga and adventure capital Queenstown.
Letting agents said the recession meant cash-strapped tenants could no longer afford the record rents of yesteryear.
And owners desperate to maintain mortgage payments on investment properties were being forced to accept shorter tenancy agreements than they wanted.
Tamara Willis, property manager for Ray White in Auckland's Kohimarama, said the top end of the market was "very, very quiet".
One property in the upmarket suburb was listed at $650 a week and didn't generate a single call.
"We've just relisted it at $620 and the phone is still not ringing.
"Even when landlords have got an empty property and they're not managing to make any money they are still holding on to that [desired] price in their head."
Brett Gordon, letting agent for Barfoot & Thompson in Auckland's Mt Eden, said some weekly rents had dropped by $20 or more because tenants had less money.
Across Auckland, the weekly rent on a villa in trendy St Mary's Bay had been slashed from $1200 to $850.
The letting agent, Huw Evans from the Ponsonby branch of Barfoot & Thompson, said the whole demographic of renting had changed.
Top-end properties were being rented by groups of young professionals instead of families, with rents dropping from $1300-$1500 a week to about $900.
The Crockers figures, compiled from data from the Real Estate Institute and the Department of Building and Housing, show the average weekly rent for a three-bedroom home in blue chip Remuera was $525 last month compared to $630 in March last year, a fall of 17 per cent.
The cost of a similar property in Mt Eden dropped 11 per cent, from $505 to $450, and the decrease in Grey Lynn was 4 per cent, from $570 to $550.
"Tenants are asking for rent reductions, and some of our stock is sticking," said Crockers Property Management business services manager Lisa Sargison. "A few of our properties have been vacant for a couple of weeks."
The managing director of Prime Rentals in Tauranga said landlords were being forced to meet the market across the expanding Bay of Plenty city. Steve Warburton said he had listed a house in Pyes Pa for $590 at the owner's request, despite estimating it could have attracted $900 a year ago.
A house in inner-city Matua was listed for $475, down from $550.
Even the country's adventure tourism capital is suffering.
Queenstown agent Dough MacGillivray said the balance of power in the rental market had swayed in tenants' favour for the first time since the late 1990s.
A three-bedroom house at Lake Hayes Estate that once fetched $500 a week was now listed at $450, and a two-bedroom home in the Pounamu Apartments had dropped from $550-$600 a week to about $450.
The market is holding up in other parts of the country.
Agents in Hamilton reported steady rents and a constant demand from tenants.
In Wellington, Active Property Management owner Mike Seagar said rents had stayed steady and demand high.
But overall it's a good time to be a tenant, as Tanya and Nola Talaepa attest.
The Auckland sisters found a two-bedroom flat in a converted villa with high ceilings and a courtyard for $340 a week.
After some help from estate agent Tamara Willis, they agreed on $300, with water rates included.
Rent man cuts costs
Not every Kiwi is in love with the idea of owning a quarter-acre paradise. Don Brash rents a one-bedroom apartment in Auckland's Viaduct with sweeping views of the Waitemata Harbour.
Despite owning his home for most of his adult life, Brash said he could earn more from the money he would have tied up in a house than he pays in rent. "In that sense it's a natural choice."
Brash warned about the true cost of home ownership during a speech as Reserve Bank Governor in 1999, he described how - with interest rates then at 15 per cent - a $300,000 house would cost $46,000 a year in mortgage payments. With rates and insurance, that house would become an expensive investment.
Brash said that although house prices doubled between 2002 and 2007, that trend would not continue. "There's clearly some potential that they could fall a long way from where they are now." Anna Rushworth
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