After organised settlement of New Zealand began in 1840, land dealings became a central concern for both Māori and Pākehā, and land agents (the forerunners of real estate agents) played a critical role.
From 1840 to the mid-1860s the Crown had the sole right to buy land from Māori, and even after this time it was a significant purchaser of Māori land. Government land agents negotiated with Māori owners, so fluency in the Māori language was an important skill. This remained the case after 1865, when Māori sold directly to individuals as well as the Crown. Often private land agents would also be licensed interpreters, and some Māori became land agents.
Demand for land was often affected by regional events. Gold rushes in Otago led to the expansion of Dunedin in the early 1860s, and there was a boom in property values in Auckland after the end of the Waikato war of 1863–64.
Political policies were also influential. The public works programme initiated by Julius Vogel in the 1870s led to further booms in residential and public building around the country, creating more work for land agents. As well as negotiating land deals, land agents could also be valuers, accountants or auctioneers.
During a real estate boom in Auckland in the 1880s, land agents used all kinds of gimmicks to create interest in properties and subdivisions. Potential buyers were often given free train or bus passes so they could view the land for sale. Sometimes a ‘gala inspection’ was arranged, and people could listen to a brass band while eating a picnic lunch on site. The auctioneer of a Mt Albert estate in 1885 even promised to distribute gold watches and jewellery amongst would-be purchasers.
Real estate companies
Companies were formed to sell subdivisions in cities. Some companies founded in the 19th century were still in existence in the 2000s. For example, the locally owned company of Harcourts began in Wellington in 1888 and gradually expanded. By 2008 it had 450 branch offices spread across New Zealand, Australia, China, Fiji, Indonesia, Singapore and Zambia.
Land Agents Act 1912
The Land Agents Act 1912 was the first law to regulate the work of agents. They had to obtain a licence to do business, and there were penalties for non-compliance with this requirement and for misuse of trust funds.
Real Estate Institute of New Zealand
Some land agents felt that the 1912 act did not provide adequate protection for licensed agents, and did not prevent undesirable people from becoming agents. They also wanted to improve the public reputation of agents, which had been damaged by some shady land deals. These concerns led to the establishment of a national organisation for land agents. Regional associations of land agents and auctioneers in Wellington, Auckland and Waikato banded together to form the Dominion Estate Agents and Land Auctioneers Association in 1915. Other regional associations joined, and in 1923 the association was renamed the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand (REINZ).
One of REINZ’s main aims was for better regulation of the activities of agents. There were some minor changes in the Land Agents Act 1921–22, and the Land Agents Act 1953 recognised the institute and allowed it to manage the professional activities of its members. However, the first major change came with the Real Estate Agents Act 1963. This made it compulsory for licensed real estate agents to be members of REINZ, which was given powers to determine industry standards, set examinations and discipline members. Under the Real Estate Agents Act 1976 an independent licensing board was set up, but REINZ retained its role in regulating the real estate industry.
A new act, the Real Estate Act 2008, came into force in late 2009. REINZ no longer has regulatory powers, but it continued to play an important role as a professional association.