The Experts

Tim Lawless
+ About Tim Lawless
Tim Lawless heads up the RP Data research and analytics team, analysing real estate markets, demographics and economic trends across Australia.

Houses or Shares: what’s the better investment?

Friday, October 26, 2018

The best way to compare the performance of the two asset classes of the property market or the share market is to reference an accumulation series that includes dividend payments for shares and rental income for housing. This way we can measure the total returns rather than just changes in the asset value.

Plotting the two indices side by side from the commencement date of the series (May 2005) shows housing (+211%) has outperformed shares (+173%) by a reasonable margin. A big part of the outperformance of housing relative to shares can be attributed to the stability of the asset class during the global financial crisis; through 2008, the housing index fell 2.7% while the share price index was down 38.4%.  Post GFC (i.e. from January 2009) shows that share market returns (+158%) have been higher relative to housing (132%).

More recently, with housing values falling and rental yields remaining low, the share market has started to outperform relative to housing.  The past 12 months, to the end of September 2018, saw housing returns track 0.6% lower, while total returns across the ASX/200 were up 14%.

Of course, there are substantial differences in the total return profile between the cities and regions of Australia, just as there are substantial differences between individual companies trading on the ASX.  Over the 12 months to September 2018, total returns on housing across the Australian capital cities ranged from -3.2% in Sydney to +14.7% in Hobart.  Regional markets are generally showing stronger total returns than the capital cities, thanks to generally higher rental yields as well as housing values that have been more resilient to falls.

As the housing market moves through the downward phase, we would expect the total return profile to reduce further. Sydney and Melbourne are already recording negative total returns; a reflection of both falling values and very low rental yields. With limited returns on offer across the housing sector, and potentially changes to taxation polices if we see a change of government, we could see more investors choosing to place their hard earned dollars outside of the housing sector.


Residents flee NSW!

Friday, September 28, 2018

Considering that population growth is essentially a proxy for housing demand, the recent release of demographic statistics for the March quarter by the Australian Bureau of Statistics provides a timely insight about how demand for housing is changing across Australia.  The headline numbers showed a subtle reduction in the pace of population growth, with the annual growth rate sliding from a recent high of 1.72% over the twelve months to March 2017 to 1.55% over the 12 months ending March 2018.  The most recent 12-month period saw an additional 380,722 new residents calling Australia home.

At a national level, Australia’s population growth is primarily driven by overseas migration, which comprised 62% of the annual gain in new residents.  The remaining 38% came from natural increase, or simply the number of births minus the number of deaths over the year.

Although overseas migration is the most meaningful component of national population growth, the number of net migrants has started to ease.  236,800 net migrants arrived over the 12 months to March 2018; 22,800 fewer than the preceding 12-month period.  Additionally, net overseas migration is tracking well below the previous historic high that was recorded over the 12 months ending December 2008.  Despite the slowdown, net overseas migration remains substantially above the long run average, highlighting that migration from overseas is reducing from a high base.

The flow of residents across state borders is also changing the composition of housing demand.  Queensland is the primary beneficiary of interstate migration flows, attracting a net 24,000 new residents from other states — the highest number of net interstate migrants moving to Queensland since 2007.  While interstate migration booms in Queensland, an exodus of migrants from New South Wales is gathering pace.  20,500 net residents left New South Wales for other states, the largest number since 2009.  

Interstate migration remains strong in Victoria, but has been easing over the past 12 months, while in South Australia and Western Australia, the interstate migration trend remains substantially negative but is slowly turning around.  Meanwhile, Tasmania has attracted the highest number of interstate migrants since 2004.

Interstate migration trends are likely being affected by a combination of changing economic conditions coupled with differences in housing affordability.  For example, the blend of stronger jobs growth and relatively healthy housing affordability are likely to be key ingredients attracting more migrants into Queensland from other states.  

Despite the slippage in both overseas and interstate migration rates, Victoria remains the nation’s population growth powerhouse, recording 137,400 new residents over the 12 months to March 2018.  New South Wales is a distant second, recording a 113,000 population increase over the same period.  Although population growth could slip further across the two largest states, it’s likely that ongoing population growth will be a primary factor in supporting a soft landing across the Sydney and Melbourne housing markets.

Overall, despite a reduction in overall population growth, the demand drivers generally remain strong in Australia, but vary remarkably across the regions.  


Will this Spring be a buyers’ market?

Monday, September 03, 2018

As we lead into Spring, there is the predictable hype around the property market; this is the time of the year when we typically see a flurry of listings activity, as vendors take advantage of the warmer weather.  Flowers are starting to bloom, lawns are greener and prospective buyers are more inclined to emerge from their winter hibernation.

While it’s easy to feel exuberant about Spring, the reality is that the next few months may be more of a spring listing season than a spring selling season.  The housing market has been doing it tough through winter; values are trending lower across half of the capital cities, while the other half have seen a reduction in the rate of capital gains.  There are fewer buyers on the ground, with settled sales activity down 12% year-on-year across the combined capitals.  Auction clearance rates have been coasting through the low to mid 50% range across the major auction regions and private treaty sales are taking longer and vendors are having to reduce their initial list price by a larger amount in order to sell.  Although mortgage rates remain very low, housing credit policies are generally tight and investors continue to be charged mortgage rate premiums relative to owner occupiers, which is making it harder for prospective buyers to enter the market. 

Another factor that could exacerbate the already tough conditions as we approach the Spring season is how much housing stock is already for sale.  Total listing numbers are almost 8% higher than a year ago across the combined capital cities, largely driven by a surge in advertised inventory across Sydney where there are 21% more properties available for sale relative to last year and Melbourne where listing numbers are 12% higher than the same time last year.

Advertised stock levels are already trending higher; the first week of July marked the low point in listings activity, which was a week earlier than last year.  Fresh listings have been consistently rising since then.  Importantly, the number of new listings being added to the market is about 4% lower that at the same time last year, implying weaker confidence amongst vendors.  But because the rate of stock absorption has slowed due to fewer buyers and longer selling times, total advertised stock levels are now tracking at the highest level for this time of the year since 2012.

With more stock set to hit the market through Spring, vendors are likely to be more competitive and buyers could be spoilt for choice. 

Prospective buyers can take their time, negotiate harder, and move on to the next property, if they don’t achieve a price they perceive as fair value.  Vendors will need to be realistic about their price expectations and do their absolute best to ensure their property is professionally marketed and presented in its best light.  Overall, while the number of listings is likely to rise through Spring, with values already in decline across the nation, we are not expecting a particularly strong Spring this year.  Furthermore, as auction volumes rise, clearance rates typically fall throughout Spring and we may see them dip below the 50% barrier later this year.


Who’s still hungry for property?

Thursday, August 16, 2018

One of the key drivers of housing demand over the past year has been the rebound in demand from the first home buyer segment.  In June 2018, there were 9,541 owner occupier first home buyer finance commitments.  The number of first home buyer commitments fell by -7.4% over the month however, as a share of all owner occupier housing finance commitments first home buyers accounted for 18.1% which was their greatest share since October 2012. 

The rebound in demand from first home buyers has largely emanated from NSW and Victoria.  Again, although the number of commitments has generally fallen over the past month, as a share of total owner occupier commitments, first home buyers increased.  The 14.8% share of owner occupier commitment to first home buyers in NSW was the highest share since February 2018 and the second highest share on a monthly basis since October 2012.  In Victoria, first home buyers accounted for 19.6% of owner occupier finance demand, its greatest share since July 2013.  The share of owner occupier housing finance commitments to first home buyers in June 2018 was higher than the same time last year in all states and territories except for Queensland and the ACT.

Along with the increasing share of commitments going to first home buyers, owner occupier first home buyers are increasingly borrowing larger sums to enter into the market.  As at June 2018, the average loan size for a first home buyer was $349,800, which was both an historic high and 10.1% higher year-on-year.  By comparison, the average loan size for a non-first home buyer owner occupier was a higher $406,900 but up by a lower 5.5% over the past year. 

Across the individual states and territories, average first home buyer loan sizes have increased across the board over the past year.  Considering that dwelling values are falling nationally, it seems somewhat counter-intuitive that borrowers would need to take out larger loans to enter the market.  In NSW and Victoria, state governments have removed stamp duty for buyers under certain price thresholds which potentially means they feel they can borrow more for their purchase.  Across the states and territories, the year-on-year changes in average first home buyer loan sizes were: +5.6% in NSW, +12.1% in Vic, +3.5% in Qld, +12.2% in SA, +4.5% in WA, +18.0% in WA, +1.5% in NT and +15.1% in ACT.

With national dwelling values falling, the data highlights that much of the weakening demand for housing is coming from the investor segment. Keep in mind that over recent year’s investor participation in the market has been at historic high levels. Owner occupier demand is also easing albeit at a much more moderate pace than investor demand. While owner occupier demand is easing overall, first home buyer demand has strengthened over the past year. With dwelling values declining, it is a little concerning that buyers that typically have relatively little equity are entering a declining market and increasingly borrowing larger sums to enter the market. With value declining they run a significant risk of seeing their overall wealth decline as housing values trend lower. The data indicates that more seasoned market participants, such as owner occupier upgraders and investors, are taking a more cautious approach to a market which is in the early stages of value decline. First home buyers might be wise to take a similar approach as housing market conditions continue to ease.


Is it time to consider the Brisbane apartment market?

Monday, July 23, 2018

There is no doubt that the Brisbane apartment market has been doing it tough.  High supply levels across key inner-city suburbs coupled with soft economic conditions, relatively low investment activity and soft rental conditions have resulted in Brisbane unit values consistently falling.  In fact, based on CoreLogic’s hedonic index results for June ‘18, Brisbane unit values were 10.6% lower than their previous peak, which was more than ten years ago in March 2008.

While high supply levels persist, Brisbane’s construction cycle for units has been winding down for almost two years.  As at March this year, there were 22,900 units underway across Queensland, with the majority of these projects based in Brisbane; 30% below the September 2016 peak when 32,550 units were being built.

As construction winds down, population growth is ramping up, providing additional demand for housing.  Queensland is leading the nation for interstate migration, with residents arriving from other states and territories reaching the highest level since December 2005. 

CoreLogic indices have already shown some early signs of a recovery across the Brisbane unit market.  Unit values are up 1.2% over the first half of 2018, outperforming the detached housing sector where values have remained virtually flat (+0.1%) and annual growth has moved back into positive territory. 

Buyers are likely to be attracted to the fact that unit prices are currently roughly equivalent to what people were paying in mid-2007.   There is also the strong rental yield, which is averaging 5.3% gross across the Brisbane apartment market; 153 basis points higher than Sydney yields and 132 basis points higher than Melbourne yields.  The higher yield, lower entry point and potentially stronger growth prospects may pique the interest of investors, especially considering the dimmer prospects for value growth in Sydney and Melbourne, as these markets move through their down phase.

Prospective buyers should still use some caution, particularly around the inner-city markets where supply levels remain high.  Buyers are certainly in the driver’s seat, so vendors will need to be realistic about their price expectations and expect some tough negotiation to be had. 



The 3 factors driving regional markets to outperform the capitals

Thursday, June 28, 2018

The past decade has seen capital city housing markets well and truly outpace their regional counterparts.  While capital city dwelling values have risen at the annual pace of 4.3% between May 2008 and May 2018, the regional areas of Australia have recorded an average annual rise of just 1.5%. But this is all starting to change.

The dramatic capital gains in Sydney and Melbourne over the past two growth cycles has been the primary driver of higher capital city performance. Dwelling values have risen at the annual compounding pace of 6.1% and 5.8% respectively across Sydney and Melbourne over the past decade, while the regional areas of both states have seen values rise by a much lower 3.4% and 3.8% per annum. 

Things are different now. While values are falling in Sydney and Melbourne, regional markets have shown a recent accelerating trend in capital gains. There are three factors helping to drive this new outperformance.

1.     Cities adjacent to Sydney and Melbourne have benefitted from a ripple of demand away from the metro areas towards areas where housing is more affordable and critical amenities such as transport options, schools and health care are less congested.  Geelong is now one of the best performing regions nationally, with values rising at 10.2% per annum. The Capital Region of NSW, which includes Queanbeyan and Goulburn, has seen values rise 6.3% the past twelve months and Newcastle has seen a 5.2% rise in values. Each of these areas, and similar locations such as Ballarat and Wollongong, have their own economic drivers and challenges, but also offer up the opportunity for more affordable housing opportunities as well as commuting options. 

2.     Lifestyle markets are benefitting from stronger demand as baby boomers look for retirement options and equity spills out the South Eastern capitals to fund second homes and investments. The Southern Highlands and Shoalhaven in NSW have returned the third highest rate of capital gain across the regional areas of Australia over the past twelve months, with values up 6.8%. The Sunshine Coast has seen values jump 5.8% and Coffs Harbour is up 5.3%. Coastal markets located within reasonable driving distance from the large capital cities seem to be performing the best, however if the growth trend continues we may see demand rippling into areas located a further distance or those areas close to airports such as the Whitsundays, Cairns and Ballina.

3.     The mining regions have acted as a drag on the broader regional market growth rates, however most of the regions intrinsically linked with the mining sector are now levelling out, or moving into the early phases of what is likely to be a long and gradual recovery. Dwelling values in some mining regions, like Western Australia’s Pilbara and the Central Highlands of Queensland, remain more than 60% below their peak values, however values are now levelling or, in some cases, starting to rise. Considering the massive fall in values across some of these regions, although values are no longer falling, the recovery phase will take a long time.

Overall, I'm expecting the regional markets of Australia will broadly continue to outperform the capital cities due to the factors highlighted above. Additionally, low mortgage rates will continue to support demand, albeit with some offset being felt in tighter credit conditions and a lot more scrutiny around borrower serviceability. 


Sydney investors see the first annual negative total returns since the GFC

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

With dwelling values substantially outpacing rents over the past six years, rental yields have been crushed to record lows in Sydney. Over the past five years, Sydney dwelling values have increased at four times the rate of rental increases, pushing yields to a recent record low of just 3.04% in July last year.  Since that time, Sydney dwelling values have been trending lower, falling by almost 5%.  With weekly rents only rising by half a percent since that time, yields remain only marginally higher relative to their record lows.

The average gross yield on a Sydney house is tracking at 2.96% and units are showing a slightly higher yield profile at 3.76%. Against this low yield profile, dwelling values are now falling on annual basis, down 3.4% over the 12 months ending April 2018.  The byproduct of low yields and negative annual movements in dwelling values is that Sydney’s total return has slipped into negative territory for the first time since the market was emerging from the Global Financial Crisis in early 2009.

Considering rental growth is sluggish across Sydney (dwelling rents were up only 1.2% over the past twelve months) and dwelling values are likely to trend lower over the coming months, I would expect the total return profile for Sydney to weaken further. 

While many investors tend to overlook weak yields, focusing more on the prospects for capital gains and relying on taxation policies to offset their cash flow loss, it’s surprising to see housing finance data indicating that investors still comprise slightly more than half of new mortgage demand across New South Wales. 

Investment across New South Wales peaked in early 2015. At that time, investors comprised almost 64% of new mortgage demand.  As macroprudential regulations impacted on credit availability and mortgage rates for investors, participation from this segment of the market has slowed but remains high from an historical perspective.  Over the long-term, investors have averaged 37.4% of new mortgage lending in New South Wales compared to their 50.2% currently.  Tighter credit policies for investors have been the primary driver of slowing Sydney’s exuberant housing market, however, considering the high concentration of investment based on the latest housing finance data, investors still seem to be attracted to the Sydney market despite its high buy in price, low yield profile and muted prospects for capital gains. 

There could be some further headwinds for investors as we approach a federal election sometime in the next twelve months.  It’s almost a certainty that debate around negative gearing policies and capital gains tax concessions will be front and centre.  With rental yields close to record lows in Sydney and Melbourne, and generally low across most capital cities, we could see investment confidence dented further during the campaign period and significantly reduced if these policies are changed. 

Considering investors still comprise roughly half of new mortgage demand in Sydney, and nationally investors account for 43% of new mortgage demand nationally, a further reduction in activity could prolong the housing market downturn.


Keep a close eye on credit availability to spot housing market turning points

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

It’s intuitive that housing market conditions would have a close relationship with credit flows; when funds are flowing freely and rates are low, home buyers and investors step up their presence in the housing market and when credit is harder to come by or more expensive, things slow down.  Since 2015, things have become a bit more complex, and the correlation between dwelling value appreciation and housing credit has become tighter; especially when measured against investment credit.

Since macro prudential measures were announced and implemented by APRA, the trends in housing related credit have changed remarkably.  Soon after APRA announced the ten percent annual speed limit for investment lending in December 2014, investment housing finance commitments peaked at 55% of mortgage demand and investment credit growth moved through a cyclical peak rate of annual growth at 10.8%.  Around the same time, the quarterly rate of home value appreciation peaked in Sydney and Melbourne; the two cities where investment has been most concentrated.

As credit policies were tightened in response to the APRA limits, then loosened as lenders overachieved their APRA targets, the housing market responded virtually in concert.  Interest rate cuts in May and August of 2016 helped to support a rebound in the pace of capital gains, however as lenders came close to breaching the 10% limit, at least on a monthly annualised basis, credit once again tightened and the second round of macro prudential, announced in March 2017, saw credit availability restricted further. 

The result of changes in credit availability has been evident across most housing markets, but is very clear in Sydney and Melbourne; dwelling values started to track lower in Sydney from July last year and peaked in Melbourne in November last year.

More recently, there are some early signs that Sydney’s housing market is already achieving a soft landing, probably earlier than expected.  The monthly rate of decline has eased from 0.9% in December and January to reach 0.6% in February and 0.3% in March.  The easing rate of decline comes as investment credit flows have ticked up a notch and some lenders have announced a reduction in the mortgage rate premiums being paid by investors and interest only borrowers.

Whether the improvement in Sydney’s housing market is temporary or not will be largely dependent on credit policies.  It’s hard to imagine any lender would be aggressively ramping up their share of investment loans, despite the fact that APRA benchmarks have been so comprehensively achieved.  Investment credit growth is currently tracking at just 2.8% per annum and interest only originations were tracking at around 15% in December last year; roughly half the 30% APRA benchmark.  Despite over shooting the benchmarks, considering the Royal Commission is under way and there is a great deal of focus on lending practices, the likelihood is that investment related credit may step up a notch, but not likely enough to cause a sharp rebound in housing market conditions like what we saw through 2016.



Is now the time to buy an inner city apartment?

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Inner city apartment markets have been under the spotlight for all the wrong reasons over recent years, especially in Brisbane and Melbourne.  Despite all the negative attention, the residential unit sector looks to be moving through the worst of the supply pipeline.  

Here's why: Unit construction peaked across Victoria two years ago (March 2016) when almost 48,000 units were being built and the construction cycle peaked six months later in Queensland (Sep '16) when there was almost 32,300 units under construction.  

Based on the most up to date data available, unit construction activity in Victoria has reduced by 11% since peaking and in Queensland there are 21% fewer units being built relative to the recent peak.  

While the pipeline of unit supply is winding down across the most oversupplied markets, there has also been  subtle improvements in many of the underlying indicators we use to monitor the health of housing markets. 

Firstly, our measure of capital gains: the CoreLogic home value index, has been showing an improving trend across the unit sector of Australia's largest cities.  This doesn't necessarily mean that unit values are rising, however in Sydney and Melbourne, unit values have been more resilient to falls and in Brisbane the rate of decline has started to ease off after almost two years of unit values trending lower. 

Additionally, there has been an improvement in the proportion of off the plan valuations coming in lower than the contract price.  This has been one of the key pain points for many off the plan buyers; at the time of settlement the valuation comes in lower than the contract price. 

When a valuation comes in low, the lender may seek a larger deposit to maintain the loan to valuation ratio on the loan and/or the buyer is likely to be less willing to settle on the property.

Based on metadata from CoreLogic valuation platforms, in August last year, 60% of Brisbane off the plan units were settling with a valuation that was lower than the contract price. 

The latest data through to the end of February shows valuations less than the contract price had reduced to 47% of off the plan unit settlements.  In Melbourne this measure peaked at 54% in late 2016 and has since reduced to just 23%. 

Another measure we follow closely in apartment resales.  Across the Melbourne's unit market, loss making resales have reduced from 12% of all re-sold units in June 2016 to 8% at the end of 2017.  Brisbane is yet to see a peak in loss making resales, with 26% of all unit resales transacting at a loss over the December quarter of last year which is a record high. Considering that many units are selling at a price lower than what their owners originally paid, there is likely to be some bargains to be had.

Other factors likely to be providing some level of support for the unit markets in these cities include higher rental yields relative to houses, more appeal to buyers on a budget thanks to the lower entry point compared with houses and strong demand from both overseas and interstate migration in Melbourne and Brisbane.

Personally, I would still be using a high degree of caution if buying into either of these apartment markets, especially apartment stock that is focused purely on investor target markets and those that offer little in the way of differentiation.  

Unit projects built by developers with a solid track record of quality developments that have a broad appeal to owner occupiers and investors and where the site is strategically located may be worth considering.   


2018 outlook: No lifeline for the property market

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Australia’s housing market performance is likely to deliver quite a different result in 2018 relative to previous years as we see lower to negative growth rates across previously strong markets, more cautious buyers, and regulator vigilance around credit standards and investor-generated activity. 

While a gradual transition, the weaker housing market conditions are to continue throughout 2018.  From a macro perspective, in late 2016 we saw a noticeable peak in the pace of capital gains across Australia with national dwelling values rising at the rolling quarterly pace of 3.7%.  2017 then saw growth rates and transactional activity gradually lose steam, with national month-on-month capital gains slowing to 0% in October and November while Sydney values started to edge lower from September.

An examination of the history of previous housing cycles gives us some clues about what we can expect. 

Namely, the most recent national housing downturn occurred for a brief period between September 2015 and March 2016 when dwelling values nationally fell 1%.  This temporary fall was due largely to tighter credit conditions as a result of the first round of macro prudential changes announced by APRA in December 2014. However, the market rebounded on the back of a 50 basis point reduction in interest rates and renewed availability of investment credit once lenders had comprehensively achieved the APRA mandate of less than 10% growth in investment lending. 

The previous downturn in 2010 was much more organic. National dwelling values fell by 6.5% between mid-2010 and February 2012, ranging from a 10.6% fall in Brisbane to a 3.7% decline in Sydney.  This downturn was due to a removal of first home buyer stimulus coupled with the RBA lifting interest rates from generational lows following the financial crisis.  Recent downturns were also recorded in 2008 when national dwelling values fell 7.9% and in 2004 when values edged 2.6% lower nationally.

While conditions were very different across each of these periods of a falling dwelling values environment, the lesson here is that the housing market is cyclical, with its cycles generally heavily influenced by either monetary policy (rising/falling interest rates), policy changes (for example the latest rounds of macroprudential changes or shifts in taxation policy) or by economic shocks such as the global financial crisis.

The primary driver for a new phase in the current housing cycle is tighter credit policies.  The first round of macroprudential measures introduced by APRA in December 2014 resulted in a temporary slowdown in the market, however a loosening of credit availability and lower mortgage rates threw a lifeline to the housing market.  We don’t expect to see a lifeline thrown to the residential property market in 2018. 

Credit policies are likely to remain tight, with regulators keeping a watchful eye out for a rebound in investment credit growth or a reversal in the trend towards fewer mortgages with a loan to valuation ratio of more than 80%.

Interest rates will stay on hold in 2018.  If higher interest took effect, rates would stifle household consumption and business investment and could cause financial distress amongst a highly indebted household sector, however rates aren’t likely to fall due to concerns of refueling the controlled slowdown in the housing market.

National dwelling values will fall further in 2018, driven lower by falls across Sydney and to a lesser extent, Melbourne.  After values surged 75% higher over Sydney’s growth cycle and 59% higher across Melbourne, it’s rational to expect some slippage in dwelling values across these cities.  The remaining capital cities are likely to see more positive conditions. 

The pace of capital gains has been sustainable across Brisbane and considering the improving labour market and rising migration rates, we could potentially see Brisbane record a higher rate of growth in 2018 compared with 2017.  New investment-grade unit developments around key inner city precincts are likely to be the weak link across the Brisbane housing market.

Adelaide’s housing market has also recorded a sustainable pace of capital gains over the past five years, however economic conditions and demographic trends aren’t as strong as Brisbane’s.  The second half of 2017 saw the pace of capital gains easing across Adelaide which may continue into 2018, although we would be surprised if values trended lower over the year.

The Perth housing market is moving through the bottom of its cycle, with dwelling values edging slightly higher towards the end of 2017 after falling 11% since values peaked in 2014.  The recovery phase is likely to be a gradual one for Perth, with a large amount of detached housing supply around the outer fringes of the metro area likely to weigh down the headline figures.    

Hobart’s housing market is experiencing dramatic growth that is unlikely to be sustained.  Dwelling values were up approximately 11% in 2017 which came after a long period of sedate housing market conditions.  The trend rate of growth had shown signs of slowing over the final quarter of 2017 and dwelling values are likely to continue rising but probably not at a double digit annual pace. 

The Darwin housing market is continuing to move through a material correction, with dwelling values down 21% since peaking in early 2014.  Migration rates are yet to see a turnaround while simultaneously, annual jobs growth is negative which suggests the market will remain weak until we see a turnaround in the local economy.  The final quarter of 2017 showed no indication that the downwards trend in housing values was turning around, however transactional volumes have started to edge higher and rental yields are amongst the highest of any capital city which may be attractive to investors and owner occupiers.

Canberra’s housing market has shown reasonably strong growth conditions, however there were signs in late 2017 that growth rates were starting to ease as credit conditions tightened.  Despite relatively high housing prices, the Canberra housing market remains affordable compared with larger capital cities, thanks to higher household incomes.  Rental yields remain well above the national average suggesting rents and dwelling values are reasonably balanced.

Australia’s regional housing markets can loosely be divided amongst satellite cities adjacent to the major capitals, mining intensive areas, regional lifestyle markets and rural/agricultural markets. 

While agricultural areas are more dependent on weather events and global demand for farming products, mining regions have generally shown an improving trend as values bottom out after a long and substantial decline.  Many of the worst hit mining areas are now seeing inventory levels reduce and transaction numbers rise which is supporting a gradual improvement in dwelling values.  The road to recovery is likely to be a long one for many of these regions however, high commodity prices, a lower Australian dollar and improving levels of investment should support a strengthening trend in these areas. 

On the other hand, lifestyle markets have benefitted from the improved wealth positions of property owners in Sydney and Melbourne; this has been the catalyst for healthier tourism trends.  After dwelling values across most lifestyle markets trended lower after 2008, these regions are generally recording strong demand and rising values which is likely to continue in 2018.

Satellite cities such as Newcastle, Geelong and Wollongong have started to outperform their capital city counterparts thanks to better affordability, improved transport linkages and a spillover of demand from the metro areas of the capital cities.  While growth probably won’t be as strong in 2018, there is a likelihood that these regional markets will continue to show a higher rate of capital gain relative to the adjacent capital cities thanks to the diverse buyer demand and better affordability.  Similarly in Queensland, the Gold and Sunshine Coasts have both recorded stronger rates of annual growth than Brisbane.  The growth in these markets is not being driven by a spillover from Brisbane but rather growing demand from interstate buyers for properties to both live and invest in.

Overall, 2018 is set to be a quieter year for the property market.  Previous downturns have seen the annual number of sales fall by around 20-25% from peak to trough; considering the cyclical peak in transactional activity occurred over the twelve months ending August 2015, year on year transactional activity is already 13.2% lower than the most recent peak. 

Industries reliant on housing turnover, such as real estate agencies, valuers, brokers and peripheral services such as pest and building inspectors and conveyancers could be in for a leaner year in some markets.  Businesses seeking to maintain their revenue uplift will need to work smarter and look for new ways to improve their overall market share.

With sales transactions are already down nationally, some markets are bucking the trend.  Year on year sales activity increased across four of the eight capital cities in 2017, including Perth, Darwin, Adelaide and Hobart where demand is generally rising from a lower base. 

While our outlook for next year may not be all that uplifting, relative to 2017, there are plenty of factors that will work to keep a floor under housing demand.

Although credit polices are likely to remain tight, mortgage rates will remain low in 2018, providing a positive lending environment for those who are able to secure credit. 

Regulators and policy makers will be encouraging households who hold high levels of debt to reduce their exposure while rates remain low.  Household debt levels are at record highs, a factor which has been called out by the Reserve Bank repeatedly, as well as international institutions such as the OECD, BIS and IMF.  With interest rates remaining low, the opportunity for households to pay down debt could come at the expense of broader spending on retail and discretionary items.

Prospective borrowers, particularly investors, may find securing a mortgage won’t get any easier in 2018, with APRA restrictions on both investment related credit growth and interest only loan settlements remaining in place.  Additionally, lenders are likely to be more cautious around lending in higher risk areas such as inner city apartment markets where current and pending supply pipelines are substantial.

Labour markets have tightened, with a new trend towards more full-time jobs rather than part-time.  Jobs growth is becoming broader based, ramping up in the previously weak states of Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia.  A firmer labour market will help to support consumer confidence and mortgage serviceability and potentially place some upwards pressure on the near-to record low levels of wages growth. 

Migration rates have been trending higher which may continue into 2018, providing a driver for housing demand.   Overseas migration into Victoria and New South Wales reached record highs in 2018 and interstate migration has been on a clear upwards trajectory across Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania and the ACT. 

In summary, CoreLogic is expecting softer housing market conditions through 2018, driven by a continuation of the slowdown that is clearly evident across Sydney and to a lesser extent, Melbourne.  While the headline figures are set to weaken, below the surface the individual cities and regions of Australia will continue to operate under their own distinct cycles which are subject to more localised forces of demand and supply. 



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Buyers stamped out of property market

Housing market downturns: Lessons from history

Investors strike back in property market

Property lessons to learn from listing numbers

Do property prices double every decade?

Spectacular investment trend for self-managed super funds

A step towards affordable housing

Are first home buyers really locked out of the market?

Do we need a broader based property tax?

Housing prices across Australia

Regional markets offer growth

The rundown on rental yields