The housing market slowdown in Melbourne and Sydney is dominating headlines, but the reality is the market is highly divergent. On one hand, Sydney prices have declined by 7.4% year-on-year, while on the other extreme, Hobart continues to surge, with prices rising by 16.1%.
Pricing data is consistent with what we are observing based on over 80 million searches to the ‘buy’ section of realestate.com.au last quarter (REA Internal data, Adobe Analytics, search results successful – Apr-Jun). Across all measures of demand – including buyer demand, rental demand and property seekers from offshore – Sydney is experiencing the biggest drawbacks.
Melbourne is still holding. Pricing is up year-on-year and although activity among offshore buyers is cooling off, foreign investors are still actively looking for properties in the city. Softening market conditions are now starting to take hold and, surprisingly, given the widespread concern about apartment over-supply, in relative terms, it is housing demand that has weakened more. While Melbourne and Sydney slow, demand is creeping up in Perth. Although prices are still down year-on-year, the increase in demand is now the third highest in Australia, after Hobart and Canberra. Brisbane is experiencing similar increases, also suggesting that the tough times are over in the city, which is consistent with recent jobs growth numbers.
Generally, across Australia, the premium market is holding up better than more affordable locations, however it is too simplistic to say that it’s the only market doing well. The strongest suburb over the past 12 months was Tamarama in Sydney’s east, which saw a median price increase of more than $1 million.
Fewer offshore investors: Last year, new taxes were implemented in many capital cities and Foreign Investment Review Board applications dropped dramatically. Foreign buyers are still interested in Australian property (we continue to see growing numbers of Asian property seekers looking in all capital cities, except Sydney and Adelaide), however they are not transacting. While the new taxes are partly to blame, a change in sentiment has also occurred. There is also less development taking place (foreign buyers are restricted to buying new properties), as well as fewer Chinese developers. Property is now on the restricted list in China and more often than not, Chinese developers tend to sell back to their home market.
Fewer local investors: Investor lending has dropped by 15% over the past 12 months and sentiment of local investors has changed. A lot of this has to do with problems related to getting finance (far more restrictive and more expensive), but many of the incentives that investors got on off-the-plan developments, for example, are no longer available. The beginning of price declines is only worsening the situation.
Financial Services Royal Commission: This is currently underway and although it won’t be completed until late this year, banks are already starting to restrict lending on the back of what they expect to happen. The biggest impact right now is greater scrutiny of potential borrowers’ spending behaviour. Previously, banks mostly accepted what people said they spent at face value, however they now require more proof. Interest-only loans have also been restricted and many investors had relied on these. It is likely even greater restrictions will be put in place over the next 12 months.
Mortgage rates: Australian rates aren’t budging but US rates are increasing. Australian banks raise about 20% of funds that they lend to Australians from wholesale markets, so this is impacting mortgage rates already. Add in an interest rate rise and we will see less money being borrowed, as well as lower levels of interest in buying a house.
Change of government: A federal election will happen in the next 12 months and changes to negative gearing have been flagged by the ALP. This would have a big impact on the market, with an expected decrease in prices of about 10% in Sydney and Melbourne, according to Riskwise and Wargent Consulting. If markets are already weak and dropping, this could have a dramatic impact on investment levels and, subsequently, prices.
The likely outcome over the next six months is continued moderation of pricing in Melbourne and Sydney, while our other markets will hold up a lot better. Predictions that median prices will decline by about 10% seems a bit light in Sydney, given that prices have already dropped by more than 7%. Melbourne is likely to see declines this year, however, at this stage, it is unlikely to be as extreme as in Sydney, particularly given that on a year-on-year basis, we are still seeing a very slight increase.
On the positive side, the Australian economy is very slowly heading back to growth mode and as the development pipeline has slowed dramatically, particularly for apartments, this means less property will be available to buy. These will provide buffers to negative changes in the market, something that was not occurring the last time we saw big declines post the Global Financial Crisis.