The Property Market Has Topped

The property market has topped.

Well…that’s what some experts are saying.

Initially analysts at investment bank UBS called the top of the housing market a few weks ago, suggesting both market activity and price growth will now moderate.

This week Corelogic’s stats showed their five city aggregate hedonic home value index has virtually held steady over the last month, with a subtle fall in Sydney values.

Tim Lawless Corelogic’s head of research explained:

“Recent regulatory changes aimed at slowing the pace of investment and interest-only lending have pushed mortgage rates slightly higher and slowed the pace of investment demand. These changes appear to be having a dampening effect on housing market conditions”

Is it time to worry?

Let’s be honest, the last couple of years have been a dream for many property investors.

Money was cheap, banks were falling over each other to lend to investors, our markets were booming (particularly in Sydney and Melbourne) and an underlying shortage of supply together with a rising population created the perfect storm for booming property markets.

But the reality is the market is changing and the conditions which drove the dramatic growth we’ve seen over the last couple of years are not going to take us into the future.

However, we are not going to have a market crash.

So the question is where are we heading now?

I see a period of more moderate property price growth for the rest of the year, followed by a period of stagnating property values and moderate price falls in some areas.

Now this doesn’t mean the sky is falling and we are doomed as some overseas experts are suggesting, but investors won’t be assured of strong capital or rental growth in the immediate future. ( In reality it is never assured!)

This means as we transition through the next stage of the property cycle investors will need to strategically position themselves for the next few years.

What will drive our property markets now.

As always our markets will be driven by broader macro economic factors as well as by local micro economic factors.

At the macro level things like our economy, interest rates, availability of credit, consumer confidence, world economic events, government policies (interference) and external political factors will influence the strength of our real estate markets.

At the local level, economic growth, jobs growth and population growth will drive (or hinder) property price growth. As will the supply and demand ratio of properties.

Property is a game of finance

Every property cycle I’ve invested through over the last 44 years has eventually come to a halt because of finance.

In the old days it was because of a government induced credit squeeze when finance became difficult to obtain.

Since deregulation it has been the RBA raising interest rates which has put an end to each property boom.

But this time around its back to a credit squeeze (I’m surprised no one else has used that term – maybe there are not many of us old enough to remember it) with ASIC’s macro prudential controls forcing banks to tighten the screws on investor lending.

Now this is not a bad thing.

The strength of the Sydney and Melbourne property markets was unsustainable.

And the fact that around half of all purchases in some locations in these cities were made by investors could have lead to unstable markets.

I’d rather see a softening of our markets, as I’m now expecting, in the low interest rate environment as we’re experiencing, rather than a general recession and market crash brought about by high and rising interest rates.

So what’s ahead?

Let’s start by examining some of the factors affecting our property markets.

 1. Subdued economic growth– Australia’s economic growth is below its long-term average and this trend is likely to continue considering the current world economic environment.

This is likely to keep interest rates on hold for the second foreseeable future

2. Jobs growth is very fragmented – almost all the permanent jobs growth is occurring in Victoria and New South Wales which is driving local population growth, the local economy and therefore their property markets.

 And this trend is fragmentation is likely to occur in the foreseeable future.

3. Low inflation – the latest CPI figures show inflation has ticked up a little bit but is still at the lower end of the RBA’s desired range.

This together with our generally weak economy means the RBA is unlikely to raise interest rates anytime soon.

4. Fickle consumer sentiment – our local problems together with the world’s political and economic uncertainty means consumer sentiment has dropped recently.

When people are uncertain, they tend to stop spending

5. More macro prudential controls- even though the RBA are keeping interest rates steady, banks are raising interest rates and tightening serviceability criteria for investors and as I’ve explained this is one of major factors slowing our property markets.

It’s likely that credit will become even more difficult to obtain in the future, before things eventually become easier, so maybe could be a good time to consider fixing a portion of interest rates on your loans.

6. Population growth is slowing and concentrating in areas where jobs are being created – particularly Victoria and NSW (really Melbourne and Sydney)

The bottom line:

Like it or not the markets are moving into a phase of more moderate growth.

Obviously there will be outperformers and underperformers.

As a property investor your job is to find the type of property that will outperform the market averages and remain stable – in other words not fluctuate in price significantly.

This is likely to occur in the areas where economic and jobs growth (basically our service industries) will lead to population growth and property demand, as well as consumer confidence because of job certainty.

In general this will be in the inner and middle ring suburbs of our 3 big capital cities.



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