SINCE 1997

Prices tipped to a fall as debt burden weighs more heavily

Property prices are being tipped to fall quite sharply in the coming year, just as cost-of-living pressures and rate hikes add to Australians' heightened debt concerns.

Photo of apartments towers taken at 45-degree angle, with stormy skies above.
New lending has tanked just as more than half of borrowers reveal they couldn’t afford, or don’t even know if they could afford, home loan repayments or rent if this cost was to rise by around one third.

Whether because of finance commentators predicting large price falls, perceived economic risks or a reaction to several years of unsustainable capital growth, Australians are taking a step back from the property market.

The amount of new lending signed up by the banks has plummeted as relatively slight price falls incite fears of significant declines in the range of 10 to 15 per cent over the next year.

New lending to owner-occupiers dropped by $1.57 billion (-7.3 per cent) month-on-month and is down $2.92 billion (-12.8 per cent) from a year ago.

Meanwhile, investor lending dropped by $557 million (-4.8 per cent) from the previous month, however, it is up $3 billion (37.1 per cent) compared to April last year.

But first-home buyers, who do not have the built-in cushion of years of capital growth, are shunning the property market in fear of amassing negative equity if prices tank.

The number of owner-occupier first-home buyer loans has dropped by a massive 34.3 per cent in April compared to a year ago. Month-on-month the number of first home buyers is down by 4.4 per cent.

  Value $ Monthly change Year-on-year change
$ % $ %
Total $30.99 billion -$2.13 billion -6.4% $78 million 0.3%
Owner-occupier $19.91 billion -$1.57 billion -7.3% -$2.92 billion -12.8%
Investor $11.08 billion -$557 million -4.8% $3 billion 37.1%

RateCity.com.au research director Sally Tindall said there was an inevitability around the exodus of Australians taking that first step onto the property ladder.

“It’s been a tough slog for first-home buyers trying to get into an overinflated property market, so it’s no surprise to see these numbers dwindle.”

“While it has been a bleak year for first-home buyers, with investors now retreating, they may finally get foot in the door in the coming months if prices do drop.

“The new government’s programs, which include the Help to Buy and Home Guarantee schemes, will get some people onto the property ladder, however, buyers need to be aware of the risks of purchasing a new home in a falling property market with a small deposit,” she said.

It’s not just those tired of renting and aspiring property owners putting buying plans on hold, with investors and those looking to upgrade their home location also taking a breather.

“Buyers are retreating from the market as property prices begin to cool,” Ms Tindall said.

“New lending has nose-dived as droves of potential buyers put their plans on ice while they wait to see what impact the interest rate hikes have on the property market.

“Investor lending has seen its biggest drop since May 2020, when buyers fled the market at the start of COVID when property forecasts looked bleak.

“Many investors are shelving their plans once again while they see how high rates will go and whether the unfavourable property price predictions eventuate,” she said.

Fall that had to come

There is no shortage of analysts or financial institutions predicting an unwinding of some of the meteoric gains that have seen property prices double in many capitals and regional markets over the past few years.

The Commonwealth Bank has forecast capital city market declines of 10 per cent in the coming 12 months, while AMP Capital are even more bearish, saying falls could top out at 15 per cent.

The latest CoreLogic data has shown that property prices fell for the first time in 20 months to the end of May.

The country’s biggest markets led the retreat, with Sydney (-1 per cent), Melbourne (-0.70 per cent) and Canberra (-0.10 per cent) all reporting monthly dips, with the latter experiencing its first drop in three years.  

However, this decline was not universal, with Australia’s less populated locations reporting growth. Adelaide (1.8 per cent), Brisbane (0.8 per cent), Perth (0.6 per cent), Darwin (0.5 per cent) and Hobart (0.3 per cent) all reported lifts over the month, while regional Australia saw upwards momentum of 0.5 per cent. 

Headwinds prominent

Shane Oliver, AMP Capital’s Head of Investment Strategy and Chief Economist, said the subsidence of the property market reflected a combination of poor affordability; rising fixed mortgage rates; monetary tightening from the RBA pushing up variable rates by around 2 per cent out to mid next year; higher listings in Sydney and Melbourne; a rotation in consumer spending back towards services; high inflation which is making it harder to save for a deposit; and a collapse in home buyer confidence.

“Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra are likely to be hardest hit, Brisbane and Adelaide may hold up for a few months longer and Perth and Darwin may hold up better as Perth is only just above its 2014 high and Darwin is still below, while regional prices may also continue to benefit but units may not fall as much as they did not go up as much,” he said.

“Seen in the context of the huge 29 per cent-plus surge in prices since their 2020 low this will just take average prices back to the levels of around March last year, so a big rise in negative equity is unlikely, however, those who purchased in the last 18 months on low deposits are at risk of negative equity.”

If there was to be any respite or tempering of price declines, Mr Oliver said it could come through a rapid surge in immigration, although this is likely to show up initially in higher rents and then higher prices with a lag.

“The new round of 60,000 low deposit home loan guarantees, and 10,000 places in the Government’s “Help to Buy” scheme, will provide some support to property prices but are unlikely to be enough to prevent the unfolding downswing.”

Debt fears

RBA analysis suggests most households are well ahead on their mortgage payments and have built up significant buffers.

But with cost-of-living pressures mounting, the reality for many is that interest rate hikes could prove unaffordable to some.

The Reserve Bank has indicated the cash rate may eventually reach 2.5 per cent, which would see the average variable rate rise from 3.16 per cent to 5.31 per cent. This would see repayments on a 30-year $500,000 loan rise by almost one-third, increasing by $629 to $2,780 per month.

A Canstar survey of 2,334 Australian adults released Monday (6 June) shows 55 per cent couldn’t afford or don’t even know if they could afford home loan repayments or rent if this cost was to rise by around one third. Nearly one fifth (18 per cent) could afford this increase but would need to skimp on other costs to get by. 

Canstar’s Editor-at-Large, Effie Zahos, said consumers are being hit with higher costs from every side.

“When you get hit with higher costs on just about every household bill, juggling the extra costs can become difficult, so consumers need to be efficient with where they redirect any savings. 

“It's not just homeowners doing it tough through higher loan repayments - while interest rates don’t have a direct impact on rental values, they do have some indirect consequences that could see rental prices move even higher.”  

Canstar’s survey also found 60 per cent of Australians think their wages won’t go up enough to cover both rising housing and living costs, while 22 per cent are unsure. Just under one fifth (18 per cent) feel their wages will increase in line with these costs. 

For those looking to build their own home, labour shortages and scarcity of building materials ensure there's no respite from household budgetary constraints.

The cost of building a house skyrocketed by a record $76,715 in April as supply chain issues continued to bite, with more construction firms facing collapse in the coming months amid soaring prices making fixed price contracts unprofitable.

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