SINCE 1997

What do interest rate hikes mean for property prices?

With so many economic variables on the extreme of their normal trajectory, predicting the severity and duration of any impact on the property market is all the more challenging.

3D render of a graph depicting declining property prices.
Property prices are falling but so is affordability, as more income is required to meet rising borrowing costs.

Unprecedented is a word that got worn out during the coronavirus pandemic.

But in finance circles it’s back with a vengeance.

Interest rates are being lifted at an unprecedented pace. The same adjective has been applied to the fall that property prices may be facing.

The gap between wage growth and inflation? The proportion of borrowers living in the mortgage stress zone? Yep, that word again. Unprecedented.

But with the RBA again taking the interest rates sledgehammer to inflation with its fourth successive month of increases (unprecedented!), millions of Australians are wondering just how far property prices could feasibly fall as the cash rate deterrent kicks in.

According to most bank forecasts, the cash rate could rise at least another 75 basis points before peaking.

The decline in housing values is expected to become steeper and geographically more widespread. 

So, is property in for a soft landing or unprecedented slump?

Nationally, home values are already falling at the fastest pace since the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), while Sydney values are declining at the fastest pace since at least the early 1980s, having fallen 5.3 per cent since peaking in mid-February, with most of that decline (4.8 per cent) occurring since May’s cash rate increase.

The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures show the value of new loan commitments fell 4.4 per cent, while investor loans dropped by 6.3 per cent as rising inflation and interest rates start to bite.

REIA President, Mr Hayden Groves said that while lending commitments fell, they are still above pre-pandemic levels with owner occupier loans 50 per cent higher and new investor loans 101 per cent higher.

The latest rate hike is likely to further subdue the rate of rising house prices, he added.

Mr Groves said housing affordability remains a concern, with the number of loan commitments to first-home buyers falling by 8.0 per cent despite government incentives to stimulate this sector.

“Housing affordability declined over the March quarter, with the proportion of income required to meet loan repayments increasing to 37.3 per cent, an increase of 0.2 percentage points and it is expected this trend will stabilise as housing price growth becomes more realistic.

“Given RBA’s assertive attempt to curb inflation by successive raising of interest rates, real estate prices can be expected to stabilise after mammoth and unprecedented growth across the capital cities,” he said.

Tim Lawless, Research Director at CoreLogic, said the trajectory of home values will depend on how fast and how high interest rates move, along with the performance of the broader economy, labour markets and demographic trends.

“Sensitivity of highly indebted households, and dampened consumption resulting from lower house prices means the RBA may continue watching the housing market closely,” Mr Lawless said.

“As the cash rate finds a ceiling, that will probably be the cue for housing values to find a floor.”

The title of the latest economic outlook from investment and advisory group Jarden says it all.

In their research paper titled Faster rate hikes see house price falls accelerate, Jarden Chief Economist, Carlos Cacho, said they expect a peak-to-trough decline in house prices of 15-20 per cent, which would be the largest correction since the 1980s.

Sydney and Melbourne are likely to fare worse given stretched affordability and the likely large impact of rate hikes, Mr Cacho said.

“Given the faster pace of rate hikes and accelerating house price falls, we now expect falls to occur faster, with prices down 10 per cent in 2022 (was -5 per cent) and 5-10 per cent in 2023 (was 10-15 per cent).”

“We expect regulator APRA (Australian Prudential Regulation Authority) lowering the serviceability buffer from 3 per cent to 2 per cent to provide some support.

“Indeed, we see the policy response from regulators being the key determinant of how far prices fall, with easing from APRA/RBA in 2023 key in our view to avoiding larger 20 per cent-plus falls and putting a floor under the housing market.”

Investors bailing out

Loan repayments have risen by $500 per month since April for a borrower with a 30-year $500,000 mortgage as rising rate cycle continues to claw at household budgets.

This is the first time in almost three decades that the cash rate has risen at such a rapid pace and may put a dampener on the property selling season this coming spring, says Canstar. 

“Challenged by successive rate rises, the housing market is showing signs that the expected correction is underway — house prices have started to fall, especially in Sydney and Melbourne, and auction clearance rates are down,” Canstar’s finance expert Steve Mickenbecker said.

“With more rate increases ahead, buyers and sellers are nervous about what is to come from this year’s spring selling season.

“Investors, who were previously the most bullish sector, are leading the exit,” he said.

Investor lending dropped by $707.0 million, down 6.3 per cent, this month. It is still up $1.54 billion, or 17.3 per cent, compared to a year ago.

According to the ABS lending indicators for June, released Tuesday, owner-occupier lending also fell $707.4 million – a 3.3 per cent drop – from the previous month.

RateCity.com.au research director, Sally Tindall, said, “The value of new home loans will likely continue to fall as the property market cools.”

“Many people who were looking to buy homes have put their house-hunting plans on hold and are waiting for prices to drop further before jumping in,” she said.

Timing a market entry or exit is an inexact science but Tim McKibbin, CEO, Real Estate Institute of NSW, said the subdued environment for real estate transactions will likely continue through to spring, when he expects listings to tick back up again.

“It’s no secret that prices are easing, interest rates are on the rise and international events are adversely affecting the cost of living,” he said.

“In these circumstances, it’s not surprising that some buyers have become inactive, preferring to adopt a wait and see approach.

“However, for those buyers who remain in the market, there’s reduced competition for the available property which is useful leverage for buyers to draw on at the negotiating table.

“Others are taking a calculated risk and choosing to bide their time to see if prices will moderate further.

“There is no perfect strategy — it depends on the specific circumstances of the buyer and the property they are seeking to acquire.”

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