9 years of under-building bite in Sydney | Pete Wargent

It has long been apparent that since 2005 Sydney has not constructing enough dwelling stock to keep pace with the city’s burgeoning population growth, which would inevitably lead to a surge in prices.

Only from 2014 is this finally being addressed by construction ramping up to a pace somewhat more appropriate for the massive and ongoing surge in headcount.

However, it should be emphasised that data released this week showed that the population growth of New South Wales is still tracking at 106,400 per annum, which in absolute terms is the greatest population growth in the country.

By the time the Q4 2014 data has washed through it seems likely that Greater Sydney’s population increased by close to ~90,000 persons in 2014.

Housing finance soaring

Contrary to what you might think, my analysis of the latest Housing Finance data showed that the number of owner occupiers buying into the Sydney market presently remains well below the levels seen in the preceding boom period (and in population-adjusted terms today’s figures would be comparatively lower still).

However, what is certainly the case is that since the middle of 2013 the prices that Sydney homebuyers have been prepared to pay have been rising very sharply.

Meanwhile, investors became wise to the supply shortage and began piling into the market in record numbers. The volume of investor loans is now breaking new highs by the month.

Stock levels remain muffled

Despite rising prices, data compiled by SQM Research has shown that the level of stock on market remains below where it was a year ago, and far beneath the stock on market levels of the only equivalently sized Antipodean city.

We are now at last beginning to see the first impacts of new developments coming online, with a further ~25,000 apartment approvals for Sydney in the past 12 months, and dwelling completions also just beginning to hit their straps.

At the present time vacancy rates in Sydney remain significantly lower than where they were in 2004 at the end of the preceding boom period.


However, vacancy rates are finally being nudged higher around a few key construction hubs, which will put upwards pressure on apartment vacancy rates and an equivalent downwards pressure on unit rents.

These include certain suburbs in the inner west (Erskineville), the inner south (Mascot, Green Square), north Sydney (Chatswood, North Sydney), and the surrounds of Olympic Park (Homebush Bay, Rhodes), to name a few.

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For all that we do need some perspective here.

Nationally, building approvals have smashed an all-time record high at more than 200,000 on a rolling annual basis.

Of these, Greater Sydney has approved 25,440 units and 13,337 houses in the past 12 months.

That’s a jolly good start. Yet even if every single one of those 38,777 approvals makes it through to completion – which they won’t – then in aggregate even this will barely make a dent in Sydney’s inherent supply shortage.
Sure, there are doubtless dozens of vacant apartments up for rent way out at Australia Avenue.
But what impact will this have on what is happening in the more popular established suburbs? Probably somewhere close to zilch, because of the diminished level of substitutability.It has been estimated that Sydney needs some 130,000 new dwellings. I’m not so sure about that, but I do know that it will take more than a few strong months of building approvals to redress an imbalance which was nearly a decade in the making.

Dwelling prices rising

Unsurprisingly, CoreLogic-RP Data records Sydney home values as rising strongly.

Its “Daily Home Value Index” has historically tended to record a mid-year dip which invariably leads to misplaced excitement, so we might expect to see prices on this chart dwindle across the next month or two.


This weekend was the busiest auction weekend ever in Sydney with more than 1,100 properties scheduled to go under the hammer ahead of the traditional Easter break.

All the way back in August 2013 Australian Property Monitors (now under the Domain banner) reported that the auction market had shifted seamlessly from “red hot” to “white hot”.

This weekend’s preliminary result busted all previous records with a massive 87.5 percent clearance rate reported. Domain circumvented the auction heat/pigment conundrum by simply declaring the market as the hottest it has ever seen. Reported Sydney Morning Herald:

“The Domain Group senior economist, Dr Andrew Wilson, says he’s “absolutely astonished”. “This could not have been rationally predicted – the highest clearance rate on the biggest auction day ever. This is the hottest of hot auction markets ever.”

The good Doctor Wilson has courted a little controversy with the introduction of his divisive “Countdown to Sydney $1,000,000 median house price” counter. Based upon current market trends, Dr. Wilson sees this as being 442 days away, though after this weekend’s auction frenzy the $1 million median house price may hove into view sooner still.

Rates to fall further

With sub-trend economic growth, steadily rising unemployment and inflation appearing to remain relatively contained, debate has shifted from not “if” but “when” Australian interest rates will be dropped further.

Meanwhile Chinese port iron ore prices nudged new lows on Friday, with major producers refusing to blink while pumping out millions of tonnes of oversupply,

The US Federal Reserve seeming likely to push out its own interest rate hikes will do little to help the currency cause.

Futures markets are fully pricing in two further cuts and more to the cash rate by the end of the calendar year in Australia.

Commentators are split on whether the next cut will be delivered as soon as April 7, with some arguing that the Reserve Bank (RBA) will be keen to await another round of inflation data.

Others have argued that Sydney’s hot housing market itself could delay further cuts, with the RBA stressing the importance of maintaining lending standards.

As for what might happen to Sydney dwelling prices over the next 18 months or so, it’s impossible to call accurately, but absent an as yet unseen restriction on capital flows, prices are evidently set to rise.

Data providers show gross yields on Sydney apartments as sitting between 4.4 and 4.6 per cent as at the last available reporting date.build plans construction

Given that futures market implied yields suggest that we’re likely to see the lowest nominal mortgage rates we have ever seen over the next 18 months, it seems unlikely that yields will be a metric which acts as an impediment to the Sydney investor stampede just yet.

A simple model shows that if gross rents were to rise by 4 per cent over the next 18 months and investors were prepared to bid gross yields all the way down to 4 per cent, then apartment prices could surge by as much as 14 to 19 per cent higher across that time horizon, adding a further $100,000 to the median apartment price.

Naturally, were such a price boom to occur, reversals could then follow.

Want more of this type of information?

Pete Wargent


Pete Wargent is a Chartered Accountant, Chartered Secretary and has a Financial Planning Diploma. He’s achieved financial freedom at the age of 33 - as detailed in his book ‘Get a Financial Grip – A Simple Plan for Financial Freedom’. Pete now manages his investment portfolio, travels and works as a consultant in the finance industry from time to time. Visit his blog

'9 years of under-building bite in Sydney | Pete Wargent' have 1 comment

  1. April 4, 2015 @ 2:28 pm rod

    Another take on all this is that for a significant portion of its population, Sydney is well on track to become one of the most expensive, unpleasant and unlivable places to live in Australia. Large tracts of the place are currently desolate places devoid of any charm or sense of community. Transport options are sub-standard. Traffic is appalling. Sydney’s urban blight will only get worse as more and more building stock of very dubious quality in unattractive locations with minimal amenity gets built over the next few years creating the slums of tomorrow. Sydney-city of the haves and have nots; of the landed gentry and of the working serfs. A good place to invest? Maybe but longer term it’s an utter dud for all concerned.


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