Australia has had a boom and gloom economy over the past year. On the one hand our economy still grew – unlike many others around the world –underpinned by a resources boom. But on the other hand, consumers and businesses were gloomy.
And it was much the same with property. Some areas fared well through the year, but many didn’t.
However looking back, 2012 will be remembered as the year the property market turned.
It didn’t crash like many property pessimists predicted. Sure it stalled in some areas, dropped a little in others and prices fell significantly in a few spots, but in the middle of the year things slowly started to change.
So what gives?
Our property markets started the year in a tug of war caught between falling interest rates on the one hand and market uncertainty on the other.
There were concerns of a meltdown in Europe that could bring the financial system to its knees as well as worries about the US economy. The European economy is still a “basket case” and will remain so for years, however the major risks to the financial system seem to have been averted and over the year the USA economy has improved, albeit slowly.
However we have something new to worry about – the health of our resources boom has come into question. The Chinese economy, the powerhouse behind our resources boom, slowed down during the year and falling commodity prices and high costs of production have brought concerns about the future of many of Australia’s major mining projects.
What happened in our property market?
We started the year with more properties on the market than there were buyers as many potential home owners and investors stood on the sidelines, too nervous to make a decision waiting for the market to bottom.
Of course it’s not really as simple as that because there is not one property market.
Well priced properties in prime locations and with an element of scarcity in the middle price range (say $450,000 – $850,000) have still been selling well; even though clearly there was less interest from both owner occupiers and investors than before.
However “B” & “C” class properties have not been not selling well. Nor have expensive properties in our more affluent suburbs or holiday properties. Some dropped in value by up to 10% and some couldn’t be given away.
Well…it wasn’t really as bad as that, unless you were in some remote regional location, but you’d have to give a very steep discount for someone to buy them.
Then things changed:
Eventually a combination of increasing affordability due to higher wages, lower prices and falling interest rates brought buyers back into the market heralding an upwards trend in values from around the end of May.
How did things finish off?
The latest figures from RPData up till the end of November show that capital city home values remain -5.6% lower than their historic highs of 15 November 2010, but up 2% from their low of late May 2012.
More good news
Another positive sign is that the level of confidence amongst Australian consumers (as measured by the Westpac-Melbourne Institute Consumer Sentiment Index) has been rising since April this year.
An easy way to interpret this index is that when it is over 100, optimists outweigh the pessimists and when the index is lower than 100 there are more pessimists than optimists.
In November 2012, the Consumer Sentiment Index was showing a value of 104.3.
Coincidentally, Comsec reported housing affordability as the best it’s been in a decade, as shown in the following chart:
Consumer confidence is one of the most important leading indicators for the housing market. Put simply, when consumers are lacking in confidence (as they have for the last few years) they tend not to make important and expensive buying decisions such as moving house. And when confidence is high, the number of home sales increases.
And this is already translating into higher levels of finance approvals, which is another important leading indicator as most home buyers and investors get their finance 2 or 3 months before they buy a property.
Where are we now?
What these figures don’t show is how fragmented the markets really are.
We know there is not one Australian property market. There are many different markets in different geographic locations, at various price brackets and for different types of property. There is no doubt that home values are still falling in some areas and they are rising in others, but overall things are improving.
Buyers are back in the market, but at the right price. Stabilizing house prices and interest rate cuts are breathing life into the property markets.
Auction clearance rates are up in and vendors are more willing to accept realistic offers.
Vacancy rates are less than 2% in every capital city other than Melbourne, pushing up rentals. This together with better affordability will eventually bring more first home buyers back into the market.
At the same time overseas investors are snapping up many of our new apartment projects and Baby Boomers are buying properties in their Self Managed Superannuation Funds.
We’re in the stabilisation phase of our property cycle.
(c) Metropole Properties
We’ve moved into the stabilization phase of the property cycle.
You see, the markets don’t move directly from the downturn phase to a property upturn. There is a period of time where buyers return and take up the slack before prices start rising significantly.
And I expect more buyers to return to the market in 2013 year when they realize prices won’t fall any further.
By the way…the stabilization phase is a great time for smart home buyers and strategic investors to get set for the upturn stage of the cycle.
This may be a good time to buy property – I have always found it a good time to buy when everybody tells you that property is a bad investment. Now is the time to get set for the future.
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