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Risks & Opportunities in the Australian property market – February 2020 - featured image

Risks & Opportunities in the Australian property market – February 2020

While property markets across Australia, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne, are recovering well, the recent bushfires have had a material impact on a large number of areas and the likelihood of the reintroduction of macroprudential measures is increasing.

Oliver BushfireIn addition, the implications of the fires and the coronavirus on the economy are yet to be fully determined.

Unemployment, under-employment and spare capacity in the labour market also noticeably increased in January 2020 and was unlikely to substantially improve in the near future, leading to further speculation the RBA will undertake another interest rate cut before July.

The recent bushfires will have a major short-term impact on property prices in affected areas and this will increase the risk in many regional areas given the possibility of future occurrences.

This impact will depend on the actual effect of the fires as well as the normal projected demand for residential property before they occurred and their location in relation to employment hubs.

It must also be noted that economic growth has been poor, and this is further compounded by the recent bushfires and the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) although their significant impact is still to be fully determined.

So, while the market is improving, especially in Sydney and Melbourne, material growth in asset prices and the amplified risk to the financial system increase the likelihood APRA will reintroduce macroprudential measures.

Improved buyer sentiment and auction clearance rates well above 70 per cent in those two cities would have a negative impact on housing affordability especially given the undersupply of family-suitable properties relative to demand driven by population increases - the biggest (recurrent) issue in the Australian property market since mid-last decade.

On the other hand, he said there was still a high level of supply of rental properties in some areas and these imbalances had ‘a very material impact’ on changes to dwelling prices of family-suitable properties versus properties unsuitable for families, particularly in high supply areas.

Obviously, low out-of-pocket expenses for property investors are well connected with a noticeable increase in their activity.

Consequently, it is expected that investor activity will further increase with a direct impact on auction clearance rates and dwelling prices.

Business Risk With CrisisThe recovery of the Sydney and Melbourne markets will also mitigate the risk of negative equity for properties purchased during the downturn, as dwelling prices will reach a new peak.

However, properties that were settled following an off-the-plan contract with LVR of 90 per cent or more, still carry a high level of risk of negative equity.  Increased levels of unemployment and under-employment increase the default risk in some markets.

Units, particularly off-the-plan, still carry a high level of risk of significant price reductions.

Areas with high unit oversupply carry a very high risk and this is still a major issue in some property markets.

In addition, the reputational damage and impact of the recent construction defects of high rises increases the risk that demand for both new and existing high-rise properties will fall as their main buyers, investors, look elsewhere e.g. low-rise buildings or freestanding houses.


Strong recovery, low interest rates and an improved job market are driving dwelling prices.

However, bushfire-impacted areas carry higher risk depending on the strength of their property markets prior to the fires.

Sydney mapThe Sydney market has completely shifted from a buyers’ market to a sellers’ one.

Consequently, at this stage it is likely that it will deliver double digit price increases and is likely to reach a new peak within the next six months.

Housing affordability is, therefore, further deteriorating as wage growth is far lower than the expected price increases.

Further, systematic undersupply of family-suitable properties is again the biggest (recurrent) issue in the Sydney property market, particularly in high-demand areas.

In addition, housing finance has further improved in NSW, as expected, with increased demand from both owner-occupiers and investors.

On the other hand, there is still a high level of supply of rental properties in many areas of Sydney with a noticeable impact on the demand for high-rise buildings due to the reputational damage associated with the high-profile construction defects.


While the labour market is deteriorating with a sharp increase in the unemployment rate in January 2020, population growth and strong sentiment continue to drive the property market.

Victoria Australia

As with NSW, the property market in Melbourne is recovering well.

Buyer confidence and auction clearance rates have increased significantly (77.1 per cent as at 29 February) and are well correlated with strong price increases making it a strong sellers' market.

Consequently, Melbourne is one of the top two performing markets in Australia, well ahead of any others, and is likely to reach a new peak within the next six months.

However, the flow-on effect is that housing affordability is highly likely to materially deteriorate given the low wage growth.

This also means the undersupply of family-suitable properties will continue to be a major issue, relative to demand driven by population increases.

This is exacerbated by Melbourne’s population growth which is the highest in the country at 2.1 per cent.

Such population growth is a major driver for demand of dwellings.


It should be noted that while investor activity is only 26.7 per cent, well below its peak, it is highly likely this will materially increase.

Melbourne faces the same major imbalances, between undersupply of family-suitable properties and high level of supply of investment properties, as Sydney.

The recent bushfires also had a major material impact on the demand for residential properties in Victoria's affected areas.

The short-term impact on property prices will depend on the actual effect of the bushfires as well as the demand for residential property in the area before the bushfires.

Repeatable events might also have a long-term effect on prices.


Southeast Queensland and regional areas present completely different pictures due to a two-speed economy.

QueenslandWhile buyer confidence has increased in Southeast Queensland, particularly Brisbane, regional areas carry a higher level of risk.

The Queensland market greatly varies between its high and low-performing areas, and special attention should be given to the different job markets across the state, particularly since the unemployment rate has gone up from 5.7 per cent in December 2019 to 6.3 per cent in January 2020.

Regional areas with a weak labour market carry a higher level of risk.

The risk associated with the Queensland market should be monitored closely at the SA4 level, as deteriorating employment conditions are likely to have a significant negative impact on dwelling prices.

South Australia:

A soft labour market, with a reduction in actual employment, has meant slow growth for dwelling prices.

Buyer confidence has increased, particularly in Adelaide, and this has seen an improvement in auction clearance rates and, consequently, it appears dwelling prices have reached the bottom.

Popular areas continue to show evidence of recovery, particularly those with steady recent price growth rates.

Emigration Store South Australia MapThe labour market is a key factor in South Australia’s price growth projections and while it has improved in the past couple of years, it is still weak.

The recent reduction (in January 2020) in the unemployment rate is attributed to fewer people seeking work in the state.

Overall, the number of total jobs in the state has actually reduced.

While serviceability measures have improved due to the RBA’s interest rate cuts, the soft labour market and the relatively high unemployment rate increases the risk of credit defaults.

In addition, the demand for units among owner-occupiers in South Australia is, generally, low and some suburbs are subject to voluntary lending restrictions by the major lenders.

The recent bushfires also had a major material impact on the demand for residential properties in some of South Australia's affected areas.

The short-term impact on property prices will depend on the actual effect of the bushfires as well as the demand for residential property in the area before the bushfires.

Repeatable events might also have a long-term effect on prices.

Western Australia:

A weak labour market and a sharp increase in the unemployment rate in January present a recurring problem for price growth.

Western Australia

While buyer confidence has improved, particularly in Perth and housing finance has been showing signs of improvement, overall, economic activity remains well below the 10-year average and the effective unemployment is still significantly above the 10-year benchmark.

Due to the weakness of the labour market, Western Australia’s annual population growth of 1 per cent is the third lowest nationally.

As a result, the housing market, particularly units, has experienced continued weakness in recent years.

The state government tax on overseas investors further decreases the demand for new units as investment properties.

The relatively weak employment market also increases the risk of credit defaults.

High-risk borrowers, combined with properties that suffer from low demand, require special attention in relation to credit provisioning.


Tasmania Australia

Affordability issues and a material increase in unemployment during January, with preferred alternative investments in Melbourne, have made the Apple Isle less resilient and the property market continues to experience decelerated price growth despite low supply of dwellings, low median prices, a tighter rental market and strong rental returns.

A key reason for this is that the state remains less affordable than five of the states and territories (in price-to-income ratio) and the labour market is relatively weak.

The attractiveness of the Melbourne market provides a preferred investment alternative in comparison to the relatively expensive properties in the popular areas of Hobart.

Units carry a higher level of risk due to the relatively high number in the pipeline compared to population growth.

Northern Territory:

Continued weakness and poor population growth are having a sustained impact on dwelling prices.

The Darwin Waterfront Precinct Northern Territory AustraliaThe poor economy continues to play a part in its subdued property market with 19.8 per cent price reductions for houses in the past five years and 35.4 per cent for units.

Much of this negative capital growth in recent years is due to population issues.

It was the only state/territory in Australia that experienced population loss in 2017-18.

While dwelling supply in relation to population growth is low and dwellings are very affordable, the low demand for housing makes the Northern Territory a risky area especially given the low level of private investment that is significantly below the growth levels during the mining boom.

Combined with a relatively large supply of units, the end of the mining boom signalled significant price reductions for units and, to a lesser extent, houses.

Australian Capital Territory:

An extremely strong job market, with only 3 per cent unemployment rate, has ensured demand for dwelling is solid.

Canberra2Houses in the ACT are solid performers, but new units present higher risk.

The ACT market has benefited from recent developments in relation to the housing market and showed moderate price increases and a good medium to long-term outlook.

The ACT has consistently delivered strong economic growth at 4 per cent which eclipses the rest of the country and provides a strong indication of its future.

This is supported by healthy levels of both private capital expenditure and government expenditure.

About is the CEO/Founder of RiseWise Property Review. He has more than 20 years’ experience in risk management including, Co-Founder of Peleg, Kessel & Co, an assurance and advisory accounting firm & Executive Manager at Westpac Banking Corporation in Sydney.
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