Govt must intervene to stimulate land sales: HIA/RP Data

Govt must intervene to stimulate land sales: HIA/RP Data
Govt must intervene to stimulate land sales: HIA/RP Data

Economists have called for government action to address a long-running decline in residential land sales.

The calls follow the release of data showing residential land sales fell for a sixth consecutive quarter in March 2011, according to the latest HIA-RP Data Residential Land Report.

The volume of land sales fell to a record low in early 2011 – down 6% over the March 2011 quarter and 43% lower than the March 2010 quarter.

This is the lowest point land sales has reached since 2001, when accurate figures were first recorded.

As a result of the decline, residential construction is expected to weaken until at least the December quarter this year.

The depressed outlook follows official ABS figures which show building approvals for private sector houses fell 14% for the year to May 2011.

It also follows the Australian Industry Group (AIG) Performance of Construction Index falling to an eight-month low in June 2011, with housing and overall construction activity contracting for the 13th straight month.

HIA chief economist Harley Daley says while softer demand and over-speculation by developers in anticipation of a “fictitious” housing bubble are part of the picture, a big barrier remains the cost of serviceable land.

“Clearly this cost is excessive in a great number of areas around Australia. Governments need to address this substantial constraint on residential building which is generated by costs they impose,” Mr Dale says.

RP Data’s national research director, Tim Lawless, agreed with Dale, and placed much of the blame for low transactions volumes on an “excessive cash grab by state and local governments” on new developments which had resulted in affordability being eroded.

“On a rate per square metre basis, the cost of vacant land has exploded in recent years across most cities. Between March 2003 and March 2011 the rate per square metre price for vacant land has increased by at least 140% in each capital city analysed except for Sydney,” Mr Lawless says.

Land prices continue to rise despite the fall in the volume of sales.

The weighted median land value in Australia increased by 0.8% in the March 2011 quarter to $193,980, driven by growth of 2.7% in the median value for regional Australia (to $159,611), according to HIA and RP Data.

Over the year to March 2011, the median land value was up by 4.4% for capital cities and by 3.8% for regional Australia.

Mr Dale says the fall in demand for residential land indicates that new home starts could reach one of their lowest levels seen since the mid-1990s.

AIG director of public policy, Peter Burn, expects the difficult construction conditions experienced during 2010-11 to continue into the opening months of the new financial year.

Larry Schlesinger

Larry Schlesinger

Larry Schlesinger was a property writer at Property Observer

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