Emerging headwinds will dampen demand for new houses and land across the major centres: BIS

Emerging headwinds will dampen demand for new houses and land across the major centres: BIS
Emerging headwinds will dampen demand for new houses and land across the major centres: BIS

The upturn in demand for residential land in the major eastern state centres is expected to begin to peter out over 2017/18 as the new housing market faces emerging headwinds, according to leading industry analyst and economic forecaster, BIS Oxford Economics.

According to the company’s Outlook for Residential Land 2017 to 2022 report series, residential lot production in Sydney, Melbourne and South East Queensland is around its peak in this cycle and will begin to fall away. In contrast, demand for land in Adelaide and Perth has been weakening and will continue to soften.

However, BIS Oxford Economics senior manager and report series author, Angie Zigomanis, said that the forecast downturns in the eastern state centres are likely to be moderate. New supply in these markets has been more pronounced in the unit/apartment sector, with markets continuing to experience a deficiency of detached house stock that is likely to continue to underpin demand.

Nevertheless, new housing demand has still risen to high levels. Sydney is estimated to have recorded its highest level of residential land production over 2016/17. Lot production in Melbourne peaked in 2014/15 but has remained close to this peak in the subsequent two years. Similarly, the Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast markets have been experiencing a moderate upturn since 2013/14 after an extended period of weakness.

“Steady price growth in houses in the initial stages of the housing construction upturn improved land price affordability and shifted some demand from the established house market, to the new house and land market,” said Zigomanis.

“This not only encouraged a greater percentage of home purchasers to opt for a new house over an established one, but also established house owners to sell up and upgrade to a new, larger house.”

In contrast to the strength of the eastern state capitals, the Adelaide land market has softened considerably, in line with weak population growth and a subdued local economy. Lot production in 2016/17 was well below its peak and there are few key economic drivers on the horizon.

Meanwhile, the Perth market continues to struggle both in absorbing the declines in mining investment and in broadening its economic base. Migration and population growth have fallen to well below their pre- mining boom levels. Despite easing lot production, dwelling supply has remained well above underlying demand adding to a significant dwelling oversupply, which will weigh on any cyclical upturn in the coming years.

Emerging headwinds will dampen demand for new houses and land across the major centres: BIS

Lot production in the main east coast capital cities and the Gold and Sunshine Coasts has been underpinned by solid population growth and a housing deficiency, and has been facilitated by record- low interest rates that drove new house demand.

Zigomanis states that the rise in new housing activity is now easing some of the demand pressures in the market, while the deterioration of housing and land price affordability will impact demand for new houses and consequently limit the next round of lots produced.

“Most markets saw house price growth outpace land price growth through the early stages of the upturn, which improved the value proposition for a new house”, said Zigomanis. “That said, land prices have now largely caught up and this gap will have narrowed, making new housing less attractive.”

As a result, many cities are expected to see demand for land and lot production decline over 2017/18 and 2018/19.

Land production in Sydney was estimated at 11,300 lots in 2016/17; its highest level in the past 25 years. Although a sizeable dwelling deficiency is still estimated to be in place in Sydney, it is now being eroded by new dwelling supply. Meanwhile, the house and land price growth through the upturn has seen affordability diminish, as evidenced by rising net outflows of population from Sydney. This is expected to see lot production begin to ease back from 2017/18.

Record population growth has been the main driver of demand for new houses and land in Melbourne. Together with affordable land, this has also seen lot production sustained at record levels since 2014/15.

“However, there have been significant rises in land prices in Melbourne in 2017, and this has seen new house affordability deteriorate,” said Zigomanis. “While lot production is likely to remain high in 2017/18 as recent pre-sales of residential lots are delivered, the resultant weaker demand will cause lot production to fall away from 2018/19.”

After bottoming out at a 20-year low of 4,800 lots in 2012/13, the resultant undersupply in Brisbane initiated an upturn that has been supplemented by strengthening net interstate migration inflows, with an estimated 9,400 lots created in 2016/17. A further rise is forecast in 2017/18, before significant oversupply in the Brisbane apartment market plays through to demand for new housing.

The Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast markets have followed the lead of Brisbane. A weak market and emerging dwelling deficiency saw lot production rise from a low base in 2013/14 through to a peak in 2016/17. Both markets arguably benefit from migration from Brisbane, Sydney and, to an extent, Melbourne, as affordability becomes increasingly constrained in those cities.

Lot production in Adelaide has been more moderate than the eastern state centres. Low interest rates and modest house price growth has supported some buyer demand. However, slowing economic conditions and easing population growth are now weighing on the market.

Similarly, lot production in the Perth market is now falling after a peak in 2014/15. The decline in mining-related investment has caused net interstate migration to shift from an inflow to an escalating outflow, while overseas migration has fallen. Consequently, demand for new houses has slumped, impacting the land market.

Through the upturns in all markets, developers have sought to keep land affordable and maintain margins by steadily reducing the size of the lots sold. However, it appears that median lot sizes have stabilised in most cities in the past two-to-three years. This suggests there is a lower limit to what the market will absorb. Moreover, it makes the economics of development more challenging as rising costs cannot be met by further reductions to the size of lots.

An expected softening in house price growth over 2017/18 and 2018/19 is expected to play through to land prices, which in turn will make it more difficult for developers to maintain margins as construction costs continue to escalate. Together with recent solid rises in land prices making affordability more challenging, and strong construction alleviating some of the undersupply pressures, most markets are expected to experience an easing in lot production in the next two-to-three years.

Separately, changing lifestyle choices and affordability preferences have also seen greater demand for medium and high density dwellings, at the expense of new houses, across the country.

The downturn in new dwelling supply will eventually see a rising deficiency re-emerge in most markets. Together with an expected acceleration in economic growth by the turn of the decade, this will underpin rising demand through the next cycle. 

Joel Robinson

Joel Robinson

Joel Robinson is a property journalist based in Sydney. Joel has been writing about the residential real estate market for the last five years, specializing in market trends and the economics and finance behind buying and selling real estate.

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