How do we restore housing affordability? Matthew Hassan

How do we restore housing affordability? Matthew Hassan
How do we restore housing affordability? Matthew Hassan

EXPERT OBSERVATION

Housing market stabilisation depends on the response of owner occupiers to improving affordability.

Buyer sentiment provides a rough guide to how this is progressing.

With the price adjustment in Sydney and Melbourne continuing and investor demand unlikely to return any time soon, an eventual stabilisation depends heavily on the response of owner occupiers to improving affordability. A recovery in buyer sentiment suggests improvements are already gaining some traction.

However, the measures of affordability that align best with sentiment also suggest further improvements will be required to generate a lift in demand. While Westpac now expects interest rate cuts to contribute to better affordability, price moves will need to do more of the ‘work’ than in previous adjustments.

There is little doubt that housing affordability and consumer sentiment towards housing are closely linked. Our previous research established a particularly close relationship between the ‘time to buy a dwelling’ index and an affordability measure that incorporates both deposit requirements and mortgage repayments.

Latest readings on both measures show buyer sentiment lifting a little in response to some easing in affordability pressures, although the gap to long run averages indicates affordability is still not back to ‘normal’.

The chart below shows the evolution of affordability over previous price corrections and the contributions from the three components: prices, mortgage rates and incomes. In each of these, falling rates and income growth provided assistance in restoring affordability. In contrast, the current adjustment is expected to see much less assistance from rates and is occurring against a backdrop of weak income growth.

This implies that price declines will need to do most of the ‘heavy lifting’ to generate an affordability improvement.

We can get some indicative estimates of how much further prices may need to move by looking at the price change required to return affordability to its 20yr average. The results point to about a 5% decline required nationally with more substantive moves in the 5-10% range for NSW and Vic, and milder moves across other states.

How do we restore housing affordability? Matthew Hassan  

MATTHEW HASSAN is a Senior Economist for Westpac

Tags: 
Housing Affordability Housing Markets

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