Too much generalisation in Australian real estate: Hotspotting's Terry Ryder

Too much generalisation in Australian real estate: Hotspotting's Terry Ryder
Too much generalisation in Australian real estate: Hotspotting's Terry Ryder

EXPERT OBSERVER

There’s been a striking absence of balance in newspaper coverage of real estate in recent times. That mythical beast that some analysts call “the Australian property market” has been having either a rampant boom or a catastrophic collapse, with little middle ground.

Residential property appears to exist in a no-win situation. When prices were falling in some of our major markets earlier in the year, it was described as a national crisis. It was the biggest downturn on record and consumers were refusing to spend because their property values were “plummeting”.

And now that prices are rising again, that’s a catastrophe as well - because affordability is evaporating and no one will be able to buy.  APRA will be forced to act to squash rampant price escalation.

We have far too many economists, journalists and other poorly-credentialled commentators stressing over the resurgence in the so-called national property market. Consumers would benefit if everyone took a cold shower and had a wee lie down.

Part of the problem is the obsession with the two biggest cities and the tendency towards generalisation. Far too often, outcomes in Melbourne and Sydney are converted into a national scenario which plainly does not exist. Another part of the issue is sensationalism.

Here’s the Financial Review on 3 December: “Economists warn that Australia’s banking regulators will be pressured into introducing a new round of macroprudential tightening measures if the strong and swift surge in house prices continues into the new year.”

The Sydney Morning Herald on 2 December wrote: “Clearly, such increases in prices cannot be sustained. Sydney is growing at an annualised rate of almost 40% and Melbourne at almost 30% which – if continued – would see the median price hit $1.3 million and $1 million respectively by this time next year.”

A 5 December article on domain.com.au quoted economists from NAB, St George and AMP Capital fretting over the “sharp upturn” in prices and the return to “boom-time behaviour”. The lack of quality analysis was reflected in AMP’s Shane Oliver comment that prices may go ballistic because “it has that feel about it”, while NAB’s Alan Oster was quoted as saying: “We’re not sure if it will keep going. But we didn’t expect it to be this quick.”

Another SMH headline shouted: “RBA and Government walk tightrope on soaring house prices”.

All this and a lot more was based on one month’s price data from a single research source. Mainstream media has gone overboard in the coverage of this breath-taking event – and most have compounded their over-reaction by attributing everything to the recent interest rate reductions. 

An economics writer at The Australian wrote on 2 December that “the Reserve Bank’s controversial interest rate cuts have electrified the national housing market”. On the same day, an article in the Fairfax network had this headline: “Sydney and Melbourne house values surge on lower interest rates”. 

And a “business columnist” wrote in The Age: “Residential property prices are on a headline-grabbing tear as monthly growth rates hit a 21-year record ... The floodgates have started to open as cheap money has unleased pent-up demand and spurred buyers to bid up prices”.

This is kindergarten analysis. What about the host of other major factors which have influenced our many and varied real estate markets – like the Federal Election result, the APRA changes, the tax cuts, the assistance package for first-home buyers, the rise in consumer sentiment, the general shortage of supply - and, in some markets, big population growth and major infrastructure spending.

One research source claims big rises in Melbourne and Sydney in November (but less prolific rises for the bulk of the nation) and journalists have run amok.

I would pose this question: When did journalists stop questioning things? And when was it okay for writers to not have expertise on the subject about which they are writing?

A well-informed commentator would know this: if you source the latest price data on any of our capital cities from four different big-name entities, you get four different results. And often the figures from one source contradict those from another.

There are several major cities where, in annual terms, prices have risen according to some sources, but have fallen according to others. 

Misinformation abounds in real estate coverage and the losers are real estate consumers. It’s time for everyone to lift their game in 2020. But I won’t be holding my breath.

Terry Ryder is the founder of hotspotting.com.au

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Terry Ryder

Terry Ryder

Terry Ryder is the founder of hotspotting.com.au.

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