Housing markets aren't just rising because of record low interest rates: Hotspotting's Terry Ryder

Housing markets aren't just rising because of record low interest rates:  Hotspotting's Terry Ryder
Housing markets aren't just rising because of record low interest rates: Hotspotting's Terry Ryder


Here’s a one-step guide for identifying a charlatan in the real estate commentary space. Those who claim markets are rising because we have record low interest rates have just identified themselves as pretenders.

With that simple process, we’ve eliminated all the chattering economists in the land and a large chunk of the electronic media glitterati who don’t allow a lack of knowledge get in the way of strong opinions.

They’re the same people who talk about Australian real estate as a single market – e.g. “Australian property prices will rise 5% this year”. This is a red flashing light that the talking head is an idiot. Even discussing one city as a single market is foolhardy (refer last week’s column about Sydney, which highlighted the different scenarios currently in play).

Here’s what passes for analysis with most of these counterfeit commentators: if Event A coincided with Event B, then Event A must have caused Event B – obviously. It’s the first and last refuge of people who know little about real estate dynamics and want to pretend they have something to say.

The problem is that Events A and B also coincided with Events C, D, E, F and G.

The thing about interest rates is that they’ve been at record lows for years. The only recent change is that they’ve gone even lower. They were super low when Sydney and Melbourne were having their big boom, so naturally that must have been the cause, according to those who subscribe to the Event A/Event B theory.

But those super low interest rates failed to cause booms in Brisbane, Adelaide or Canberra, nor in Perth or Darwin which both were going backwards steadily while the Big 2 were surging. Most of regional Australia also failed to boom, although Hobart and regional Tasmania eventually got on board with what I regard as a mini-boom.

So clearly some other forces must have been in play. That’s where Events C, D, E, F and G become relevant. More on that later.

The other thing about the interest rates theory is that it contradicts the lessons of the past. Those who think that “low interest rates = real estate boom” and “rising interest rates = real estate bust” haven’t been students of history.

Genuine nationwide property booms are extremely rare in Australia. ABS data on annual house price growth in Australia’s biggest cities show that, since 1970, there have been only four years in which all the major markets boomed at the same time. Only four years out of the last 50 – two years late in the 1980s and two years in the early part of this century.

During the other 46 years different scenarios have been playing out in different locations, all dictated by local conditions, oblivious to the level of interest rates and other big picture items.

During those two periods when we had national property booms, the late 1980s and the early 2000s, we had high interest rates – much higher than they are today. They kept going higher and the booms kept rolling on. Mortgage rates got as high as 17% before the profligate Eighties finally collapsed.

And it all makes perfect sense. The economy was raging, consumers were confident and spending big, and rates were rising to try to dampen things down. That’s when people are most likely to splurge on real estate.

Interest rates are low now because the national economy is generally rather beige and consumers aren’t that bullish. The exceptions have been Sydney and Melbourne, where the local economies have outperformed the national scenario, boosted by strong population growth and big infrastructure spending.

In trying to understand why markets do what they do, you have to consider both the macro and the micro factors, but paying particular attention to the micro ones.

Here are the macro factors that rolled out one by one to change the general situation from negative 12 months ago to positive now:

1. The Federal Election was decided.

2. The week following the Election, APRA announced relaxations of its lending guidelines.

3. The re-elected Federal Government announced tax cuts.

4. The RBA brought on a series of reductions to the official interest rates.

5. Mainstream media stopped obsessing on negatives and became significantly more upbeat.

6. Consumer sentiment towards real estate started to rise.

7. Buyers started to become active, but supply remained low.

8. Auction clearance rates started to improve.

9. Prices started to react in the big cities.

10. Forecasters published upbeat predictions for 2020 outcomes.

11. The ABS published loans data that showed improvement.

12. Consumer sentiment towards real estate improved further.

13. The federal scheme to boost FHBs clicked in.

14. Etc etc etc.

That’s the big picture. The national climate underpinning real estate improved, with interest rate cuts just one small factor- and overall not that consequential. Labor losing the un-losable Federal Election was probably the biggest one.

But the reality is that the things that matter the most happen at a micro level. Real estate markets are highly individual and arise out of local economies. That explains why Perth and Darwin have been going backwards while Sydney and Melbourne have been booming (and then busting and then recovering), amid stagnation in Brisbane, Canberra, Adelaide and elsewhere.

Local economic events are paramount. Look at Regional Victoria. While Melbourne was descending in 2018 and the first half of 2019, many regional centres in Victoria were experiencing double-digit annual growth in their house prices. Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, Warragul, Pakenham, Echuca, Mildura, Benalla and many others experienced strong markets with prices rising.

Regional Victoria is one of the national leaders on important factors like economic performance, population growth, low unemployment and infrastructure spending. Each individual regional centre has its own local dynamics, which provide reasons why local markets will rise or fall.

All of this is good news for property investors, because it means that there are always growth markets to be found, somewhere in Australia.

When people ask “Is this a good time to buy real estate?”, they’re asking the wrong question. A much smarter question would be “Where is it a good time to buy real estate?”

Because in this large and diverse nation, it’s always a good time to buy – somewhere.

Terry Ryder is the founder of hotspotting.com.au

Terry Ryder

Terry Ryder

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

Terry Ryder Property market

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