The real estate implications of the federal budget: Peter Chittenden

Peter ChittendenJune 3, 20130 min read

As the budget headlines fade I think there are some long-term challenges that will impact the frame of mind of many people in the housing market, in particular the first time and first level trade-up buyers.

Although the federal election is still four months away some key aspects of the budget are going to linger.  We are going to hear a lot about the budget deficit and this fact alone may help to deflate some areas of demand. Our market does not like dodgy news.

Falling government revenue will limit activity

The budget highlights a big fall in tax revenue and there is now constant talk of financial restraint and combined with more job losses consumer confidence is already slipping.  Jobs are being lost on many fronts and with cuts to the federal public service looking certain under the coalition, even if the cuts are achieved by natural attrition, higher levels of unemployment will impact the housing market.

Still if we see home loan rates fall even further, that alone will not be enough of an incentive to tempt big numbers of first-time buyers back into the market, because the market is very sensitive to unemployment.

Over the last 12 months we have also seen direct government incentives either withdrawn or scaled back and while individual developers might still offer incentives, they may be less inclined to do so in a tight market. The FHB market has gradually fallen away as incentives have disappeared and incentives did not really boost supply.

Lower interest rates and higher unemployment

Since home loan rates peaked in 2008 we have seen a downward trend taking many rates to comfortably below 5%, and they may well fall further. But that will be a mixed signal to the market.

At the same time we have also seen unemployment rates move from a very tight labour market at around 4% to a range over 5% and edging towards 6%. The rate has been trending upwards, even if slowly since mid 2012. A rise from 5% to 6% is a big rise of more than 16% – its not the headline rate but the increase that is the big indicator as well as more subtle shifts away from full-time employment.

The same applies to interest rates, if you have a drop of 25 base points when home loan rates are close to 5% that’s a considerable cut by comparison to a similar cut when rates are at 6.5%. The budget does not contain measures that appear to have the immediate potential to encourage more employment and that’s a reality that will impact the housing market.

The GST debate

One item post budget policy that has received a fair amount of attention is a possible future change to the GST, albeit after the next federal election in 2016. That review is bound to add pressure for wider reform, but will it?

From many comments published here, not only my views but those of others in the industry, any GST review must be tied to a reduction or removal of property related stamp duties even more so if the rate jumps.

On the surface there is plenty of room for that to happen. If GST goes from 10% to 12.5% (as it currently is in New Zealand) then that would raise $12.5billion for the states. That sort of revenue boost might hopefully lead to better services but also to better infrastructure planning, but we need a more direct dividend.

A possible higher GST rate does have to impact stamp duty otherwise affordability will continue to decline, a tax on a tax looks a very poor outcome when you consider the burden of stamp duty. Sydney now has 100 suburbs with house prices over $1,000,000 and this is leading more people, and this includes families, to look at apartments as a good option and so designs and facilities are having to respond to this shift in demographics.

Marketing hurdles

The content of the budget will impact employment, and economic growth is clearly going to slow. We need to be responsive to and anticipate the consequences for the housing market and how to adopt our marketing and product mix accordingly.

I think some of the key points will include the reality of a more conservative and cautious local buyer. This may make offshore buyers more important as targets for some projects and in particular larger inner-city projects, it’s a trend that is already well established in Sydney and Melbourne with a slant towards the upper-end of those markets.

I also believe that a tighter housing outlook will have buyers looking very hard at key facilities and how well a location stacks up with transport and access to employment. Buyers are going to be thinking more about their total household budgets and lower home loan rates will only be part of their calculations, high transport and poor services will be negatives.

One final impact is that buyers will continue to do their homework in ever more detail and they may well take longer to commit to a project, this is already a trend. Buyers in 2013/14 may well be far less influenced by their hearts, and much more by their heads. And even as affordability is getting better, thanks to low interest rates and relatively stable house prices the realities of the local economy have been brought into focus by the budget.

Some of the impacts, like tighter spending are going to have a direct short-term impact, while others like planned infrastructure spending and the GST debate are going to be long-term influences that will sway market sentiment.

Peter Chittenden is managing director for residential of Colliers International.

Peter Chittenden

Peter Chittenden is managing director for residential of Colliers International.
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