How will the Commission of Audit affect the residential housing market?

How will the Commission of Audit affect the residential housing market?
How will the Commission of Audit affect the residential housing market?

I am not an economist and after the release of the federal government’s Commission of Audit report this is a fact for which I am somewhat grateful.

Having stated my position on the economics involved, some of the Commission of Audit’s 86 recommendations could, it appears, from all of the commentary potentially re-shape Australia. It could re-shape many aspects of society and many aspects of Federalism, which seems a shame really given that only last year, Canberra, the seat of Federalism, celebrated its 100th birthday – just as well it’s not this year.

Part of the intention of the report was to spark a conversation about what sort of society we want to be, in particular over the next 50 years or so. And it appears that conversation has got off to a flying start. When you search ‘Commission of Audit Australia’ on Google there are already some 280,000,000 references.

I have found myself asking the very specific question of how will the report impact the residential housing market? How will the report influence buyers and developers now and over the next few years?

It might be foolhardy to venture into this territory while the report is still so new, but I want to join the conversation, and because the report will reach into so many areas of our social structure I think the conversation is urgent.

A Shift in Demographics

Over the years the market has had to live and adjust to some big issues, like the introduction of universal superannuation guarantee levy (1992), the GST (July 2000), the 9/11 attack on New York and Washington (2001) and the GFC (2007/2008).

However even these big events did not have some of the potential impacts on the very structure of government and beyond that the wider demographic of the Australian population, and it is in the potential demographic changes that a much wider topic opens up for discussion relative to housing and the development market.

And while some changes are not due until mid century, I stop today and think how in just over two decades the arrival of the superannuation guarantee levy is now, thanks in part to the growth of SMSFs, central to many aspects of the residential housing market.

And some seven years later we are still in part dealing with the GFC and so it does not take a crystal ball to appreciate that change can be both long-term and to a degree painful.

Shifts in Demand Shifts in Confidence

Post the audit report in Sydney this weekend auction clearance rates were reported at some 77%, that’s down a little on some recent weekend results, but still slightly higher than the last few months. However after the delivery of the federal budget on 13 May the combined impact on consumer confidence will come into sharp focus over the next few months.

Consumer confidence in Australia increased to 99.73 in April of 2014 from 99.46 in March of 2014 but has been on a falling trend over the last six months.

While the level of consumer confidence is a closely watched measure of the economy, shifts in demographics are far more subtle and until now have been less in focus.

It’s somewhat remarkable how the impact of the baby boomer generation has now started to consume the government’s attention, despite the fact that this age bracket was always going to cause pressure points as it moves out of work and into retirement, and the property market has been feeling the presence of the ‘boomers’ for some years now.

Demographic Touch Points to Watch

The proposed change to the retirement age, has grabbed a lot of attention because it has the potential to impact the entire population. This change could have varied and possibly unexpected effects on the housing market; delayed retirement could impact the demand for downsize opportunities, it could also force more people to consider selling sooner to fund the gap between their retirement and ability to collect the pension and linking the family home to any sort of pension means this would be a big change.

The family home would move into a different light and how a future inheritance is impacted could change the housing ambitions of many younger people. While changes to the cost of education could re-shape the sometimes already fragile prospects of first time buyers, as they have to fund a degree well into their careers. This could also lead to a lowering of employment prospects and impact the earning power and relevance of the middle class in the housing market.

While the audit did not directly comment on tax issues, there is an ongoing debate about the GST – an increase could impact the market, but if there is also a change in the relationship between the Commonwealth and the States, then we could see greater mobility and demographic changes across state boundaries.

Infrastructure and Privatisation

One clear result of the audit will be greater pressure for all governments to venture into a wholesale period of privatisation. This may well deliver some greater opportunities for the property development industry, and the potential sale of the Defence Housing Authority would be a very competitive process.

However the real test will be an assurance that a real improvement in infrastructure must result, if it does not, or if projects are badly delivered this could impact the continued recovery in the housing market.

This is a conversation set to take a lot of time and effort, and so I wanted to remind myself of what an audit of this kind sets out to achieve; "A systematic check or assessement, especially of the efficiency or the effectiveness of an organization." 

While demographics: "The characterises of a human population, especially the size, growth, density, distribution and statistics regarding birth, marriage, disease and death." 

With the audit touching upon so many key social issues, the flow onto demographics is certain and the housing market may well be impacted, at first indirectly by a possible drop in confidence, but in the long term more directly as demographics, incomes and taxes change.

The audit looks like the first step in an extended agenda of economic reform, and while there may be some unpopular fiscal measures taken in next week’s budget, it does appear that interest rates are set to remain low. Because any increase would boost the dollar and possibly shake consumer sentiment so for the immediate future property will remain attractive due to the long run of low rates.

Peter Chittenden

Peter Chittenden

Peter Chittenden is managing director for residential of Colliers International.

Economy Demographics Peter Chittenden

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