Housing prices: Boom or bubble?

Housing prices: Boom or bubble?
Housing prices: Boom or bubble?

Guest observation

Everyone is talking about a housing price bubble, particularly in Sydney, but is this really the case?

In my honest opinion, I think probably not at this stage. Although I do predict that we will see an influx of struggle-stories in the press.

It's safe to say that both Melbourne and Sydney markets are continuing with a strong growth pattern. Melbourne, in particular, documented a very strong capital growth rate throughout August at 2.31%. Sydney closely followed this at 1.52%.

The Sydney median house price now sits at a very high $852,500, which is getting closer and closer to that $1 million benchmark. So the question is, when do we expect to see our capitals hitting those million-dollar medians?

Million-dollar cities

Based on the historical data, our predicted growth rate for Sydney has been calculated at 5% for the next five years. This suggests that Sydney houses will hit the million-dollar value mark in three years. However, the predictions indicate that growth rates are going to slow in the short term, before increasing to 6% on average per annum towards the end of the next five years.

If the above scenario is the outcome, this would mean that Sydney would breach a million-dollar median value within five years, most likely during the first half of 2019. In Melbourne, a similar growth trend indicates that it will take ten years to reach a $1 million median, expected to occur during 2024.

Two million-dollar suburbs

Based on these predictions, in turn we expect that the number of suburbs with a median value of $2 million will increase. Today's figures show that there are currently 277 suburbs in Sydney with a median house value of over $1 million, with 41 of these currently breaching a $2 million median.

With this level of growth, we anticipate that by 2019 there will be 91 suburbs in Sydney with a median value in excess of $2 million. This suggests that around 9.5 per cent of the city will fall into this category, while the city portion that will fall under a $1 million house price median will be 43.25%t.

Australia's highest-value suburb, in terms of a median house price, is currently the eastern Sydney neighbourhood of Point Piper, where the current median sits at $8.099 million.

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Data shows that the Sydney market is slowing, although not as quickly as we would like it to. The current stance is that the level of unaffordability in the capital is now at historic highs, with loan repayments on a median house equating to approximately 54 per cent of an after-tax median salary.

These figures are extraordinarily high, which would usually send the market into retreat; although the fact that the market continues to display strong growth levels indicates that there is another issue.

I expect that this current level of unaffordability is causing the 'housing bubble' concerns. However, there is another potential explanation, and that is that the Sydney market purchasers have changed, so the affordability ratios are no longer valid simply because median income families are not buying the median income home.

Those who fall into the median income family bracket in Sydney are currently most likely to be renters, with the actual buyers being seasoned property investors with higher than average salaries. Median income families in Sydney are now buying on the city fringes where prices are currently more affordable.

Back to the bubble

Returning to the issue at hand, in my view, a housing bubble exists when there is significant growth in asset values, and the asset value growth is driven by borrowings. In more general terms, a bubble comes about through greed and carelessness from both lenders and borrowers in a situation where there is an oversupply of stock.

Are we in this situation currently? Well, there's nothing to suggest that we are. I believe our banks and financial intermediaries have stable risk management policies in place, despite their aggression in trying to maintain their market share.

In my opinion, the driving growth factor seems to be driven by existing homeowners who have much more reasonable levels of income and assets to support their property purchases. Due to this, the lenders can also be more aggressive due to having to compete in these market conditions.

There will always be a group of people who will ultimately cause lenders problems in an environment where there are high house prices and low interest rates. This is a consequence of some buyers overstretching themselves and getting caught up in a change in personal circumstances. As a word of warning, I would suggest that this is not the time to stretch your capacity and excessively borrow, but to look towards a lower cost investment and avoid the stress and potential pitfalls.

In the days ahead, I expect dwelling price growth rates to slow, with the market stabilising and exhibiting little growth throughout 2015. Those who are looking to make a first investment shouldn't rush into anything, and instead wait until the market moves into this more consolidating phase.

If you are looking for a more in depth analysis of my property research, you can find this in the Investor Centre at Onthehouse.com.au.

John Edwards is the consulting analyst for onthehouse.com.au.



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