For my next trick: A mountain out of a molehill

For my next trick: A mountain out of a molehill
For my next trick: A mountain out of a molehill

When it comes to real estate in Australia there is no better saying than, “if you want to make a mountain out a molehill – just keep adding dirt.”

So when we were conveniently advised this week that Sydney house prices rose 5% for the three months to the end of August, resulting in a 16% year-on-year growth, my immediate thought was: what a complete load of rubbish.

Here’s why this figure is misleading and a complete distortion of the truth.

So this week I called one of Sydney’s leading auctioneers and asked, “if we break down the Sydney housing market into municipalities, given there are actually 38, which are the peak performers?” His response was “Sutherland, Hurstville, Bankstown, Marrickville, Holroyd, Parramatta, Blacktown, Fairfield, Liverpool and Canterbury are my stand – out performers.”

On a scale of one to ten they would easily be an eight plus and of the remaining 28 municipalities some would struggle to reach a five and the rest somewhere from five to seven. The only reason why all 38 municipalities are not listed individually is that there would be no headline.

So I placed a call to Jonathan Chancellor, editor at large of Property Observer, whom I have been in regular contact with for the past thirty years. We recalled an article that was published in The Sydney Morning Herald  back on October 18, 2008 where Sydney was fighting the global financial crisis (GFC). It needs to be mentioned that at the time when the article was written the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) had its cash rate at 7.00%, although the real damage started back on December 5, 2001 when the Reserve Bank of Australia dropped the cash rate to 4.25% which was the lowest in RBA history.

So back to the story where I was quoted as saying, “Everyone is pulling in their belts a bit, but we haven’t got the tourniquet out yet. Out west it’s tourniquet time.”

Another interesting observation back then: “What the Sydney property market is telling us that while the economic turmoil is driving property prices down almost everywhere, it is the tale of two cities: the top end of the market is faring much better than the bottom.”

A real estate agent from the west commented: “It’s not uncommon for us to sell a property for 40% less than what somebody bought it for five years ago. I have a lot of people who bought in the 2002 boom period and basically they come back to us asking for opinions. Nine times out of 10, they are looking at a loss.”

“So why are the poor being hammered so much more than the rich?”

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“Experts say the most important factors are location, supply, interest rates, social circumstances, infrastructure and the fact a seller can only charge what a buyer can afford to pay. Perhaps the easiest factor to understand is location.”

To add more to this 2008 piece, Brian Redican, a senior economist with Macquarie Bank said: “There has been a tendency for banks to be much more cautious in lending in those suburban areas. So instead of getting a loan of 80 per cent of the property’s price, you can only get a loan for 60 per cent of the price. The seller then has to drop his price to match what people can pay. Prices fall, so banks become more cautious and so it goes on.”

Banks are picky, too, about which mortgage defaulters they target. It will surprise few that there is one rule for the rich and another for the poor.

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What’s also missing in this is just how much the investors are driving the market which we wrote about last week. From Roy Morgan Research: "Over the last four years, the number of investment loans in Australia has grown by 37% compared to an increase of only 4% in the number of owner occupier loans."

This week I went back to Roy Morgan Research to look at superannuation performance, which just so happens to be at the highest level since the GFC.

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Satisfaction with the financial performance of superannuation in the six months to July 2014 was 55.7% up 6.9% since July 2013.

Self-managed Super Funds (77.9%) remain the clear leader, followed by Industry Funds (56.2%) and Retail Funds (54.2%). These are the latest findings from the Roy Morgan Research ‘Superannuation Satisfaction’ report based on over 30,000 interviews with people per annum with Superannuation.

It’s common knowledge that the Self-managed Super Funds are driving the property investment market, which further distorts the figures pertaining to Sydney house prices. We would all get a much better perspective about exactly where house prices were if Australian Property Monitors and RP Data broke down the mountain into 38 molehills – which is exactly what they should be doing.

Robert Simeon

Robert Simeon

Robert Simeon is a director of Richardson Wrench Mosman and Neutral Bay and has been selling residential real estate in Sydney since 1985. He has also been writing real estate blog Virtual Realty News since 2000.


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