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It does annoy me a little that the media latch on to stories that the “property bubble” is about to burst and sighting the situation in the USA after the GFC as some kind of precedent for what’s going to happen in Australia. It’s absolute garbage.
Firstly, the rise in housing prices in the USA pre-GFC was predicated on unsavoury lending practices that blind Freddie (Mac) should have been able to see coming; loans to borrowers who couldn’t afford them (or worst still didn’t even have jobs) coupled with adjustable rate mortgages that jump up 4% after the introductory period, a legal framework that permits non-recourse mortgages (i.e. walk away from an upside down property with no consequences) and a derivatives market which amplified the effect of rising mortgage default rates and you get an almighty bubble that can do nothing else BUT burst.
Whilst the increasing availability of credit to Australian borrowers has long been the argument for proponents of the Australian property bubble, the fact is that’s it’s never been to the same extend that it was in the USA pre-GFC – ever. Yes, average household debt has risen markedly since the 1950’s, but so too has society changed. Households are no longer single income families, and so with the increasing incidence of double income households, household borrowing capacities have increased accordingly. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that because we earn more we borrow more and therefore we have to earn more but it’s a trend that is unlikely to reverse any time soon.
Furthermore, APRA has actually already been taking pro-active steps to REDUCE the availability of credit to borrowers by demanding more stringent lending criteria of the mortgage providers it regulates. Therefore, even if credit was considered to be too readily available previously (which is contentious to begin with) it’s already tending back the oth er way.
Secondly, property values are a function of supply and demand. It’s been regularly reported recently that Sydney house prices have increased significantly over the last 2-3 years. However, it’s no coincidence that it’s the same city with the greatest shortage of available property! I’ve heard experts quote that net migration into Sydney accounts for an increase in demand for approximately 10,000 dwellings per annum. And what have the state government done to facilitate that development? Antiquated urban planning processes which restrict the supply of new property developments? How about a road and rail network incapable of supporting the increasing size and distribution of the population? Is it any wonder, when we’re always 20 years behind the current population’s needs, why we end up with a shortage of property which in turn drives prices up? Perhaps if the powers that be had the vision, will and finances (or better still, stopped wasting money on things like, for example, a desalination plant!) to bring Sydney into the current decade, we wouldn’t be talking about a “property bubble”.
And thirdly, reports on isolated pockets throughout Australia where the property prices have dropped significantly as being the precursor to a wider housing bubble are nonsense. Any town throughout Australia that has been particularly influenced by the rising and falling fortunes of a single industry (e.g. mining) is in no way indicative of the Australian market on the whole. Generally, mining towns with limited supply of property suffer from sharp rises in rental prices as the industry prospers (again, supply and demand). When out-of-town investors then think they’ve stumbled on the “rental return of a lifetime” and flood the market, property values rise until the perceived rental return becomes normal again. Then, as recent times have shown, when that industry wanes and rental returns decline (back to normal), p roperty prices also decline (back to normal). Yes, I would consider that to be a bubble, but it’s an isolated bubble – not an “Australian housing bubble”.
But again, Sydney needs another 10,000 dwellings per annum just to meet the organic growth in demand for property. Post-GFC, property development all but ceased in Sydney for years and the cumulative effect of that rising demand has put us in the situation we’re in today. Until that demand abates, or supply catches up, how can we expect anything but a continuing rise in property prices?