National Property Report April 2013

NEW SOUTH WALES

Sydney, alongside Perth and Darwin, is set to be one of 2013’s star property performers

One of the main drivers pushing the Sydney market forward is the growing gap between supply and demand, says Louis Christopher, SQM Research founder and managing director.

SQM Research data for January shows a significant decline in listings in Sydney, with the capital city recording a 6% fall in stock levels on a month on month basis, and 13.1% on a year on year basis.

It’s all good news for homebuyers, says Christopher, who believes a recovery is now well and truly underway in the Harbour city.

“There are a number of signals now that the market is gaining some traction,” he confirms.

“I think the interest rate cuts are now working and that a housing recovery is occurring. I now place the bottom of this market at the beginning of the December quarter, 2012.”

Of course, Sydney’s broader property market is comprised of hundreds of smaller micro-markets, each impacted by their own local drivers. In Christopher’s view, investors would be best served avoiding premium locations and instead, buying in affordable suburbs where demand is growing.

“The outer rings will outperform the affluent locations, due to this being an affordability-led recovery,” he says.

“It is possible that prestige real estate may start to rise if the economy gets better traction later in the year, but that is still just an ‘if’. The sustainability of this recovery is largely dependent upon the level of interest rates and a stable economic environment with no massive economic crashes overseas.”

Growth and prosperity in Sydney’s property market is not quite a done deal, he adds. While signs of a recovery are evident, the Australian economy and property market are still closely tied with the global economy, meaning volatility overseas can have a huge impact closer to home.

“We are big believers that the housing market still has too much debt in the system, making it highly susceptible to a credit shock,” Christopher says.

This means that now more than ever, investing with your head and not over it is crucial. Buying within your budget and having a buffer of cash to deal with emergencies is not just recommended, but is downright necessary, to ensure you don’t end up financially comprised if interest rates rise or property prices regress.

“The market is sensitive to only marginally more expensive credit,” Christopher adds. “Does anyone really believe that the market could handle interest rates back at 7% again?”

 

QUEENSLAND

Different drivers pave the way for property price growth – or value slumps – in each sub-market throughout Queensland, making it very difficult to forecast the road ahead.

With mining towns to the north, tourist hubs in the far north and south, and the capital city in the south east, Queensland’s property market is nothing if not diverse.

“The Queensland property market is made up of many submarkets, and each different market has reacted differently over the past 12 months,” explains Liz Wilcox, director of Metropole Property Strategists, Brisbane.

“Overall, the Brisbane market seemed to have bottomed out in the middle of last year, with home buyers and investors returning to the market. But not all parts of the Brisbane market are moving yet.”

As with many regions across the country, the prestige end of the market is still underperforming, and Wilcox believes premium properties “will continue to languish until general business confidence improves.”

“Similarly, the first homebuyers markets in Brisbane are floundering,” she says.

Growth rates across the state remain in the negative, with areas outside Brisbane most affected. RP Data figures show regional house values retracted 1% in value, while units lost 4.6%. Heavy price discounting is common among distressed buyers, who are forced to accept values far lower than desired.

“I recently signed off on a report in Noosa, where the property originally sold four years ago for $1.2m,” says Tyron Hyde, director of Washington Brown quantity surveyors.

“Our client just paid $450,000 for the property, and we estimated the original building cost was approximately $700,000.”

While this particular example, which highlights a terrible outcome for one property owner and a fantastic result for another buyer, may be extreme, vendor discounting throughout Queensland is widespread.

But there is a small beacon of hope amongst all of the dismal data. In the three months to January 2013, RP Data reports that there has been a modest 0.7% increase in median house prices in Brisbane over the last year. Although this growth figure is tiny, it is “very different from the previous few years, where prices were falling,” Wilcox points out.

VICTORIA

Fears that property prices will fall in the face of a rampant oversupply of new properties show no signs of being put to rest.

After months of being told that the Melbourne property market faces a flood of new properties coming onto the market, the question for most investors is no longer if an oversupply exists, but where.

Melbourne, after all, is hardly one single market. It is more a collection of markets that, while influencing each other, have their own separate destiny. The overall price movements and trends of the city may paint a general picture of the market, but they do little to describe what is happening in every suburb, street and individual property transaction.

“Now is a time to be very selective in what you buy,” says Michael Yardney, CEO of Metropole Property Strategists. “While there are some good buying opportunities, there are also a lot of secondary properties on the market right now.”

Yardney says that if city-wide stats paint an overall view of the market, it is only logical that within that picture some markets are doing better than others. He believes that well-located properties within inner-ring suburbs are holding their ground, but properties on the city’s outer fringes are struggling.

“More expensive properties have suffered the most and more recently the first home buyer segment of the market has slumped due to faltering buyer interest [and oversupply]… There is also no doubt that Melbourne has been in the slump stage of the property cycle for the last few years, plagued by an oversupply of house and land packages in the northern and western suburbs and an abundance of new apartments coming onto the market.”

WESTERN AUSTRALIA

Investors on the hunt for fast equity only have roughly two years until prices stop increasing and start going down again, says one forecaster.

It would be fair to say that John Edwards knows a thing or two about property prices. The Residex chief executive has been monitoring the Australian property market since 1990 and was largely a pioneer in developing the detailed housing price indexes we have today.

Within its market space his company may not be alone, but the way it arrives at its median price calculations – prioritising historical price trends – is somewhat unique. It is for this reason that Perth property investors should take heed of what Edwards is saying.

Going against widely held forecasts that Perth property values will enjoy a few years of uninterrupted price increases, Edwards believes that the Western Australian capital is actually due a correction – and sooner than most might think.

“Over the coming year we will continue to see growth in the [Perth] market. It’s definitely due a bit of good growth, but the timeframe for this growth is going to be short,” he says. Edward’s company forecasts that over 2013 Perth property prices will grow at around 6% and, in the year following that, he anticipates prices to do even better, growing at over 10%. Going into 2015, Edwards predicts prices will start to fall again.

“When you try and analyse the numbers and how they could be right – we’ve got all these resource projects that will be coming on stream by 2015. The highest labour obligation for any resource project is during the development phase, so with all these projects out of that phase we will see a reduction in Western Australian labour activity. As this happens, demand for housing will slow down.”

Edwards also warns that the response of builders to the current market, if past trends are anything to go by, might have an influence on the market. He believes that, expecting something of a return to boom times, developers may fall into the trap of getting ahead of themselves.

“What usually happens when a market is doing well is that developers oversupply. They overreact to the market and it takes a long time for it to come back to where supply really needs to be.”

To illustrate why a lot of developers might be getting excited about the Western Australian capital, Edwards puts Perth’s short-term value growth into context. “Up until 2015, you couldn’t call it boom times, but the value growth that we will see in Perth will probably be better than just about anywhere else.”

 

SOUTH AUSTRALIA

Buyers aren’t the only ones calling the shots in South Australia, where easing vacancy rates are giving tenants the pick of the bunch.

It’s certainly a far cry from 2010, when Adelaide’s vacancy rates slipped below 1% and tenants struggled to find accommodation.

Now, landlords throughout South Australia are at the mercy of a picky renting public, as vacancy rates have settled in at 3-4% across the state – and they don’t look set to retract any time in the near future.

Back in August 2010, Real Estate Institute of South Australia (REISA) figures showed that Adelaide’s eastern suburbs – classified as suburbs east of the city square between Payneham and Glen Osmond roads – had the tightest rental market of all at just 0.5%, while metropolitan Adelaide was sitting at 0.8%.

In the December 2012 quarter, Adelaide recorded a vacancy rate of 3.1%, while regional SA recorded a vacancy rate of 3.7%.

Agents report that properties are taking four to six weeks to lease in many situations, and tenants are being particularly price sensitive.

“Property managers across the state are consistently highlighting that the rental market is responding slower to filling vacancies and tenants are often only responding when the price meets the local market,” confirms REISA president Greg Moulton.

“We’ve really seen price be a major factor in tenants’ decisions and as there are slightly more properties available for lease, the tension between vacancy and price has eased.”

 

TASMANIA

A high unemployment rate, increasing vacancy rates and an uncertain economic future place Tasmania’s property market at the bottom of the pile.

The numbers are in, and they’re not good. In fact, some could argue that they’re downright bad.

Tasmania’s unemployment rate has reached 7.4%, which is 2% higher than the national average of 5.4%, and the highest figure the region has recorded in just under a decade.

The state’s residential vacancy rate has continued to trend upwards, with the latest data released by the Real Estate Institute of Tasmania (REIT) revealing a 4.7% vacancy rate state-wide in December 2012.

And property prices have slumped up to 6.7% across Tasmania in the last 12 months, with both regional and metropolitan areas recording a drop in housing values.

It’s enough to make you think things can’t possibly get any worse in the beleaguered southern state – but that is precisely the point, reports First National Real Estate.

According to the property group’s Tasmania Property Market Outlook report for 2013, the average number of days a property takes to sell is expected to fall by 25% as conditions and confidence begin to improve.

“Market conditions in Tasmania are expected to stabilise in general, with our members unanimously of the belief that the market has bottomed or will do so over the coming six months, driven by ongoing economic and job uncertainty and oversupply of properties,” the report confirms.

They also suggest that that Hobart will be the best performing area for the state, “attracting the most interest from buyers, especially from interstate”.

 

NORTHERN TERRITORY

A year of truly staggering price growth has come to light in Darwin, but investors have to wonder if the market has room for further increases.

Following a tumultuous summer, economists and property observers can finally breathe a sigh of relief – at least they are better at being right than the meteorologists.

This isn’t just because of the cyclones, bush fires and record temperatures that have been thrown the way of the weather bureau. A look at January figures from RP Data reveals that Darwin property has done exactly what most pundits expected it to: grow, grow and then grow a little more.

In fact, at more than 12% growth over 2012, house prices haven’t just gone up – they’ve rocketed away at light speed and are now galaxies away. Darwin’s current median house price of $560,000 is $80,000 up from what it was exactly a year before. It’s the kind of growth that makes for investor dreams, and hasn’t just been for one suburb, district or region of the city, it has been for the entire urban area.

“Demand is definitely strengthening,” says BIS Shrapnel senior residential manager Angie Zigomanis. “In the last year we’ve seen vacancy rates tighten considerably and so median house prices have shot up as well. The impact of the Inpex Ichthys LNG project has also been significant. When you’ve got a small city like Darwin, a $30bn project makes a big difference.”

Zigomanis adds that the Inpex Ichthys project is part of what has given the Darwin market a new lease of life. He says that the city had the strongest property price growth during and just after the GFC, partly on the back of new government administration offices moving into the area and projects that were still working their way through development. That growth hit a ceiling in 2011 and prices went backwards for much of that year. It was only in the autumn of 2012 that the city’s fortunes began to change.

When the Inpex deal was first announced, it was estimated that around 3,000 jobs would be directly created and that a stream of new rental accommodation would be required to meet demand from natural gas workers.

This was reflected in improved confidence for the city. A Property Council-ANZ survey at the time found that confidence in the Northern Territory shot up 15%, putting NT’s confidence levels far above its fellow states.

Time has certainly shown the improved confidence to be merited, evidenced by the over 12% growth in the median house price over 2012.

 

AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL TERRITORY

While other states are suffering sluggish property price growth, the ACT is staying the course with a stable and resilient property market.

Capital growth in Canberra over the last year may appear benign at 0.6% (houses) and -0.1% (units), but those in the know say that the ACT is in a solid position for growth moving forward.

Indeed, the longer-term average annual appreciation rate for the region is 8.9% for houses and 9.5% for units, and in recent months price values have been on the up, appreciating at a rate of 5.8% and 4.2% respectively in the January 2013 quarter.

Steve Murphy, NSW/ACT franchise manager with Elders Real Estate, believes it’s a sign of things to come.

“We are confident of a very positive year in 2013, with lower interest rates and buyer confidence rising,” he says.

“The underlying key, of course, is consumer confidence.”

A major factor influencing consumer confidence will be the results of the upcoming federal election, particularly as Canberra is the political centre of the country. A budget-conscious government could also result in a loss of jobs throughout the nation’s capital, and this could impact the property market later in 2013.

“I think the Canberra market’s largely in a bit of a holding pattern at the moment, waiting to see what happens with the next federal budget and federal election,” says Cameron Kusher from RP Data.

“It’s quite a different election this time because we’ve got a hung parliament, and we haven’t had a hung parliament for a very long time,” he adds.

NEW SOUTH WALES

Sydney, alongside Perth and Darwin, is set to be one of 2013’s star property performers

One of the main drivers pushing the Sydney market forward is the growing gap between supply and demand, says Louis Christopher, SQM Research founder and managing director.

SQM Research data for January shows a significant decline in listings in Sydney, with the capital city recording a 6% fall in stock levels on a month on month basis, and 13.1% on a year on year basis.

It’s all good news for homebuyers, says Christopher, who believes a recovery is now well and truly underway in the Harbour city.

“There are a number of signals now that the market is gaining some traction,” he confirms.

“I think the interest rate cuts are now working and that a housing recovery is occurring. I now place the bottom of this market at the beginning of the December quarter, 2012.”

Of course, Sydney’s broader property market is comprised of hundreds of smaller micro-markets, each impacted by their own local drivers. In Christopher’s view, investors would be best served avoiding premium locations and instead, buying in affordable suburbs where demand is growing.

“The outer rings will outperform the affluent locations, due to this being an affordability-led recovery,” he says.

“It is possible that prestige real estate may start to rise if the economy gets better traction later in the year, but that is still just an ‘if’. The sustainability of this recovery is largely dependent upon the level of interest rates and a stable economic environment with no massive economic crashes overseas.”

Growth and prosperity in Sydney’s property market is not quite a done deal, he adds. While signs of a recovery are evident, the Australian economy and property market are still closely tied with the global economy, meaning volatility overseas can have a huge impact closer to home.

“We are big believers that the housing market still has too much debt in the system, making it highly susceptible to a credit shock,” Christopher says.

This means that now more than ever, investing with your head and not over it is crucial. Buying within your budget and having a buffer of cash to deal with emergencies is not just recommended, but is downright necessary, to ensure you don’t end up financially comprised if interest rates rise or property prices regress.

“The market is sensitive to only marginally more expensive credit,” Christopher adds. “Does anyone really believe that the market could handle interest rates back at 7% again?”

 

QUEENSLAND

Different drivers pave the way for property price growth – or value slumps – in each sub-market throughout Queensland, making it very difficult to forecast the road ahead.

With mining towns to the north, tourist hubs in the far north and south, and the capital city in the south east, Queensland’s property market is nothing if not diverse.

“The Queensland property market is made up of many submarkets, and each different market has reacted differently over the past 12 months,” explains Liz Wilcox, director of Metropole Property Strategists, Brisbane.

“Overall, the Brisbane market seemed to have bottomed out in the middle of last year, with home buyers and investors returning to the market. But not all parts of the Brisbane market are moving yet.”

As with many regions across the country, the prestige end of the market is still underperforming, and Wilcox believes premium properties “will continue to languish until general business confidence improves.”

“Similarly, the first homebuyers markets in Brisbane are floundering,” she says.

Growth rates across the state remain in the negative, with areas outside Brisbane most affected. RP Data figures show regional house values retracted 1% in value, while units lost 4.6%. Heavy price discounting is common among distressed buyers, who are forced to accept values far lower than desired.

“I recently signed off on a report in Noosa, where the property originally sold four years ago for $1.2m,” says Tyron Hyde, director of Washington Brown quantity surveyors.

“Our client just paid $450,000 for the property, and we estimated the original building cost was approximately $700,000.”

While this particular example, which highlights a terrible outcome for one property owner and a fantastic result for another buyer, may be extreme, vendor discounting throughout Queensland is widespread.

But there is a small beacon of hope amongst all of the dismal data. In the three months to January 2013, RP Data reports that there has been a modest 0.7% increase in median house prices in Brisbane over the last year. Although this growth figure is tiny, it is “very different from the previous few years, where prices were falling,” Wilcox points out.

VICTORIA

Fears that property prices will fall in the face of a rampant oversupply of new properties show no signs of being put to rest.

After months of being told that the Melbourne property market faces a flood of new properties coming onto the market, the question for most investors is no longer if an oversupply exists, but where.

Melbourne, after all, is hardly one single market. It is more a collection of markets that, while influencing each other, have their own separate destiny. The overall price movements and trends of the city may paint a general picture of the market, but they do little to describe what is happening in every suburb, street and individual property transaction.

“Now is a time to be very selective in what you buy,” says Michael Yardney, CEO of Metropole Property Strategists. “While there are some good buying opportunities, there are also a lot of secondary properties on the market right now.”

Yardney says that if city-wide stats paint an overall view of the market, it is only logical that within that picture some markets are doing better than others. He believes that well-located properties within inner-ring suburbs are holding their ground, but properties on the city’s outer fringes are struggling.

“More expensive properties have suffered the most and more recently the first home buyer segment of the market has slumped due to faltering buyer interest [and oversupply]… There is also no doubt that Melbourne has been in the slump stage of the property cycle for the last few years, plagued by an oversupply of house and land packages in the northern and western suburbs and an abundance of new apartments coming onto the market.”

WESTERN AUSTRALIA

Investors on the hunt for fast equity only have roughly two years until prices stop increasing and start going down again, says one forecaster.

It would be fair to say that John Edwards knows a thing or two about property prices. The Residex chief executive has been monitoring the Australian property market since 1990 and was largely a pioneer in developing the detailed housing price indexes we have today.

Within its market space his company may not be alone, but the way it arrives at its median price calculations – prioritising historical price trends – is somewhat unique. It is for this reason that Perth property investors should take heed of what Edwards is saying.

Going against widely held forecasts that Perth property values will enjoy a few years of uninterrupted price increases, Edwards believes that the Western Australian capital is actually due a correction – and sooner than most might think.

“Over the coming year we will continue to see growth in the [Perth] market. It’s definitely due a bit of good growth, but the timeframe for this growth is going to be short,” he says. Edward’s company forecasts that over 2013 Perth property prices will grow at around 6% and, in the year following that, he anticipates prices to do even better, growing at over 10%. Going into 2015, Edwards predicts prices will start to fall again.

“When you try and analyse the numbers and how they could be right – we’ve got all these resource projects that will be coming on stream by 2015. The highest labour obligation for any resource project is during the development phase, so with all these projects out of that phase we will see a reduction in Western Australian labour activity. As this happens, demand for housing will slow down.”

Edwards also warns that the response of builders to the current market, if past trends are anything to go by, might have an influence on the market. He believes that, expecting something of a return to boom times, developers may fall into the trap of getting ahead of themselves.

“What usually happens when a market is doing well is that developers oversupply. They overreact to the market and it takes a long time for it to come back to where supply really needs to be.”

To illustrate why a lot of developers might be getting excited about the Western Australian capital, Edwards puts Perth’s short-term value growth into context. “Up until 2015, you couldn’t call it boom times, but the value growth that we will see in Perth will probably be better than just about anywhere else.”

 

SOUTH AUSTRALIA

 

Buyers aren’t the only ones calling the shots in South Australia, where easing vacancy rates are giving tenants the pick of the bunch.

It’s certainly a far cry from 2010, when Adelaide’s vacancy rates slipped below 1% and tenants struggled to find accommodation.

Now, landlords throughout South Australia are at the mercy of a picky renting public, as vacancy rates have settled in at 3-4% across the state – and they don’t look set to retract any time in the near future.

Back in August 2010, Real Estate Institute of South Australia (REISA) figures showed that Adelaide’s eastern suburbs – classified as suburbs east of the city square between Payneham and Glen Osmond roads – had the tightest rental market of all at just 0.5%, while metropolitan Adelaide was sitting at 0.8%.

In the December 2012 quarter, Adelaide recorded a vacancy rate of 3.1%, while regional SA recorded a vacancy rate of 3.7%.

Agents report that properties are taking four to six weeks to lease in many situations, and tenants are being particularly price sensitive.

“Property managers across the state are consistently highlighting that the rental market is responding slower to filling vacancies and tenants are often only responding when the price meets the local market,” confirms REISA president Greg Moulton.

“We’ve really seen price be a major factor in tenants’ decisions and as there are slightly more properties available for lease, the tension between vacancy and price has eased.”

 

TASMANIA

 

A high unemployment rate, increasing vacancy rates and an uncertain economic future place Tasmania’s property market at the bottom of the pile.

The numbers are in, and they’re not good. In fact, some could argue that they’re downright bad.

Tasmania’s unemployment rate has reached 7.4%, which is 2% higher than the national average of 5.4%, and the highest figure the region has recorded in just under a decade.

The state’s residential vacancy rate has continued to trend upwards, with the latest data released by the Real Estate Institute of Tasmania (REIT) revealing a 4.7% vacancy rate state-wide in December 2012.

And property prices have slumped up to 6.7% across Tasmania in the last 12 months, with both regional and metropolitan areas recording a drop in housing values.

It’s enough to make you think things can’t possibly get any worse in the beleaguered southern state – but that is precisely the point, reports First National Real Estate.

According to the property group’s Tasmania Property Market Outlook report for 2013, the average number of days a property takes to sell is expected to fall by 25% as conditions and confidence begin to improve.

“Market conditions in Tasmania are expected to stabilise in general, with our members unanimously of the belief that the market has bottomed or will do so over the coming six months, driven by ongoing economic and job uncertainty and oversupply of properties,” the report confirms.

They also suggest that that Hobart will be the best performing area for the state, “attracting the most interest from buyers, especially from interstate”.

 

NORTHERN TERRITORY

A year of truly staggering price growth has come to light in Darwin, but investors have to wonder if the market has room for further increases.

Following a tumultuous summer, economists and property observers can finally breathe a sigh of relief – at least they are better at being right than the meteorologists.

This isn’t just because of the cyclones, bush fires and record temperatures that have been thrown the way of the weather bureau. A look at January figures from RP Data reveals that Darwin property has done exactly what most pundits expected it to: grow, grow and then grow a little more.

In fact, at more than 12% growth over 2012, house prices haven’t just gone up – they’ve rocketed away at light speed and are now galaxies away. Darwin’s current median house price of $560,000 is $80,000 up from what it was exactly a year before. It’s the kind of growth that makes for investor dreams, and hasn’t just been for one suburb, district or region of the city, it has been for the entire urban area.

“Demand is definitely strengthening,” says BIS Shrapnel senior residential manager Angie Zigomanis. “In the last year we’ve seen vacancy rates tighten considerably and so median house prices have shot up as well. The impact of the Inpex Ichthys LNG project has also been significant. When you’ve got a small city like Darwin, a $30bn project makes a big difference.”

Zigomanis adds that the Inpex Ichthys project is part of what has given the Darwin market a new lease of life. He says that the city had the strongest property price growth during and just after the GFC, partly on the back of new government administration offices moving into the area and projects that were still working their way through development. That growth hit a ceiling in 2011 and prices went backwards for much of that year. It was only in the autumn of 2012 that the city’s fortunes began to change.

When the Inpex deal was first announced, it was estimated that around 3,000 jobs would be directly created and that a stream of new rental accommodation would be required to meet demand from natural gas workers.

This was reflected in improved confidence for the city. A Property Council-ANZ survey at the time found that confidence in the Northern Territory shot up 15%, putting NT’s confidence levels far above its fellow states.

Time has certainly shown the improved confidence to be merited, evidenced by the over 12% growth in the median house price over 2012.

 

AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL TERRITORY

While other states are suffering sluggish property price growth, the ACT is staying the course with a stable and resilient property market.

Capital growth in Canberra over the last year may appear benign at 0.6% (houses) and -0.1% (units), but those in the know say that the ACT is in a solid position for growth moving forward.

Indeed, the longer-term average annual appreciation rate for the region is 8.9% for houses and 9.5% for units, and in recent months price values have been on the up, appreciating at a rate of 5.8% and 4.2% respectively in the January 2013 quarter.

Steve Murphy, NSW/ACT franchise manager with Elders Real Estate, believes it’s a sign of things to come.

“We are confident of a very positive year in 2013, with lower interest rates and buyer confidence rising,” he says.

“The underlying key, of course, is consumer confidence.”

A major factor influencing consumer confidence will be the results of the upcoming federal election, particularly as Canberra is the political centre of the country. A budget-conscious government could also result in a loss of jobs throughout the nation’s capital, and this could impact the property market later in 2013.

“I think the Canberra market’s largely in a bit of a holding pattern at the moment, waiting to see what happens with the next federal budget and federal election,” says Cameron Kusher from RP Data.

“It’s quite a different election this time because we’ve got a hung parliament, and we haven’t had a hung parliament for a very long time,” he adds.

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