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Last year was an extraordinary year for Australia’s housing market – around 98% of locations around the country recorded an increase in the median property value, with many of those values surging by more than 20%.

Abs2Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) confirms that the total value of Australia’s 10.8 million property portfolio skyrocketed to $9.9 trillion in 2021, having risen by a wallet-busting $512.6 billion in just 3 months.

The record-shattering 23.7% annual rise in residential property prices in the 12 months to December means the national median property price now stands at $920,100, up from $876,100 in the September quarter.

At the same time, the collective wealth of Australia’s homeowners increased by $2 trillion in just one year alone – a sum which is 30% higher than the annual output of the entire Australian economy.

It’s difficult, therefore, to underestimate the extent to which housing wealth has risen during the pandemic years.

Because the rate of growth is extreme.

GrowthThe ABS data shows that growth in property wealth over the past 2 years is higher than the increases seen over the entire decade before Covid-19 exploded into our lives.

Prior to the outbreak, Australia’s residential property market was valued at $7.1 trillion… and by the end of 2021 (less than 2 years later), that valuation jumped to $9.1 trillion.

But now things are changing.

What was an extraordinary housing market and a once-in-a-generation property boom is beginning to stabilise, becoming more fragmented with demand and prices appearing to return to more ‘normal’ levels.

REA senior economist Eleanor Creagh highlights 8 key themes which may reshape Australia’s housing market in the year ahead.

1. There will be more balance

New listings surged during the final 3 months of 2021 as the easing to Covid-19 restrictions and high prices in New South Wales, and Victoria boosted seller confidence.

And the trend continued into 2022 – January this year was the busiest for new listings in the last 8 years.

We’ve started off another year with many active buyers, and views per listing hitting a record-high, though a surge in new listings into the end of 2021 has provided a lot more choice, releasing some of the heat from the market.

And Creagh expects new listings to remain elevated during the start of 2022 as would-be sellers respond to strong price growth and intense levels of competition continue to ease.

“Greater willingness from sellers to list their properties will mean more choice and an improved balance between supply and demand.

This should also contribute to easing price growth this year,” she said.

Indicators of buyer demand show property seekers remain motivated, but after what has been an exceptional year, buyer demand is beginning to moderate from the extreme levels witnessed in 2021.

2. Price growth will slow

Price RiseAustralia’s property prices increased at a record pace in 2021 with Domain’s latest quarterly house price report showing that the national median house price surged 25.7% and units by 7.7% year-on-year.

But Creagh points out that already high property prices, along with bottoming mortgage rates, will help to slow annual price growth going forward.

“Savings made from lower interest rates were very quickly absorbed by higher housing prices and that commensurate boost to affordability from low rates is expiring,” she said.

Meanwhile, APRA’s changes to the macroprudential controls on lending late last year have moderately reduced borrowing capacity for new buyers.

Prior to these changes, borrowers were assessed for a mortgage based on their ability to repay a mortgage at an interest rate 2.5% above the offered interest rate, and once these changes were introduced that buffer increased to 3%.

3. Upgraders will provide another tailwind for activity

The Covid-19 pandemic, lockdowns, and ongoing restrictions have seen Australians re-evaluate what they want from their home.

Covid Price

Because home is no longer just the place we rest, it has fast become the place we work, play, and even self-isolate for a period of time.

As a result, we’ve seen many buyers looking for larger homes with more space… and they’re even prepared to move to get it.

And after the significant rise in housing prices, many existing homeowners are sitting on substantial equity.

This combination, Creagh explains, is likely to add to the strength in upgrader transaction volumes, especially as the shift in lifestyle preferences is still being compounded.

As Covid-19 cases subside and the severity of the outbreak lessens, this year will hopefully be less hindered by restrictions.

House PriceThis means,

“buyers and sellers who have held back until now will have the opportunity to transact unencumbered – providing another tailwind for activity,” Creagh says.

But this might not be the same case for those wanting to upgrade to a house from a unit.

While prices rose across the board, the huge surge in house prices relative to mediocre unit price increases means the cost between the two has never been so wide apart.

And this is troubling news for unit-owners who are looking to upgrade their home or investment to a house.

Upgrading has become particularly difficult in the capital cities, where the price gap between units and houses has completely blown out since the pandemic hit.

4. Demand for city units will surge

CbdOur CBDs took a beating during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The influx of CBD-based workers, visitors, and new residents have been key in CBDs maintaining their role as centres for activity and employment.

So since our borders shut and life as we knew it ceased, these business centres slowly shut down, and so did any demand for units in these areas.

But now that’s all changing.

Since the announcement that Australia would welcome back overseas migrants and students, PropTrack data shows that there has been a sharp rise in the number of people looking to rent homes in the centre of major cities.

Melbourne Downtown Cbd SkylineAmazingly, the total number of searches for rentals in capital city CBDs in the first 10 weeks of this year was 27% higher than the same period in 2021.

“The premium of house prices over unit prices has reached record highs, with the pandemic driving one of the biggest shifts we’ve ever seen when it comes to housing preferences,” Creagh says.

“But with credit conditions tightening and a normalisation of migration placing pressure on rental markets, demand for units could rise as buyers look for affordable options.”

5. Investors will remain active

InvestInvestor activity picked up significantly in 2021 with investor inquiries to real estate agents sitting at the highest level seen in over 2 years.

Since investor loans typically have higher interest rates, APRA’s increase to the serviceability buffer applied to new home loan applications will impact investors more than owner-occupiers.

And Creagh says that with this in mind, and units currently historically cheap relative to houses, the added pressure in rental markets and affordability factors could drive demand.

“Investor mortgage demand has increased from a record low of around 20% of new lending to more than 30%, and with APRA modestly tightening credit conditions, investors may look to capitalise on rental recovery and the unit discount.”

6. Demand will continue for southeast Queensland

Record-high property prices and a sea- or tree-change shift have seen demand for property in southeast Queensland boom.

After several years of more modest growth, prices are still growing at a rapid rate, supported by better affordability and strong demand from interstate migrants.

And Creagh thinks it is likely that the Brisbane, Gold Coast, and Sunshine Coast markets will remain popular for some time to come.

While the region is set to benefit from interstate demand, another positive factor will be the infrastructure spending in the run-up to the 2032 Olympic Games, she says.

As the Games approach, a pipeline of infrastructure investment, transport upgrades and job creation will continue to drive property demand – a positive factor for those regions.

The allure of affordability, lifestyle, and increased investment in the lead-up to the event will drive real estate investment in Queensland throughout the year ahead.

7. Commutable regional markets will rise

Victoria SuburbiaThe sea- or tree-change shift shows people have refocused their attention on what is around them, with buyers increasingly venturing out of their usual neighbourhoods and suburbs to regional Australia in search of a different lifestyle.

Because home is no longer just the place we rest, it has fast become the place we work, play, and even self-isolate for a period of time.

And the shift has seen a surge in prices for properties in regional markets, particularly in those close to capital cities.

And Creagh says that while the pace at which this shift has been felt is likely to ease, well-connected and commutable regions are likely to remain in high demand – particularly coastal, regional, and beachside suburbs.

Remote WorkDespite easing restrictions, for many, working from home will remain the norm for 2022.

“As remote work trends reduce the need to live so close to the office, some will take advantage of the relatively more affordable housing in regional areas.

This is particularly the case for Sydney relative to other regions,” she says.

“And with the supply of properties available for sale in regional areas remaining constrained, that’s likely to see prices continuing to rise, albeit at a considerably reduced rate.”

8. The RBA may hike rates… if wages growth moves higher

Lower mortgage rates have been a significant driver of the property increase in prices seen over the past couple of years.

Mortgage ValuationBut the likelihood of a cash rate increase in 2022 has increased significantly.

Since the onset of the pandemic, the RBA has provided significant economic stimulus and support and has repeatedly stated that they don’t expect conditions for a rate increase will be met until 2024.

And the banks suggest that property owners could face higher mortgage repayments as early as June as financial markets and economists warn a rapid run-up in inflation could force the Reserve Bank to lift official rates above 2% within the next 12 months.

Combined with growing concern about the upcoming federal election and rising cost-of-living, CBA said it believed the Reserve Bank would have to start increasing interest rates by the middle of the year.

And such a hike is worrying news for homeowners and investors because even a 1% rise could add hundreds of dollars a month in repayments on the average new mortgage.

However, before the RBA raises rates, governor Philip Lowe has consistently highlighted that both inflation and wage growth are necessary preconditions.

Reserve Bank Australia Interest Rate 300x200

The RBA’s preferred measure of underlying inflation (trimmed mean inflation) may be back within their 2% to 3% target range, but there will need to be a significant pick-up in wages for the cash rate to rise this year, Creagh explains.

Wages growth is the number one determinant of sustained inflationary pressures (what the RBA is seeking) – and currently the missing link.

Crucially, the RBA is waiting for wage growth to be closer to 4%.

“The possibility has increased that faster-than-expected progress continues to be made if the labour market continues to strengthen at the current pace, leading to a 2022 rate hike,” Creagh said.

“But until there is evidence of broad-based stronger wages growth, we don’t expect interest rates to rise.” 

She also explained that the RBA is also likely to wait for at least two more strong CPI prints before raising the cash rate which renders August 2022 the earliest possible in that respect.

“However, even if the RBA holds out until later in 2022 or early 2023, mortgage rates are likely to rise regardless,” Creagh says.

“Fixed rates have already bottomed, and variable rates are likely to creep higher this year.

Even though mortgage rates are likely to rise, they will remain historically low.”

ALSO READ: Is this the most significant factor driving our property markets?



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