House Prices Are Inflating Around The World
Pandemic-related stimulus and ultralow rates are turbocharging markets from Europe to Asia.
Pandemic-related stimulus and ultralow rates are turbocharging markets from Europe to Asia.
As the U.S. housing market booms, a parallel rise in residential real-estate prices across the world from Amsterdam to Auckland is raising fears of possible bubbles and prompting some governments to intervene to prevent their markets from overheating.
Policy makers were already worried about high property prices in parts of Europe, Asia and Canada before the pandemic, especially as years of low-interest rates kept demand strong.
But now the trillions of dollars of stimulus deployed worldwide to fight the effects of Covid-19, along with changes in buying patterns as more people work from home, are turbocharging markets further.
That is putting policy makers in a bind. Many want to keep interest rates low to sustain the post-pandemic recovery, but they worry about people taking on too much debt to buy houses whose prices could stagnate or fall later. Other tools they have to cool demand, like tighter mortgage restrictions, aren’t always working, or are being postponed as authorities try to ensure broader economic growth stays on track.
The Danish central bank recently warned that cheap financing and savings that expanded during the pandemic could lead to people taking on more debt to purchase houses and property prices spiralling upward.
“It is clear that rising [house] prices of between 5% and 10% annually, depending on the market we are talking about, are not sustainable in the long run,” said Karsten Biltoft, assistant governor at the central bank.
In China, regulators have tried tamping down property markets to cool what one senior banking official referred to as a “bubble,” to little avail. Property prices are up 16% over the past year in the city of Shenzhen, for example. In New Zealand, authorities recently tightened mortgage lending standards, with median home prices climbing 23% in February from a year earlier to a record.
In Sydney, where property prices also recently hit records, new mortgage demand is so high that some banks are struggling to keep up, said Christian Stevens, senior credit adviser at mortgage brokerage Shore Financial. Turnaround times for processing mortgage applications have increased from a few days to more than a month in some cases.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “We’ve never been this busy or seen this much inquiry. And it doesn’t look like it’s slowing down anytime soon.”
In the 37 wealthy countries that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, home prices hit a record in the third quarter of 2020, according to OECD data. Prices rose almost 5% on the year, the fastest in nearly 20 years.
The U.S. has also seen strong house price appreciation, though economists generally aren’t too worried. Compared with previous periods of housing-market exuberance, buyers have higher credit ratings and are putting down more cash upfront on purchases.
Economists see similar silver linings elsewhere, making a replay of the global 2008 housing crash, which sent the world into recession, unlikely. Hot markets could cool naturally without wider damage as interest rates rise and pent-up demand is met. As in the U.S., much of the buying globally is being driven by real demand rather than speculation, with families looking to upgrade to larger properties in suburban areas as they work more from home.
“There’s been this almost global reset as people have taken a step back during lockdown periods and reassessed their lifestyle,” said Kate Everett-Allen, head of international residential research at Knight Frank.
Strong home-price appreciation also makes homeowners feel wealthier and encourages more spending and construction, as developers build more supply.
However, with equities prices also at or near record highs, some officials are worried that vast amounts of stimulus are pushing asset prices to unsustainable levels in some global cities, which could lead to local market corrections.
The Dutch central bank told The Wall Street Journal that one concern is that sharp property price increases could be forcing households to take on excessive risk to finance home purchases. Prices in the Netherlands, where there is also a housing supply crunch, rose 7.8% last year, after a 6.9% rise in 2019, according to analysts at ING Groep.
Canada’s central bank governor, Tiff Macklem, said in February there were early signs of “excess exuberance” in the Canadian housing market, with prices up 17% on an adjusted basis over a one-year period, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association. Mr. Macklem said officials would be monitoring the situation closely, but dismissed taking measures to rein in sales, saying the economy needed all the support it could get.
Governments say they are also worried about pricing more families out of the market, which could exacerbate economic imbalances that have worsened during the pandemic and potentially drive younger people to put off having children.
In Seoul, where house prices at one point last year were up nearly 15% on an annualized basis, some couples are postponing registering marriages in the hope of making it easier to buy homes. Income thresholds for low-interest mortgages in South Korea are more generous for individuals than couples.
In New Zealand, Sam Hindle, 29, says he and his wife bid on six houses and were rejected for all of them because of competition from other buyers, and eventually agreed to buy a house off-market from a friend.
“It’s just been a nightmare,” said Mr. Hindle, who works in a bank call centre and lives about a four-hour drive from Auckland.
Government officials recently told New Zealand’s central bank that it must consider the impact its policy decisions have on housing, though doing so could complicate rate-setting. The central bank also restricted the volume of high-risk mortgages banks can offer.
Last year, China put new limits on developer financing in the hope of cooling housing prices, but the market has remained frothy. In early March, the chairman of China’s main banking regulator said he was worried about a possible correction in home prices, which could threaten banks’ stability.
Europe’s housing prices have kept climbing despite a much bleaker economic outlook than in the U.S. or China. In part that is because governments have kept supporting families with salary subsidies and moratoriums on loan repayments. It is also because interest rates remain extraordinarily low, with mortgage rates averaging 1.35% across the eurozone.
In Denmark, mortgage holders have been able to borrow money at negative interest, meaning borrowers only pay the bank an administration fee. Negative interest in their favor either gets discounted from the fee or deducted from their mortgage principal.
Michael Stausholm, a Copenhagen real-estate agent, said he has sold 45 homes in less than three months this year, putting him on track to beat last year’s record of 161 sales, despite Covid-19 restrictions.
“A lot of people want to put their money in brick,” Mr. Stausholm said.
Pre-pandemic, the Dutch central bank ruled that banks would need to hold more capital to cover potential losses in mortgage-loan portfolios, but implementation was postponed because of Covid-19. The central bank has also called for the government to gradually phase out tax incentives for homeowners, including mortgage-interest deductions.
Mick ten Bosch, a real-estate agency owner in Amsterdam, said he had 450 people trying to view one house last year, compared with an average of 20 pre-pandemic. This year is even busier, with houses selling for 15% to 20% above asking price, he added.
Teun Kraaij, a 34-year-old entrepreneur, bought a house in an area by the beach near Amsterdam with more space for his two children. While he had enough money to pay the full purchase price outright, his banker advised him to take a mortgage with a 1.2% interest rate.
“It’s so cheap to borrow money nowadays, it doesn’t make sense not to do it,” Mr. Kraaij said.
Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: March 28, 2021.
Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’
Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual
There’s no shortage of design inspiration online but nothing beats the joy of spending an afternoon immersing yourself in a good interior design book. Edited, carefully curated and, above all, designed, these titles take you behind the scenes of some of the world’s most beautiful interiors in a considered way. Think of it like the difference between listening to a few tunes on Spotify versus releasing a thoughtfully crafted studio album. We’ve assembled our top six of interior design books on the market right now for your viewing and reading pleasure.
Step inside the world of award-winning interior design duo Juliette Arent and Sarah-Jane Pyke in this, their first compendium of their work. A ‘best of’ over more than 15 years working together, it’s a masterclass in working with colour and pattern as seen through 18 projects from around the country. With a focus on the idea of home as sanctuary, this hefty tome offers insight into the mind of the designer with points on where to find inspiration, meeting client briefs and the importance of relationships. Thames & Hudson, $120
If there was ever a book title for our times, then this is it. With a subtitle of Playful Homes and Cheerful Living, this book champions fun in interior design, with bold and bright homes from around the world to delight and inspire. While there’s a good dose of the unexpected, like a disco ball in the garden, there’s no mayhem in these spaces. Instead, they’re beautifully executed to tempt even the most colour shy. Gestalten, $105
Some design books are beautiful to look at, and that’s it. This is not one of those books. A master of colour and pattern, UK designer Ahern offers a practical foundational guide to beautiful interiors, mixing form with function in her latest book, Masterclass. Find the inspiration you need to create a gorgeous home. HarperCollins, $65
Looking for a visual crash course in international design trends with longevity? This is the book for you. Featuring homes across the globe, from New York to Auckland via Avignon, the biggest dilemma for readers is settling on a style. Many of the projects are owned by designers and creatives, lending a dynamic edge to this tome, now in its 40th year. Taschen, $50
For many Australians, the ocean holds an almost hypnotic appeal. Home by the Sea by Natalie Walton lets you imagine, for a little while at least, what it’s like living the dream in a beach shack in Byron Bay. The book tours 18 homes in and around the region and the hinterland owned by artists, designers and makers. With photography by Amelia Fullarton, it champions the good life. Hardie Grant, $60
Released last year, this is the third volume from award-winning interior designer Greg Natale. Different in format from his earlier books, the eight projects featured are Australian but with a slight Euro-centric focus. The writing is conversational, almost intimate, inviting the reader into the most luxurious spaces beautifully captured by photographer Anson Smart. This coffee table tome is perfect for dreamers and doers alike. Rizzoli, $110
Inside the Queensland capital’s most elevated residences.
The actor’s Telluride property is as action-packed as his films.