Housing Boom Fades Worldwide As Interest Rates Climb
Prices are falling in some places, raising the risk of market routs and adding to central banks’ challenges.
Prices are falling in some places, raising the risk of market routs and adding to central banks’ challenges.
Rising interest rates are slamming the brakes on a global housing boom during the pandemic, heaping extra pressure on central banks as they try to tame inflation without triggering deep downturns in their economies.
From Europe to Asia to Latin America, residential real-estate markets are coming off the boil, and in some cases seeing home values spring, as central banks jack up borrowing costs to bring consumer-price growth to heel.
The seasonally adjusted average home price in Canada was down nearly 8% in June from a peak earlier this year. In New Zealand, prices had slipped 8% in June from their peak in late 2021. Prices in Sweden in May fell 1.6% from the previous month, the biggest monthly decline since the pandemic began.
For the world’s central banks, skimming froth from bubbly housing markets is all part of the battle to bring inflation under control. Falling house prices usually result in weaker consumer spending as homeowners see wealth evaporate, easing upward pressure on inflation. Overall economic activity should slow as construction dwindles, banks issue fewer loans and real-estate agents make fewer sales.
“We are expecting to see some moderation in housing activity. And frankly, that would be healthy, because the economy is overheating,” Tiff Macklem, governor of the Bank of Canada, said last month.
The risk, economists say, is that central banks move too aggressively, causing a global housing-market slowdown that turns into a rout, with unpredictable effects.
Countries including Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden look especially vulnerable, based on metrics such as real-estate’s share of their economies, the extent of their recent booms and homeowners’ sensitivity to rapid interest-rate increases, some economists say.
Analysts say the risk of a housing blowup of the scale of the 2008-09 financial crisis is remote. Banks and borrowers are mostly in far better financial shape now.
Still, a bigger-than-expected housing downturn could mean a deeper economic slowdown than central banks are aiming for to tame inflation.
A shrinking real-estate sector means laid-off construction workers and weaker demand for steel and other commodities. Falling home prices also hurt household and bank balance sheets, which tends to weigh on other parts of the economy. In extreme cases, financial distress ensues.
Faced with those risks, some central banks may decide they can’t lift rates as much as investors currently expect. Others may even pause or reverse rate rises to prevent a real-estate bust from spreading.
“Moderate housing downturns will be tolerated as a price that has to be paid for getting inflation back down,” said Neil Shearing, chief economist at Capital Economics in London. More severe downturns, though, could trouble central banks enough to shift policy, he said.
The U.S. is still experiencing strong house-price growth despite higher mortgage rates, as fierce competition outstrips limited supply. Average home prices in the U.S. rose by an annual 20.4% in April, according to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller National Home Price Index, which measures average home prices in major metropolitan areas.
Federal Reserve officials have expressed determination to bring U.S. inflation down, even at the risk of causing a recession.
Global housing prices took off in 2020 and 2021, when central banks slashed interest rates and governments spent big on keeping companies and workers afloat during the pandemic.
An index of global house prices compiled by real-estate consulting firm Knight Frank shows that prices rose 19% worldwide between the first quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of this year, or 10% after adjusting for inflation, though some markets logged much stronger appreciation.
Inflation-adjusted price growth slowed to 3.9% globally in the first three months of 2022 from a year earlier, the index showed. Over the same period, house prices fell in real terms in countries including Brazil, Chile, Spain, Finland, South Africa and India, Knight Frank research shows.
The slowdown coincides with tighter interest-rate policy across much of the world and expectations of more to come.
After earlier rate rises this year, the Bank of Canada last Wednesday raised its policy rate by a full percentage point to 2.50% and said further rate increases are necessary. Gov. Macklem has said cooling housing is essential to push inflation down from a 39-year high of 7.7% in May.
With Canada mortgage rates at their highest level since 2009, house sales in June were down 24% from a year earlier, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association.
Real-estate brokerage Realosophy said Toronto sales declined 40% in May from a year earlier and now sit at a 20-year low. The median price for a Toronto home, excluding condominiums, is down nearly 20% from a February peak.
Daniel Foch, a real-estate agent who focuses on Toronto’s suburbs, said the mood among would-be buyers is “somewhat bittersweet, because a lot of them are seeing prices come down and they’re thinking, ‘all of sudden I can afford that house.’”
The problem, Mr. Foch said, is when they seek financing. “They realize their buying power has been reduced by the same amount.”
Economists are marking down their expectations for Canada’s economy as housing, which accounted for about one-fifth of the growth in gross domestic product last year, slows.
The Bank for International Settlements, which brings together many of the world’s top central banks, said in June that it could take a while for countries such as the U.S., where most mortgages have fixed rates, to feel the effect of higher rates.
But the same isn’t true for countries where floating-rate mortgages—which adjust as interest rates rise—are more common, as they are in parts of Europe and elsewhere, according to BIS data. In Australia, 85% of mortgages are floating rate. In Poland, the share is 98%.
The Reserve Bank of Australia is currently raising interest at the fastest pace in nearly three decades. Some retreat in house prices would ease affordability problems, but economists say any hint of a coming market collapse would quickly see the RBA stop tightening policy screws.
Overstretched borrowers are a particular concern.
“These are people who have taken out their first housing loan in the last year or so or who have bought a bigger house in the past couple of years and have borrowed as much as the bank would lend them,” RBA Gov. Philip Lowe said in a recent speech.
Economists say there are some grounds for optimism over housing. The price run-up was driven primarily by rock-bottom rates and evolving consumer preferences for more space, not the loosened lending standards or excessive risk-taking that culminated in the 2008-09 crisis. Supply of homes is tight.
Healthy labor markets and pandemic stimulus programs mean many households are in decent financial shape, though inflation is eating into incomes.
“As long as the unemployment rate stays low, interest rates should be manageable for the vast majority of households,” said Sharon Zollner, ANZ Bank’s New Zealand chief economist. “You won’t have a lot of sellers who have to just take whatever the offer is on the day.”
The impact of slowing markets will still be felt, however.
In New Zealand, where home prices rose 45% over 2020 and 2021, the median house price in June was down by about 8% from its November 2021 high of 925,000 New Zealand dollars, equivalent to about $565,500.
The reversal came after New Zealand’s central bank began raising its benchmark interest rate in October, and lenders tightened borrowing standards.
Asif Abbas Mehdi, a business owner in New Zealand’s Waikato dairy-farming region, said he has been trying to sell a three-bedroom, two bathroom townhouse for four months.
Initially he sought NZ$730,000, or about $450,000, then NZ$680,000, or about $419,000. He is reluctant to go lower than that.
“If nothing happens at 680,000, I might have to pull it off the market,” Mr. Mehdi said.
Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: July 18,2022
Following the devastation of recent flooding, experts are urging government intervention to drive the cessation of building in areas at risk.
Private club memberships and luxury cars are some of freebies on the table.
When Ryan Wolitzer was looking to buy an apartment in Miami Beach late last year, several beachfront properties caught his eye. All were two-bedroom homes in high-end buildings with amenities aplenty and featured glass walls, high ceilings and an abundance of natural light. But only The Continuum, in the city’s South of Fifth district, came with a gift: a membership to Residence Yacht Club, a private club that offers excursions on luxury yachts ranging from a day in south Florida to a month around the Caribbean. Residents receive heavily discounted charters on upscale boats that have premier finishes and are stocked with top shelf spirits and wine. Mr. Wolitzer, 25, who works for a sports agency, was sold.
“The access to high-end yachts swayed my decision to buy at The Continuum and is an incentive that I take full advantage of,” Mr. Wolitzer said. “It’s huge, especially in my business when I am dealing with high-profile sports players, to be able to give them access to these incredible boats where they experience great service. I know that they’ll be well taken care of.”
Freebies and perks for homeowners such as a private club membership are a mainstay in the world of luxury real estate and intended to entice prospective buyers to sign on the dotted line.
According to Jonathan Miller, the president and chief executive of the real estate appraisal and consulting firm Miller Samuel, they’re primarily a domestic phenomenon.
In the U.S. residential real estate market, gifts are offered by both developers who want to move apartments in their swanky buildings and individuals selling their homes. They range from modest to over-the-top, Mr. Miller said, and are more prevalent when the market is soft.
“When sales lag, freebies increase in a bid to incentivize buyers,” he said. “These days, sales are slowing, and inventory is rising after two years of being the opposite, which suggests that we may see more of them going forward.”
Many of these extras are especially present in South Florida, Mr. Miller said, where the market is normalizing after the unprecedented boom it saw during the pandemic. “The frenzy in South Florida was intense compared with the rest of the country because it became a place where people wanted to live full time,” he said. “Now that the numbers are inching toward pre-pandemic levels, freebies could push wavering buyers over the finish line.”
Kelly Killoren Bensimon, a real estate salesperson for Douglas Elliman in Miami and New York, said that the gifts that she has encountered in her business include everything from yacht access and use of a summer house to magnums of pricey wine. “One person I know of who was selling a US$5 million house in the Hamptons even threw in a free Mercedes 280SL,” she said. “They didn’t want to lower the price but were happy to sweeten the deal.”
A car, an Aston Martin to be exact, is also a lure at Aston Martin Residences in Miami’s Biscayne Bay. Buyers who bought one of the building’s 01 line apartments—a collection of 47 ocean-facing residences ranging in size from 325 to 362sqm and US$8.3 million to US$9 million in price—had their choice of the DBX Miami Riverwalk Special Edition or the DB11 Miami Riverwalk Special Edition. The DBX is Aston Martin’s first SUV and retails for around US$200,000. It may have helped propel sales given that all the apartments are sold out.
The US$59 million triplex penthouse, meanwhile, is still up for grabs, and the buyer will receive a US$3.2 million Aston Martin Vulcan track-only sports car, one of only 24 ever made.
“We want to give homeowners the chance to live the full Aston Martin lifestyle, and owning a beautiful Aston Martin is definitely a highlight of that,” said Alejandro Aljanti, the chief marketing officer for G&G Business Developments, the building’s developer. “We wanted to include the cars as part of the package for our more exclusive units.”
The US$800,000 furniture budget for buyers of the North Tower condominiums at The Estates at Acqualina in Sunny Isles, Florida, is another recent head-turning perk. The 94 residences sold out last year, according to president of sales Michael Goldstein, and had a starting price of US$6.3 million. “You can pick the furniture ahead of time, and when buyers move in later this year, all they’ll need is a toothbrush,” he said.
Then there’s the US$2 million art collection that was included in the sale of the penthouse residence at the Four Seasons Residences in Miami’s Brickell neighbourhood. The property recently sold for $15.9 million and spans 817sqm feet. Designed by the renowned firm ODP Architects, it features contemporary paintings and sculpture pieces from notable names such as the American conceptual artist Bill Beckley and the sculptor Tom Brewitz.
But it’s hard to top the millions of dollars of extras that were attached to the asking price in 2019 of the US$85 million 1393sqm duplex at the Atelier, in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighbourhood. The list included two Rolls-Royce Phantoms, a Lamborghini Aventador, a US$1 million yacht with five years of docking fees, a summer stay at a Hamptons mansion, weekly dinners for two at lavish French restaurant Daniel and a live-in butler and private chef for a year. And the most outrageous of all: a flight for two to space.
It turned out that the so-called duplex was actually a collection of several apartments and a listing that went unsold. It did, however, generate plenty of buzz among the press and in real estate circles and was a marketing success, according to Mr. Miller.
“A listing like this that almost seems unbelievable with all the gifts will get plenty of eyeballs but is unlikely to push sales,” he said. “Empirically, it’s not an effective tactic.”
On the other hand, Mr. Miller said that more reasonable but still generous freebies, such as the membership to a yacht club, have the potential to push undecided buyers to go for the sale. “A nice but not too lavish gift won’t be the singular thing toward their decision but can be a big factor,” he said. “It’s a feel-good incentive that buyers think they’re getting without an extra cost.”
Examples of these bonuses include a membership to the 1 Hotel South Beach private beach club that buyers receive with the purchase of a residence at Baccarat Residences Brickell, or the one-year membership to the Grand Bay Beach Club in Key Biscayne for those who spring for a home at Casa Bella Residences by B&B Italia, located in downtown Miami and a residential project from the namesake renowned Italian furniture brand. The price of a membership at the Grand Bay Beach Club is usually a US$19,500 initiation fee and US$415 in monthly dues.
Still enticing but less expensive perks include the two-hour cruise around New York on a wooden Hemmingway boat, valued at US$1,900, for buyers at Quay Tower, at Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York City. The building’s developer, Robert Levine, said that he started offering the boat trip in July to help sell the remaining units. “We’re close to 70% sold, but, of course, I want everything to go,” he said.
There’s also the US$1,635 Avalon throw blanket from Hermes for those who close on a unit at Ten30 South Beach, a 33-unit boutique condominium; in Manhattan’s Financial District, a custom piece of art from the acclaimed artist James Perkins is gifted to buyers at Jolie, a 42-story building on Greenwich Street. Perkins said the value of the piece depends on the home purchase price, but the minimum is US$4,000. “The higher end homes get a more sizable work,” he said.
When gifts are part of a total real estate package, the sale can become emotional and personal, according to Chad Carroll, a real estate agent with Compass in South Florida and the founder of The Carroll Group. “If the freebie appeals to the buyer, the transaction takes on a different dynamic,” he said. “A gift becomes the kicker that they love the idea of having.”
Speaking from his own experience, Mr. Carroll said that sellers can also have an emotional connection to the exchange. “I was selling my house in Golden Isles last year for US$5.4 million and included my jet ski and paddle boards,” he said. “The buyers were a family with young kids and absolutely loved the water toys.” Mr. Carroll could have held out for a higher bidder, he said, but decided to accept their offer. “I liked them and wanted them to create the same happy memories in the home that I did,” he said.
The family moved in a few months later.