One of the World’s Hottest Real-Estate Markets Tries To Cool
New Zealand is pulling every lever to tame property prices.
New Zealand is pulling every lever to tame property prices.
New Zealand is emerging as a test case of whether authorities can restrain rising home prices without tanking the market and destabilising the economy at the same time.
The South Pacific nation’s efforts could offer a blueprint for the many other countries facing a similar dilemma after the coronavirus pandemic. A combination of low rates, economic stimulus and changes in buying patterns as people work remotely is pushing real-estate values higher all over the world, pricing out many first-time home buyers.
The problem is particularly acute in New Zealand, where housing supply failed to keep up with population growth over much of the past decade. Home prices have risen more than 30% in the past year, according to a property-price index from the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand.
The country’s home-price-to-income ratio, a measure of affordability, is the highest compared with the long-run average among 30 key economies analyzed by research firm Capital Economics. For each economy, the firm created an index setting at 100 the long-term average of the ratio of home prices to incomes. New Zealand’s score on the index was 178, or well above its long-term average.
Governments have several tools at their disposal to influence real-estate prices, including boosting housing supply either through direct investment or changing land-use regulations, restricting mortgage lending and offering financial assistance to first-time buyers.
Economists and policy makers debate whether central banks should use interest rates to try to rein in housing prices by influencing the cost of borrowing. Higher rates could make mortgages more expensive and cool demand for housing, but they could also have unwanted impacts on inflation or employment, the traditional areas of focus for central banks.
New Zealand is pulling every lever. In October, the country’s central bank raised its benchmark interest rate to 0.5% from a record-low 0.25% and signalled more increases over the next year, in part because of skyrocketing home prices. And earlier in the year, New Zealand’s government, in a novel move, directed the central bank to consider home prices when making decisions about monetary policy, even though bank officials warned that would have little impact on the market and could lead to lower employment and below-target inflation.
New Zealand has also restricted low-deposit lending, a move designed to reduce risky mortgages and lower the chance of a damaging housing market correction, which could destabilize the broader economy. Starting Nov. 1, only 10% of lending to owner-occupiers can have a loan-to-value ratio of more than 80%, down from the 20% of lending that is allowed now. It is working on debt-to-income restrictions as an additional tool.
The government also plans to make higher-density housing easier to build in cities and limit the deductibility of interest costs on residential property investments. The tax change aims to stem investor demand for existing residential properties, a dynamic that has contributed to higher real-estate prices in the past and made it more difficult for first-time buyers to get on the property ladder.
Whether New Zealand’s efforts have a measurable impact on housing prices, without any unwanted economic or social side effects, isn’t yet clear.
In September, the latest month for which data is available, property prices in seven of New Zealand’s 16 regions reached record median levels, according to the Real Estate Institute. Prices in Auckland, the country’s biggest city, declined 4% from August to September, but a Covid-19 lockdown in the city had curtailed buying and selling. The institute said it expects activity to pick up when the lockdown lifts.
Gareth Kiernan, chief forecaster at Infometrics, doesn’t expect New Zealand home prices to fall soon. All the government and central-bank measures combined might succeed in slowing price increases, he said, but that still means a grim outlook for first-time buyers.
Demand is also likely to increase, Mr. Kiernan said. The government recently decided to allow residency for tens of thousands of people on temporary visas, which means more people will be looking to buy homes. And the construction industry is still struggling to build houses fast enough to meet existing demand.
Mr. Kiernan said interest rates would need to rise by quite a bit more than currently expected to bring about a fall in prices. New Zealand’s central bank in August projected that the cash rate would reach 1.6% by the end of 2022 and 2% in the second half of 2023.
Even if home prices stopped rising, and assuming incomes grow 3% a year, the home-price-to-income ratio would take until 2050 to decline to its level in 2000. Mr. Kiernan said.
“It’s going to remain very painful I think, very difficult for people wanting to get into the housing market, for a long time,” he said.
Capital Economics, in its recent analysis, expects home-price inflation in major economies to moderate naturally in the coming months and isn’t expecting a destabilizing drop in prices.
However, it said the risk of a crash is elevated in countries such as New Zealand where affordability was stretched even before the pandemic. Other countries in a similar situation include Canada, Denmark, Australia, Sweden and Norway, the firm said.
“We would not say that house price falls in any of these countries are certain or imminent—some have been flashing red for several years yet house prices have continued to defy gravity,” the economics firm wrote. “But it would not take much to tip them over the edge.”
Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: November 7, 2021
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Data reveals house values have continued to decrease, but the rate has slowed as the RBA Board prepares to meet next week
House values continued to fall last month, but the pace of decline has slowed, CoreLogic reports.
In signs that the RBA’s aggressive approach to monetary policy is making an impact, CoreLogic’s Home Value Index reveals national dwelling values fell -1.0 percent in November, marking the smallest monthly decline since June.
The drop represents a -7.0 percent decline – or about $53,400 – since the peak value recorded in April 2022. Research director at CoreLogic, Tim Lawless, said the Sydney and Melbourne markets are leading the way, with the capital cities experiencing the most significant falls. But it’s not all bad news for homeowners.
“Three months ago, Sydney housing values were falling at the monthly rate of -2.3 percent,” he said. “That has now reduced by a full percentage point to a decline of -1.3 percent in November. In July, Melbourne home values were down -1.5 percent over the month, with the monthly decline almost halving last month to -0.8%.”
The rate of decline has also slowed in the smaller capitals, he said.
“Potentially we are seeing the initial uncertainty around buying in a higher interest rate environment wearing off, while persistently low advertised stock levels have likely contributed to this trend towards smaller value falls,” Mr Lawless said. “However, it’s fair to say housing risk remains skewed to the downside while interest rates are still rising and household balance sheets become more thinly stretched.”
The RBA has raised the cash rate from 0.10 in April to 2.85 in November. The board is due to meet again next week, with most experts still predicting a further increase in the cash rate of 25 basis points despite the fall in house values.
Mr Lawless said if interest rates continue to increase, there is potential for declines to ‘reaccelerate’.
“Next year will be a particular test of serviceability and housing market stability, as the record-low fixed rate terms secured in 2021 start to expire,” Mr Lawless said.
Statistics released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics this week also reveal a slowdown in the rate of inflation last month, as higher mortgage repayments and cost of living pressures bite into household budgets.
However, ABS data reveals ongoing labour shortages and high levels of construction continues to fuel higher prices for new housing, although the rate of price growth eased in September and October.
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