Market comment: HURRY UP AND SLOW DOWN

Wed, 18 Jan 2023

Market comment: HURRY UP AND SLOW DOWNA new year and maybe one with a recovery in sight ....

Housing prices around the world fell in 2022. In Sweden housing prices finished the year down 15 per cent. In America, Seattle housing prices fell 9.5 per cent and San Francisco prices lost 11.6 per cent in just the last five months. Canadian housing prices are down 10 per cent from their peak in February. 

2022 began with lingering concerns worldwide about Covid-19. Then in February came Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, followed by a jump in inflation that triggered a series of interest rate increases by central banks. These increases meant access to ‘cheap money’ for property purchases had come to an end with banks increasing scrutiny on loan applications while requiring larger deposits from borrowers.

The Australian property market has experienced its deepest downturn on record, according to CoreLogic figures that show national home values down 8.4 per cent from their peak in May last year. Sydney’s property values, by way of comparison, are now down 12.7 per cent from their peak in January 2022 after dropping 1.4 per cent in December. CoreLogic’s daily dwelling values index, which tracks Australia’s capital city price changes, shows Sydney houses down 13.2 per cent and units down 9.2 per cent. 

The estimated total value of Australia’s residential real estate fell from $9.6 trillion in December 2021 to $9.4 trillion in November 2022, while the estimated number of annual sales fell 13.3 per cent, compared to the year before, with around 535,000 homes sold across Australia.

In the three months to November 2021 the median amount of time a listing was on the market before selling was 20 days; this figure is now up to 35 days for the three months to November 2022. And SQM Research figures show that there were 47 per cent more homes that have been for sale for more than 180 days on the market in Sydney in December than a year earlier.

However, we can’t overlook the lingering positive effects of the massive surge in prices after the pandemic hit Australia in March 2020. ABC News tells us that Australian dwelling values remain 11.7 per cent above where they were before the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

Sydney led the charge in post-pandemic price rises, as demonstrated by CoreLogic figures that show a rise of 27.7 per cent during the pandemic-inspired property boom and led to massive rises in capital growth in some suburbs - Austral (up 52.9 per cent) and Leppington (up 48.8 per cent) for example. 

These unprecedented increases built a solid base of profits into the Sydney property market that have been realised in sales that have continued into the months of downturns since the first RBA rate increase. The percentage of property owners selling their homes for a profit in Australia remains at heights not seen in more than 12 years, with the recent falls in prices mostly affecting investors offloading high-density apartments.

In the three months to September, the rate of profitability in residential real estate was 93.3 per cent, down slightly from 93.9 per cent in the previous quarter, according to Corelogic’s Pain and Gain report which analysed the 83,000 residential properties resold in the quarter. The September figure is within one per cent of the 94.2 per cent recorded for the three months to May, which marked a record for profitability not seen since July 2010.

The falls of ‘22

So where did Sydney house prices drop the most in 2022? Domain’s Kate Burke crunched some numbers and came up with some interesting findings. First, she tells us that inner-city and coastal Sydney suburbs had the largest house price drops this year, with Narrabeen having the largest price fall with a 26.8 per cent decline in the median house value to $2,593,000. It’s just one of many Sydney suburbs that experienced price falls greater than 20 per cent over the past year.

Sales agent Joshua Perry of Belle Property Dee Why told Domain that Narrabeen’s median house value had been lowered by fewer high-end sales. Prices were down 15-20 per cent, but that followed a 40 per cent increase in the boom: “It’s natural to have a correction after such a steep climb,” he said. 

Price growth in nearby Newport, North Narrabeen and Avalon Beach was up more than 50 per cent during the boom. House values in these suburbs have since fallen at least 20 per cent but are still well up on pre-pandemic levels.

Another interesting statistic is that the ten largest house value drops across Australia were all in Sydney. Falls of around 25 per cent were seen in Surry Hills and Redfern with declines of more than 20 per cent in nearby Darlington, Camperdown and Newtown. Birchgrove and Waverley also lost more than a fifth of their peak values. 

Eliza Owen, CoreLogic Australia’s head of research, noted that more expensive markets tended to have sharper declines: “More expensive housing markets tend to be associated with higher levels of debt to income, so that’s why Sydney in particular may have been more sensitive to the rising rate environment,” she said.

She also said that prices in Sydney’s inner-city suburbs tended to be more volatile due to higher concentrations of investment activity. Speculative buying could lead to more extreme value changes, she noted, adding many of the areas with larger price declines had experienced strong uplifts during the boom.

CoreLogic’s Tim Lawless says that price falls in the top end of the Sydney market are slowing: “Upper quartile house values actually fell at a slower pace than values across the lower quartile and broad middle of the market through the final quarter of the year,” Lawless said. “It’s a pretty good hint that more broadly, the market will follow up.”

And just for a bit of statistical variety, economist Jason Murphy from analysed the price of houses in terms of a slab of beer (24 cans or bottles of VB in this calculation) and reached some meaningful conclusions. In the 1980s a house cost the same as 6,000 slabs of VB. That seems like a lot of beer, but these days a house costs the same as 16,000 slabs of beer. And yes, the price of beer has gone up quite a bit since the 1980s, but houses have gone up a lot more – about 2.5 times faster than beer, in fact. 

Even though house prices have recently weakened and the cost of a beer has gone in the other direction, what Jason Murphy calls the ‘lager to land’ ratio is still very much in favour of housing and not slabs of VB.

Interest rates

The December meeting of the Reserve Bank was the last time the cash rate would rise in 2022, but what about 2023? As we mentioned in last month’s article, there’s no RBA meeting in January so it’s unlikely there will be another increase until February, and maybe not even then.

The RBA board acknowledged in December that the constant increase in the cash rate was beginning to hit mortgage holders, with those holding a loan in for more pain during 2023: “Members noted the share of household income being spent on required mortgage payments would reach around its previous highest level in late 2023,” the minutes read.

Also in its December statement, the Bank said it is “not on a pre-set course” with its interest rate adjustments, and by the time the next board meeting on February 7 arrives the wise men of our financial system may have decided eight rate increases were enough to dampen demand and slow inflation. This would be headline news for all those households with mortgages, especially those who’ve had to refinance their fixed-rate loans at much higher interest rates than their original loans demanded.

How far prices will fall in 2023 depends largely on how high interest rates go and when they peak. Currently, the RBA has the cash rate set at 3.10 per cent, which is a long way up from the emergency-level 0.1 per cent rate borrowers enjoyed until May 2022. The big four banks' cash rate forecasts for 2023 (and when it will be reached) are:

Westpac    3.85 per cent     (Mar 2023)
NAB        3.60 per cent     (Mar 2023)
ANZ        3.10 per cent     (Dec 2022)
CBA        3.85 per cent     (May 2023)

ABC News’ Rhiana Whitson used a typical young couple as an example of how rate rises can impact borrowers. As Covid hit and the RBA cut interest rates to record low levels, Aaron and Saori took out an $850,000 loan to buy their first home. Most of this amount was fixed at a 2.2 per cent interest rate for two years. Later this year they’ll have to refinance at interest rates of around 6 per cent - well above the 2.5 per cent buffer which was used in the calculations when their loan was made, and their monthly payments will increase by around $1500.

PRD Real Estate chief economist Dr Diaswati Mardiasmo said that although the emergency-low cash rate after Covid struck was only a temporary measure and fixed mortgage rates were starting to rise, the sharp jump in inflation that prompted back-to-back 50 basis point cash rate rises was unexpected.

“In 2023 we are going to see a three-speed economy,” she said. “We’re going to see the people who can hold on and ride this, and those are the people who have jobs, who have savings. We’re going to see the people who are just barely holding on … and we’re going to see the people who can’t hold on.”

Loans shrink

Domain’s Elizabeth Redman says that after rising interest rates have made it harder to borrow large sums relative to income, the number of risky loans has fallen. She estimates that during the property boom, almost a quarter of new home borrowers were taking on debts of six times their incomes or more, but now figures from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) show that the share of new lending at high debt-to-income ratios has fallen 7.2 percentage points from its peak in the December quarter of 2021, to 17.1 per cent in the September quarter of 2022.

Cameron Kusher, director of economic research at, says many purchasers no longer have the capacity to pay the prices they were able to pay before interest rates started to increase. As a result of the rise in interest rates, borrowing capacities have reduced by around 25 per cent. This means a lender will allow you to borrow 25 per cent less than they would have before the interest rate rises began.

Shore Financial chief executive Theo Chambers says many home buyers are still trying to borrow to their limit, but banks are not lending large amounts as easily as they were a year ago: “People are still borrowing six times their incomes, they’re still trying to squeeze every possible mechanism to get the bank to lend.” 

Mr Chambers says that some banks have adjusted how they factor in the rising cost of living, or how they assess income received in the form of bonuses: “Of course, the banks make you jump through hoops and especially at the moment, more than ever.”

Chris Foster-Ramsay, principal broker at Foster Ramsay Finance, agrees that it has become less common for borrowers to take out large loans compared to their incomes, after APRA put pressure on lenders. He says that rising interest rates have reduced borrowing capacity, which helps to solve the problem of large loan sizes: “Rates go up, borrowing capacity goes down, by default debt-to-income remains, in most cases, not an issue,” he said.

Renters depart the regions

There was a pandemic-inspired tree change that began in 2020 and saw many workers desert their domiciles in the cities and head for the regions where they could work from home and enjoy lower rental costs. But this trend has now reversed and once again rental prices in cities are going up while regional rental rates are decreasing. 

Analysis by the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation shows that growth in advertised rent in the regions, which had gone up about 30 per cent in some areas, has now slowed. Rental growth has reduced in the regions from 10.5 per cent to 7.1 per cent but has now lifted significantly across the capital cities, rising from zero per cent in 2021 to 8.9 per cent in the eleven months to November 2022. 

Meanwhile, recently advertised rents in Sydney’s inner-city Local Government Areas have risen considerably. For example, rents are up by about 20 per cent in Burwood and Strathfield where vacancy rates are around 1.2 per cent. (In a typical year, rents will rise from two to five per cent across the Greater Sydney area.) records show that although property prices have taken a hit over the past year, the rental market continues to see rents climb.  Over the 2021 calendar year, national rents rose 4.7 per cent. Over the 2022 calendar year, according to CoreLogic’s Tim Lawless, they’ve increased by 10.2 per cent. At the same time, Sydney unit rents have rocketed upwards by 18.6 per cent reaching a record high of $575 while Sydney house rents rose 12.1 per cent to a record $650.

Lawless told The Guardian that any slowdown in rent increases is likely to be a sign of “renters hitting an affordability ceiling and desperately looking ways for ways to minimise their rents”, either by shifting from houses to units, or by adding more tenants to the same address.

Rental vacancy rates are at historic lows, as are new and total rental listings and also the number of days a rental property is listed on before it is leased. At the same time, demand for rental accommodation is at record highs in capital cities. 

Nationally, Australia’s rental vacancy rate remains at a record low 0.8 per cent. In Perth, Adelaide and Hobart, vacancy rates were below 0.5 per cent for November, while in Sydney and Melbourne the vacancy rates were 1.1 per cent.

Higher interest rates are contributing to fewer first-home buyer and investor purchases, while re-opened international borders are further adding to rental demand. As a result, demand for rentals is heightened – and escalating while supply remains constrained. This combination is pushing rents higher. 

Increased rental demand at a time of very low vacancy rates will ensure that Sydney rentals will continue to rise through 2023. This trend will be supported by the reopening of our international borders and the return of foreign students. 

Where to next in 2023?

Economists at the NAB issued their latest Sydney house price forecast for the year ahead, expecting Harbour City dwellings to lose a further -9.4 per cent in 2023: “We expect that house prices will continue to decline well into 2023, with further rate rises likely and as the economy slows. From their 2022 peak, we expect prices will fall by around 20 per cent,” they said.

Westpac's Sydney real estate forecast is similar, expecting another -8 per cent correction in 2023, while the Commonwealth Bank sees Sydney prices holding flat for the year. In summary, the Big four banks' Sydney home price forecasts for 2023 are:

Westpac    -8 per cent
NAB        -9.4 per cent
ANZ        -6 per cent
CBA        0 per cent

It must be noted that the big banks' forecasts are usually conservative and not always accurate. The last time they predicted declines of these magnitudes was in the early days of the pandemic in April 2020, just a couple of months before the last boom got underway.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) says that property prices in Australia may be as much as fifty per cent above what an average household can afford as the RBA pushes interest rates upwards in its battle to fight inflation. It offered a number of suggestions for the creation of policies that would make housing more affordable.

Richard Denniss, economist and executive director of the Australia Institute, says that the policies proposed by the IMF to lower the costs of housing in Australia have no chance of becoming law anytime soon: “As it’s impossible to simultaneously please the third of the population which does not own a home and the two-thirds that does, the default politician response is to avoid this simple question with a complicated answer about “housing affordability”, a concept that owes everything to politics and nothing to economics”, he wrote in the Herald.

“If house prices fell sharply tomorrow”, he added, “it’s a safe bet our governments would find ways to push them back up. In the 12 months to September 2022, the capital gain on Australia’s housing stock was more than $240 billion, the equivalent of 10 years’ worth of stage three tax cuts.”

As the Herald’s Jessica Irvine puts it: “From federal politicians to central bankers, to prudential regulators, right down to state and local governments – there are just so many fingers in the pie. And while you might think they’re always working to make homes more affordable, history, sadly, suggests otherwise.”

In early December the Westpac-Melbourne Institute Index of Consumer Sentiment fell by 6.9 per cent to 78.0. The bank’s chief economist, Bill Evans, said that confidence had “buckled under the pressure of rising inflation and interest rates”. The gloom coincided with the latest hike in the cash rate by the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) by a modest 0.25 basis points.

The Index of Consumer Sentiment has now fallen below its previous low point during the global financial crisis and, as Evans explains, “you have to go all the way back to the deep recession of the late 80s/early 90s to get consistent reads below that 78 level”.

“Certainly, more consumers expect substantial follow-on rate rises,” Evans added. “Amongst those surveyed after the RBA decision, nearly 60 per cent expect rates to increase by 1 percentage point or more over the next year, up on 54 per cent in the October survey.”

AMP's chief economist, Shane Oliver, says he expects an overall 15–20 per cent top-to-bottom fall in average home prices because the amount a new buyer on average full-time earnings with a 20 per cent deposit can pay for a home will have fallen 27 per cent from what it was in April 2022. "So, the downwards pressure on property prices will continue for some time yet, even if the RBA soon pauses the cash rate," Mr Oliver told ABC News.

CoreLogic’s head of research, Eliza Owen, says we may have already moved past the peak of home value declines: “As we move into 2023, there continues to be a mix of headwinds and tailwinds for housing market performance,” Owen said.

“With expectations that the bulk of the rate-tightening cycle occurred in 2022, housing value declines could find a floor in the new year. However, the extent of the floor in values could be further weighed down by mortgage serviceability risks, particularly for those rolling out of record-low fixed mortgage rates through the second half of the year.”

The ABC’s Gareth Hutchens took on the challenge of asking experts to predict which suburbs are most likely to weather the property prices downturns that have ended 2022. His group of experts considered a range of mid- and long-term drivers of growth, including affordability, location, gentrification, amenities, and demographic change.

New South Wales accounted for 24 spots on the final list which was compiled and published by The Greater Sydney suburbs that made the list were, in alphabetical order: Alexandria, Arncliffe, Ashfield, Frenchs Forest, Glenmore Park, Hurlstone Park, Kingsford, Kingswood, Marrickville, Matraville, Mona Vale, Paddington, Prestons, Quakers Hill, South Penrith, St Clair and Turramurra.

Looking towards the year ahead, journalist Ev Foley, writing in Australian Property Investor, has her own list of favourite suburbs for investors to consider in 2023. She notes that apartments (units) are experiencing strong buyer demand, largely because their median prices are around half that of those for free-standing houses. She nominates units in Campsie, Liverpool, Marrickville and Westmead as being ‘particularly strong’ in this regard.

Another view for 2023 comes from Real Estate Institute of NSW (REINSW) CEO Tim McKibbon who said he welcomes news of strength and market positivity but warns investors that 2023 may not be pain free.

“At the end of the day, there’s two things that really drive the market, which is supply and people’s ability to access and service debt. I think with the increase in interest rates, you’re going to see a subdued market,” Mr McKibbon told API Magazine.

“It’s safe to say there will be more interest rate rises, and in addition to that, the costs of non-discretionary spends like food and fuel are also rising. That’s putting a lot of pressure on the family budget and the market is going to have to deal with that.

“Having said that though, we are seeing buyers coming back in and vendors accepting the market for what it is. We recently had an auction clearance rate that went through 60 per cent to 64 per cent, and that’s the first time for quite a while it’s gone through 60 per cent; it’s like there’s been a psychological barrier in the market, so there’s still transactions happening.”

Property Update podcaster Michael Yardney says we're in the adjustment phase of the property cycle and overall [across Australia] property values are just six percent lower than their peak: “That's not a property market crash - is it? It's an orderly correction that had to occur after house prices all around Australia got ahead of themselves.”

And to give us all a more positive outlook for the year ahead, Mr Yardney lists a number of fundamentals underpinning our housing markets including that there is a shortage of good properties for sale and virtually no properties to rent, and that our economy is still growing with  unemployment at historically low levels meaning anyone who wants a job can get a job.

New schemes help some buyers

The Shared Equity Home Buyer Helper will launch on 23 January. This new scheme will see the state government contribute up to 40 per cent of the purchase price for a new home or up to 30 per cent for an existing home for buyers that meet the eligibility criteria. 

This is intended to help essential workers such as paramedics, police officers, nurses and midwives, teachers and early childhood educators and some single parents to purchase a home in NSW that is near their places of work. It applies to properties purchased for up to $950,000 in Sydney and regional centres, and up to $600,000 elsewhere in NSW. 

The program has 3,000 spots available annually for the next two years – 2023 and 2024 and is capped for singles at a maximum gross income of $90,000 and for couples with a maximum gross income of $120,000.

Participants must be 18 years or over, be an Australian or New Zealand citizen, or a permanent Australian resident, have a minimum deposit of 2 per cent of the purchase price, occupy the property as their principal place of residence, and not currently own any land or property

The NSW government says that as long as a participant remains eligible for the initiative, no repayments of the government’s contribution are required, and no rent or interest will be charged. Participants can also make voluntary payments to progressively increase their ownership share in the property.

To maintain eligibility, participants’ ongoing obligations include paying for property costs, maintaining the property, and complying with a periodic review of ongoing eligibility. A participant may be required to begin repayment of the government’s share in the property in certain situations, including where they no longer meet certain ongoing eligibility criteria.

And many first-home buyers in NSW seem certain to win an exemption from stamp duty regardless of who wins the March state election. Labor’s Chris Minns has joined the current Liberal premier in a promise to abolish stamp duty for first-home buyers on properties within certain price limits if elected. The main difference between the two parties is that Liberals will offer a land tax option whereas the Labor scheme does not.

2022 was good at the top

What is called Sydney’s ‘Trophy Home Market’ by some – those homes with starting prices of around $20 million or more, has fared pretty well throughout 2022, downturns included. There were 50 sales for more than $20 million recorded across Sydney, with the top twenty house and apartment sales alone totalling around $760 million.

2021 had just one sale in the top 20 outside the eastern suburbs, in Palm Beach. In 2022 there were six: two in Mosman, two in Palm Beach, and two in Barangaroo. The suburb with the highest total value of house sales among the capital cities was Mosman, where $1.55 billion was spent across 238 sales in the 12 months to September. 

“The reality is that the rest of Sydney has been undervalued for years compared to the eastern suburbs, and from an international perspective, that has made no sense,” said Ken Jacobs from Forbes Global Properties. “But that looks to be changing as these satellite prestige areas north of Harbour Bridge and on the CBD foreshore become trophy markets in their own right.”

Jacobs said the thing that differentiated this year from recent years was that half of the top sales took place off-market, and therefore no public marketing had been required: “That’s because there are so many more capable buyers than properties to sell,” Jacobs said. “So when a property is listed, the buyer for it is already known.”

Brad Pillinger, who transacted this year’s top property sale price of $62.75 million for Vaucluse mansion ‘Ganeden’, said that limited supply and strong demand drove this segment of the housing market, not relatively minor issues such as eight consecutive interest rate rises: “No matter what happens to the economy, there’s still only about 200 houses on the waterfront between the city and Watsons Bay, and only ever a few that are genuinely for sale at any given time,” he said.

“As more buyers enter the market, those houses only become more expensive.”

However, the Agency’s Ben Collier said there is a ripple effect the downturn is having on lesser properties in the prestige mix: “We’re seeing a significant correction in those second- and third-tier properties of up to $15 million that last year were selling for top prices but are no longer achieving those sorts of outcomes.”

Mr Collier said there was an oversupply of buyers that were being forced to circle back to grand estates in Bellevue Hill that had been trading in the $20 million range a few years ago and had since doubled in price. He gave the example of the Bellevue Hill property ‘Belhaven’, previously purchased by recently retired ASX chief Dominic Stevens in 2017 for more than $21 million. It was resold last month for about $50 million, showing just how profitable it can be at the top of the Sydney property market. 


‘Permanent state of crisis’: Sydney rents hit fresh records,’ Tawar Razaghi and Jim Malo, Domain, 12 January 2023
‘Australian property values notch deepest falls on record: CoreLogic,’ Elizabeth Redman and Jim Malo, Domain, 9 January 2023
‘Property values plunge in 2022, further falls likely: CoreLogic,’ Elizabeth Redman, Domain, 3 January 2023
‘Rental market at ‘fever pitch’ as 6600 homes exit affordability scheme.’ Rachel Clun, The Sydney Morning Herald, 9 January 2023
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‘We know how to lower home prices, but our political leaders won’t have it,’ Richard, Denniss, Sydney Morning Herald, 28 December 2022
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Elias Visontay, The Guardian, 22 December 2022
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