It’s the question on the lips of Australia’s property punters, homeowners and wannabe buyers: what will the property market do in 2018?
It’s now clear that 2017 will go down as the year that saw some of Australia’s hottest property markets switch gear following a five-year streak that saw Sydney’s median house price pile on over $530,000 and Melbourne’s add more than $352,000.
Explosive house price gains slowed to a trickle in Melbourne and even turned into decline in Sydney in response to new policies designed to safeguard some of the cornerstones of the economy – property prices and debt levels.
Several trends will present themselves in the year ahead as these regulations filter through banks, buyers and markets – here are five of them.
1. Mortgage rates are expected to keep rising
Financial markets predict the Reserve Bank will lift the official cash rate off the record low 1.5 per cent level late in 2018, which would have a measurable impact on household mortgage payments, according to ME Bank head of loans Patrick Nolan.
“[Higher RBA rates] mean repayments will also increase, typically $50 for every 25 basis point rise on a $400,000 loan,” Mr Nolan said.
But even if that doesn’t happen, borrowers should prepare themselves for higher mortgage rates.
Though the Reserve Bank delivered sets of rate cuts in 2011-13 and again in 2015-16, major banks opted not to pass the cuts on in full to borrowers, and although the cash rate has not moved in 15 months, mortgage rates have been creeping higher.
The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority has tightened lending policy, which compelled the banks to lift interest rates out-of-sync with the Reserve Bank – as a result, the gap between the official-set RBA interest rate and what a standard variable mortgage borrower is offered at the bank is the widest it has been since 1994.
“Banks have been using their oligopoly pricing power to lift home loan standard variable rates relative to the RBA’s cash rate since 2008, primarily by cutting standard variable rates less than the cash rate during the RBA’s easing cycles,” Morgan Stanley analysts wrote this week.
Whether the Reserve Bank does find a way to raise interest rates in 2018 or not, one thing is clear – mortgage rates are unlikely to decrease in the near future.
2. Property prices will continue to cool
Sydney property prices have begun to slip after several years of double-digit percentage price gains, while Melbourne’s growth has noticeably slowed towards the end of the year – experts predict these trends will continue in 2018.
“Banking regulators want to see a slowdown in house price growth, and that’s what we expect in 2018,” Mr Nolan said.
ANZ economists, who are among the only ones predicting multiple RBA rate hikes next year, say APRA’s policy tightening has caused weakness in the property sector, but declines will remain localised.
“APRA’s tightening on investor borrowing and interest-only loans has resulted in higher interest rates for those borrowers, and lowered demand for housing,” senior economists Daniel Gradwell and Joanne Masters said in a report.
“Weaker auction results point toward further slowing as we move into 2018. Our forecast that the RBA will increase interest rates next year will also work to lower price growth. But if the RBA doesn’t tighten, then prices will likely slow less than we forecast. Importantly, there is still nothing to suggest to us that prices are going to enter widespread declines.”
3. First-home buyers will make a comeback
“With investors taking a step back, first-home buyers will find more opportunities in 2018,” Mr Nolan said.
“They will continue to benefit from competitive interest rates, new concessions (if eligible) and ample apartment stock, although checks should always be made to ensure quality buys.”
But while ABS data does appear to show first-home buyers leaping at stamp duty concessions in NSW and Victoria, they still need a leg-up, according to ANZ.
“The deposit burden for first-home buyers continues to rise, and more people require assistance getting the deposit together,” Mr Gradwell and Ms Masters said.
“But once they are in the market, low interest rates mean that repayments are affordable, and the interest bill has been falling.”
Source: ANZ Research
4. Upgraders will stay put, opting to renovate
Eye-watering stamp duty taxes on property transfers act as an anchor, pinning Australians to their current home. As the stamp duty due on a median-priced house in Sydney and Melbourne hovers about $50,000, homeowners increasingly opt to stay where they are and renovate.
“We’ve seen a substantial increase in renovation loan applications in 2017, a trend that we’re likely to see well into 2018, as households chose to renovate over moving,” Mr Nolan said.
“Upgraders are avoiding costly moving costs such as stamp duty. We’re also seeing some more top ups as people take advantage of lower interest rates and leverage the extra equity in their property in order to finance renovations.”
The issue worsened significantly as annual house price gains soared. Specifically, the stamp duty owed on a median-priced property in Sydney 20 years ago was, adjusted for inflation, $10,916 but it is now $50,302 – a rise big enough to shape homeowner behaviour.
The thought process is clearly shifting, with recent Westpac research showing a 14 per cent rise in the number of homeowners considering renovating in the next five years, compared with 2015, while HIA economists predict a strong growth in the renovations market through into the early 2020s.
5. Owner occupiers to win from competitive lending rates
Mortgage repricing in 2017 has been largely centred around investor loans, which leaves fewer investors walking into banks looking for finance.
As a result, owner-occupier borrowers are making their way back onto centre stage.
“With limits on investor and interest-only growth, banks are competing over a smaller piece of the lending pie, and are offering some great deals for owner-occupiers,” Mr Nolan said.
Morgan Stanley analysts confirm that while investor interest rates have been significantly tightened, owner-occupier principal and interest loans have seen smaller increases.
“We have argued that differentiated home loan repricing on [owner-occupier] would continue, but it has actually become even more pronounced,” the analysts wrote.
“In the past year, the major banks’ interest-only investment property loans have been repriced ~90 basis points, while principal and interest owner occupier loans have been lifted just 10-15 basis points.”