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2014 to be the Australian property market of the mainstream

February 5, 2014

But there will be divergence in the strength of capital growth in our capital cities, according to Monique Sasson, founder, Wakelin Property Advisory:

A slight weakening in auction clearance rates around the country in the last weeks of the 2013 market on the back of some very high stock levels led some commentators to suggest that the market had peaked with a weaker 2014 market on the cards.

In reality, the pull back in auction clearance rates and market activity reflected a decision by many investors – a significant factor in the strength of the current market – to put buying initiatives on hold until the New Year.  Whilst investors are willing, they aren’t usually as anxious to conclude a purchase before Christmas as home buyers are, especially first home buyers, who often just want to get a deal done. Many investors have calculated – correctly in my view – that there will be plenty of stock on the market come February 2014, so there is no need to panic-buy.

Moreover, property cycles are rarely short.  It takes time for the signal of improved conditions to be strong enough for the bulk of potential participants to receive it, digest it, and then act upon it. While much of the activity is 2013 was among early movers, 2014 will be a market of the mainstream.

With this broad underpinning, I anticipate that there will be solid capital growth across all our capital cities in 2014, rather than the skew in favour of Sydney that we saw in 2013. Sydney’s accelerated growth in 2013 is another example of that first mover phenomenon – Sydney led the national growth cycle, taking off around the last quarter of 2012. Due to its dynamism and affluence, Sydney often takes off first and moves harder when there is an upturn in the market cycle. But eventually, other capital cities react as well.

The weaker Australian dollar is likely to support increased demand by foreign nationals in the off-the-plan (OTP) and high rise apartment sectors, the only segments of the market where Australia’s foreign investment rules allow them to buy.

However, I’m not predicting a boom for this sector. Rather, the lower dollar is likely to ramp up overseas demand and this will temporarily soak up the currently over-supplied pipeline.  It is inevitable that developers will eventually react to this demand and overbuild again before long.  Indeed, the greatest beneficiaries of the lower Australian dollar may be the established sector, as some domestic buyers squeezed out of the OTP market by overseas buyers turn to established localities and property styles. With Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane hosting the largest OTP sectors, I expect them to benefit most from this trend.

My outlook for our major capital cities follows. Note that these forecasts are predicated on the assumption that the Reserve Bank holds interest rates steady for the first half of 2014 and raises them just once in the second half of the year. Moreover I would be concerned about market stability if the RBA drops interest rates any further as this could engender an unwelcome over-exuberance in price growth and activity.

 

City

2014 likely % change

Comment from Monique Sasson,
Founder, Wakelin Property Advisory

Sydney

5-7%

Sydney was the first mover in this growth cycle, delivering 15% capital growth in 2013. As is often the case, the second year of Sydney’s growth cycle is likely to be more measured. Nevertheless, demand remains sufficiently strong and supply sufficiently restricted to support mid-to-high single digit growth in 2014 across Sydney’s inner and middle ring areas in particular, with more modest inflation-tracking growth further out.
 

Melbourne

6-8%

Melbourne’s 8-10% growth in 2013 surprised many commentators who believed the city’s property was already ‘fully priced’ after its sustained growth in the years up to mid-2010. Much of this analysis relies on an assumption that Melbourne’s property prices should always trade at a significant discount to Sydney’s, to reflect the southern capital’s ‘supporting’ role status.  However, I believe it is now dawning on market participants that this view of Melbourne as second string to Sydney is antiquated in light of Melbourne’s projected population growth and its strong cultural, infrastructure and lifestyle offerings.

This structural change may see Melbourne outperform Sydney over coming years until the difference in median prices is closed or at least narrowed significantly.

Focusing on 2014, I see Melbourne property prices growing more strongly than Sydney’s, predominantly because Sydney prices grew so fast in 2013. The most robust growth will continue to be observed in inner and middle ring locations with outer areas of the west and east merely tracking inflation-reflected growth.
 

Brisbane

6-8%

Although Brisbane recorded around 5% growth in 2013, overall values have been held back in recent times, so 2014 may well be the year Brisbane property prices bounce back.

Brisbane’s underperformance relative to Melbourne and Sydney’s in recent years was in part due to the impact on confidence of the floods and concerns about the weakening mining boom and strong Australian dollar on the economy. The weakening Australian dollar should help the tourism and mining industries, each major employers in the Sunshine State.
 

Perth

6-8%

Perth was the strongest capital city for capital growth in 2013 after Sydney, hitting around 10%. It surprised many, including myself, by shrugging off concerns that the softening of the mining boom would temper growth. The growth pattern though tends to be erratic.

Perth’s house price movement is always hard to predict as the main driver of prices – the state of the local economy – is far more volatile in WA than in New South Wales and Victoria due to the large weighting of one industry –  mining, which itself is an unusually volatile sector of the economy.

On balance, with a lower Australian dollar boosting the local value of mining earnings, I expect Perth to perform reasonably well in 2014.
 

 

Adelaide

4-6%

Adelaide prices grew a modest 3% in 2013, but I expect a better result in 2014. However, I think capital growth will be constrained by some nervousness about the health of the South Australian economy, where confidence may be hit by the impending closure of Holden’s Adelaide plant. Adelaide’s inner suburbs and those closest to urban beaches are likely to experience the highest demand and growth performance.
 

Canberra

6-8%

Overshadowing the Canberra market for most of 2013 was a concern that an incoming Coalition Federal Government would slash the public sector workforce, which if it occurred, would likely impact the ACT disproportionately.

It now appears that the new government is likely to move less aggressively than previously thought.  I therefore believe the Canberra market will remain robust in 2014 but will be very employment sensitive.
 

Darwin

5-7%

Darwin is another capital city where prediction is particularly fraught.  With an economy whose prospects are heavily influenced by the fortunes of the resource exploration industry, it has the characteristics of a frontier town, where asset values can fluctuate wildly. Its small often transient population can impact on demand so Darwin’s 2014 performance will swing on the mining and gas sectors’ results.
 

Hobart

3-5%

With the lowest incomes of any capital city, Hobart is the country’s smallest and also least diverse capital city economy. This is reflected in its property prices – the median sits at just $350,000.  It is tempting to think that bargain-hunters will eventually drive a strong recovery in prices and this has been frequently predicted over the years, but the Apple Isle’s weak population growth projections and lack of signs pointing to an economic renaissance suggest otherwise. Those wishing to invest should restrict themselves to suburbs within 2-4 kilometres of the Hobart CBD.

Note: 2013 percentage capital growth outcomes based on RP Data figures.

Image: Ventrilock

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