Aussie consumers still expect a house price crash

As they should. Via Westpac’s marvellous Red Book:

― Housing-related sentiment has posted a strong rebound since April and showed a markedly milder retracement in July. Nationally, the ‘time to buy a dwelling’ index rose 4.1% in July to be up 37% on April’s low. At 112.1, the index is back at its February level albeit still well below the long run average of 120.
― State index moves continue to vary materially. The return to lockdown in Victoria saw the index down 3.8% in July, compared to steady reads in NSW and surging indexes in Queensland (16.6%), SA (14.6%) and WA (7.2%). In level terms, Melbourne’s index is currently around 100 compared to 115 across other regions, on a combined basis.
― The renewed lockdown is already directly impacting activity across Victoria’s residential property market. Weekly auction results show just over 40% of Melbourne’s scheduled auctions have been withdrawn prior following the reintroduction of restrictions in July – comparable to the 57% drop out rate during the initial lockdown in April.
― The sub-group detail on buyer sentiment shows the rebound has been driven by homeowners and those aged over 50, with more persistent weakness amongst renters and younger age groups. That suggests the COVID shock is having a more lasting negative effect on prospective first home buyers and upgraders.

Time to buy measures inversely correlate with prices. Price expectations are also still cratered:

― Consumer expectations for house prices have also posted a strong rebound since April although they are still markedly weaker than pre-COVID. The Westpac Melbourne Institute Consumer House Price Expectations Index bounced 25% through May-July, sustaining a further 8.5% rally in the final month despite the weaker tone to wider sentiment. That said, at 87.4, the index remains in deeply pessimistic territory, 42% below the optimistic readings at the start of the year.
― Expectations lifted across all states including Victoria, although the state continues to lag a little, its index read just below 80 and 50% off pre COVID levels.
― The detailed responses show a more even split on the direction of prices, whereas back in April, 55% expected prices to fall over the next 12mths, that figure is now 42% in July. Around 31% expect prices to hold steady and 28% expect prices to rise.
― Prices are now showing clear signs of a correction, down just over 2% nationally since from pre-COVID peaks. Melbourne has seen a slightly bigger 3.3% decline while prices in Brisbane and Adelaide have been closer to steady. We continue to expect a material 10-15% correction over 2020 and 2021 but policy cushions mean this is likely to come through slowly to begin with.

And general risk aversion:

― The June survey included the first postCoronavirus update of the ‘wisest place for savings’ questions used to construct our Westpac Consumer Risk Aversion Index. Responses show a significant lift in risk aversion.
― Consumers continue to heavily favour ‘safe options’ – two thirds nominating deposits, super or ‘pay down debt’ as the best place for savings, vs 63% in December. The proportion favouring real estate dropped back to 9% from 13% in March – matching the record low set this time last year and slightly below the proportion nominating shares (11.4%). Investors look set to stay away from Australia’s housing market near term.
― Overall, the Westpac Risk Aversion Index rose from 37.9 in March to 45.5 in June. While very high, the reaction to the COVID shock, a 7.6pt rise, is milder than that seen during previous recessions and the GFC. Similarly, while the index is high, it is still below the peak of 51 set in late 2018, when a significant housing market correction was getting underway.
― Ordinarily, risk aversion would provide a useful guide to savings behaviour and shifts in household balance sheets, leverage in particular. However, as with other aspects of the consumer, these are set to go ‘haywire’ through 2020, buffeted by extreme impacts from both COVID and policy related disruptions.

Property? No thanks.

David Llewellyn-Smith
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  1. Time to buy being inversely correlated to prices.

    Will be interesting if this breaks down and both drop together.

    • That would be the sign that the Aussie faith has finally been broken on the idea that house prices eventually always rise.

  2. will be funny if Scumo double the bribes for the first home owners and still fail to entice them to bid high.


    For many property buyers and certainly for the investor set, there was never even a hint of a possible loss in this highly leveraged excercise.
    Making money was a ‘given’ and for a long time, was not just a way to build financial security, but an ‘expectation’ and central component of financial strategy.

    If this concept ‘fails’ now ( as many expect) there is not much to replace it and support any kind of meaningful recovery.
    It appears that many who may have benefitted from controlling large amounts of leveraged capital in rising markets will have to reconcile the other side where deep and terrifying losses can appear when loan security values tumble below the loan amount.
    Am not looking forward to the chaos and destruction if this occurs but am looking forward to the reset on the other side as the pendulum of fortune completes its arc.

    • I remember my uncle buying a place at geelong. The selling agent said it would go up by 8k per month hence it was free money.
      My uncle continued to tell the story last few yrs.

  4. So (trying to) reading this.

    1. Rest of Australia thinks this is a good time to buy as price expecations (vs real) are negative
    2. Owners very positively think it’s a good time to buy, renters slightly negative (would be interesting to drill down on the reasons why by group on that one)
    3. All age groups think it’s a good time to buy with the Smart Money ™ Boomers very bullish, less so the 18-35 and 36-50.

    So people think it’s a good time to buy, broadly speaking, buying into a perceived down trend.

    What does that tell you, if true. People (OO/PPORs mainly, probably), see through a 10-15% correction, looking 15+ (?) yrs into the future…and of course taking into account utility of a PPOR.

    Fascinating stuff.

  5. truthisfashionable

    Nice Sydney Yr on Yr now at +12.11, down from +13.32 at the end of June (just click the Monthly Movements tab).

  6. Chart 26 is the interesting one. Basically prices have to reach present expectations based on historical chart precedent. That means BIG price falls are incoming.