“There has never been a better time to buy a house” – this was the first line of the Sunday newspaper article this past weekend. A big call some may say, especially when the property market has seen a very sober and lacklustre market over the past 3 years.
These circumstances are usually in opposing territory. However there are always exceptions and most recently in that heady period around 2004 when the pace of the market favoured both buyers and sellers with prices and volumes rising steadily and at such a pace that you almost “had” to buy and sell – or you feared being left behind in the market.
Great time to buy!
Great times to buy are generally when the cost of borrowing (interest rates) are low; when the availability of property on the market is high, and when there are not many other competing buyers in the market.
As to whether falling prices are a great incentive to buy is debatable as a cautious buyer will usually hold off in these situations to see if prices may in fact falling further.
Great time to sell!
Great times to sell are generally when the cost of borrowing is cheap thereby encouraging a lot of buyers to come into the market. Ideally this is also combined with a shortage of properties on the market therefore forcing buyers to compete with each other to buy your property.
As to price, it is likely sellers are not that concerned. All they want is to sell. The price they sell at will be as the market dictates, which will allow them to move on and buy another property as appropriate.
The newspaper article went on substantiates the claim of it being a great time to buy, by stating that interest rates are currently at the lowest levels for decades. That is certainly true and with the vast majority of property purchased with a mortgage the cost of borrowing is a key driver of the market. The chart below (courtesy of the Reserve Bank) tracks mortgage rates over the past 20 years and clearly shows how low today’s rates are on a historical comparison – especially when you see the peak at over 15% in 1991.
The article stated that in addition to low mortgage rates the other key driver of a “great time to buy” was the fact that “prices across the country plunging in the past month”. I would challenge this assertion from the standpoint as made earlier that falling prices can in certain circumstances impede buyer motivation. It is also so important to look at house prices not on a one month basis but on a trend perspective.
The recent blog post entitled “NZ property prices continue to ease” highlighted the Stratified mean sales price across the country. This showed no sign whatsoever of “plunging prices”. Property sales price are in all cases below the peak of the property market back in 2007 (with the sole exception of Wellington which has managed to set a peak back in late 2009). Prices would be better described as stable or lacklustre rather than plunging.
One fact the newspaper article omitted completely was the a key driver of the property market – the inventory of unsold homes on the market. As stated earlier this statistic, far more than sale price is likely to impact the state of the market as either a buyers or a sellers market.
Realestate.co.nz publishes its monthly NZ Property Report which tracks this inventory measured as the number of equivalent weeks of sales of unsold properties on the market. In the May report published on the 1st June as well as the regional Property Pulse regional factsheets the data showed that in the Auckland market and now emerging in the Queenstown market the power is moving from buyers to sellers. A lack of new listings and a rise in sales volumes which is helping to clear what has been high inventory is leading the Auckland market to be in a deficit of properties on the market. If as a consequence of these low interest rates, buyers are more active in the Auckland market, then there will be a need for more listings to come onto the market. This then directly favours sellers. Potentially in this seller’s market a consequence of the lack of listings may lead to property appreciation due to more demand than supply.
Outside of these major markets of Auckland, Queenstown and possibly Wellington the rest of the country is still very much in a situation of high inventory of unsold properties. This means that if there are buyers eager to take advantage of low interest rates then in these more provincial areas they will have ample opportunity to pick and choose amongst the properties on the market and allow them to drive a good bargain – maybe these are the areas of the country where buyers may well be “in the box seat”!