The latest data for August from the Real Estate Institute showed a continued sluggish market. Sales volumes are tracking at a very similar level to 2008. The month of August 2008 saw 4,220 property sales, whilst August 2010 saw 4,287. Taking the total for the current year to date (Jan – Aug), total sales this year are only 20 more properties than compared to 2008 (current year-to-date 38,542 compared to 2008 at 38,522). The summary of the monthly sales over the past 4 years is shown below with the 3 winter months of June, July and August highlighted in red.
One of the consequences of a slower property sales is the fact that sales price statistics can be impacted and this might well be the case with the reported median price of property. In August the median price was reported as being $350,000 up from $349,000 in July. For clarification the median price is calculated by taking the mid point of the sequential range of the 4,287 sales – ie ranked from lowest sales price to highest the 2,143th property was sold for $350,000. The chart below shows the data for the median price by month over the past 4 years.
The chart tracks the rise in median price through early 2007 before plateauing and falling in 2008, before again rising again in 2009 with another recent plateau. Medians are a better measure than averages which can be very heavily influenced by extreme sales prices, but still do have inherent weaknesses from a statistics perspective.
A more accurate and nowadays preferred measure of property prices is the Stratified House price measure. This measure developed in conjunction with the Reserve Bank by the Real Estate Institute shows a somewhat different performance of sales price over the last 4 years a shown in the chart below.
This chart shows the property prices peaking in November of 2007 before falling by 11.4% over the next 14 months. Subsequently the property prices climbed back up during 2009 to within 3% of the peak, however the past 10 months has seen some erosion of price to where the current price in August is still over 5% down on the peak price of nearly 3 years ago.
A further explanation for the significant difference between the median price and the stratified price can be seen by looking at the relative sales volume within distinct price bands. The REINZ statistics measure sales below $400,000; between $400,000 and $600,000; between $600,000 and $1m and property over $1m.
Taking the total sales in the January to August period of 2010 (38,542 properties) compared to January – August 2008 (38,522 properties) and analysing the relative sales by price band is very revealing.
In this specific period the median price of property has risen from $330,000 to $350,000 a 6.1% increase. The chart though shows very clearly that more higher priced properties are selling this year than two years ago which will effect the median price as it moves the mid point to a higher price point irrespective of the relative sale price of individual properties. The chart specifically shows sales of properties below $400,000 are down 5% – with 1,189 less properties selling in this price band in 2010 as compared to 2008, whereas the sales in higher price band properties are ahead of 2008.
This analysis I believe provides a clear understanding of why we appear to have median price increasing (up 6.1% vs Aug 2008) whilst the stratified price level is actually up only 3.5% (Aug 2010 vs. Aug 2008), therefore property prices in general are still fluctuating and have yet to find a forward momentum.