The property market in NZ starts 2012 in better shape than it has for the past 5 years. It would not be too optimistic to say that the industry, certainly in terms of volume sales has turned a corner. Some parts turned that corner 6 months ago (notably Auckland) whilst some will take a few more months before witnessing this change.
In the 12 months of 2011 a total of 61, 269 properties were sold across the country as reported by the Real Estate Institute. This represented a modest 9% growth as compared to 2010. The word modest is most appropriate when the volume of sales is viewed against the perspective of the past 20 years.
20011 was much improved from both 2008 and 2010 which represented the lowest sales volumes of the past 20 years, barely struggling to reach half the sales volumes of the peak years of 2002 to 2007.
As ever 20/20 hindsight is a powerful tool and applying it now applies a clearer view on those heady days and reflect that this period was a bubble – one unlikely to be repeated for many years, if ever again.
What drove that bubble and created that frenetic pace of market activity?
A number of factors were conspicuous: the rise in investor market activity as the NZ economy grew through global growth and strong immigration, the banks were certainly relaxed about deposit requirements and other investment options showed far less appeal or tax or leverage advantage. That convergence of events lead to a virtuous cycle (depending on your perspective as many would argue a fateful and perilous cycle), whereby those on the treadmill of property ownership felt richer as asset values as a surrogate of property prices grew at a heady 10+% a year rate.
The important thing to see is that if this heady period is ignored as an aberration, the current sales levels still sits well below the levels of the market through the 1990’s. This is the validation to the proposition that the industry has turned a corner. Average annual sales through 1993 to 2001 was 78,000 a year – that means the current year up 9% vs 2010 is still down 22% from the average of the 90’s.
This perspective is seen even clearer when property sales are matched to the growing population of NZ and the number of houses. It makes logical sense that as the population grows, the housing stock must grow and thereby so must sales as people always need to relocate for the logical need of jobs, lifestyle, financial, schools, family etc.
Over the period from 1993 to 2001 the number of houses in NZ grew from just under 1.2 million to 1.37 million and has continued to grow (even allowing for the depressed construction market of the last 4 years) to around 1.55 million today – that is around 350,000 more houses in NZ today than there were at the beginning of the 90’s. Yet the volume of property sales are 22% less!
This conundrum is best visualised in the chart below which tracks the % of property sales on a moving annual total basis against the total number of properties in NZ.
The chart provides a further validation to the belief that property sales are likely to see growth in the coming years. The current rate of sale is 4% of all properties sold per year. The long term average for the past 20 years is 6%, during the 90’s the rate was 6.2%.
If the rate of sale were to return to the 90’s levels we would see a 56% rise in sales to 95,000. If we only saw a rise to the lowest point of the 90’s at 4.7% we would still see a rise in sales of 73,000 a rise of 19%.