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Property market update: Sydney, April 2022

Sydney’s property market hit another sobering boom milestone in April, as the city’s property market posted its first quarterly decline.

In a major reversal of roles in the last two years, Sydney and Melbourne – which have led the charge in the property boom – are now posting the biggest declines among capital markets. 

Following years of record-breaking price growth, CoreLogic’s latest data showed that the two biggest cities had hit their first quarter of negative territory since the extended lockdowns of 2020.

Particularly, Sydney is seen to be on the fast track out of the boom, as the NSW capital posted its third month of consecutive drop in monthly gains. 

But it’s not just Sydney seeing steam run out of its property boom engine. According to CoreLogic’s director of research Tim Lawless, every capital city and broad “rest of state” region is now recording a slowing trend in value growth, albeit with significant diversity.

Sydney and Melbourne have shown the sharpest slowdown, with Sydney posting the first contraction in housing values since September 2020, while Melbourne housing values were unchanged over the month, following similar results in December and January,” he said.

On the other end of the spectrum, he noted that conditions are easing less noticeably across the smaller capitals, including Brisbane and Adelaide

He said that there were several factors dragging on Australia’s runaway property prices throughout April, the most prominent of which was a looming hike in interest rates.

“With the [Reserve Bank of Australia] cash rate set to rise, potentially as early as tomorrow, we are likely to see a further loss of momentum in housing conditions over the remainder of the year and into 2023,” he said.

As of writing, the RBA moved to raise the country’s official cash rate by 25 basis points from 0.1 to 0.35 of a percentage point on 3 May. 

Notably, the four biggest lenders in the country have already announced their intention to take respective steps to adjust to the rate hike — and it’s not exactly good news for property buyers and investors. 

RateCity research director Sally Tindall warned Australians with a home loan that they should anticipate and prepare for the coming months.

“As expected, the big four banks have moved in unison and passed on the RBA hike in full to their millions of variable home loan customers,” she said.

“Australians with a home loan should now brace for more pain, as this is only the beginning of a series of hikes ahead.

Similarly, the REIA had previously warned that a rate hike would further sour home ownership dreams

The decision is also seen to exacerbate some of the factors that Mr Lawless identified were pulling back Sydney’s growth. “Stretched housing affordability, higher fixed-term mortgage rates, a rise in listing numbers across some cities and lower consumer sentiment have been weighing on housing conditions over the past year,” he stated. 

“As the cash rate rises, variable mortgage rates will also trend higher, reducing borrowing capacity and impacting borrower serviceability assessments,” he added. 

Westpac’s senior economist Matthew Hassan said the recent data proved his assessment that the property boom is on its way out.

“Overall, the April update confirms the view that the market passed a turning point at the start of the year with turnover now moving lower quickly and price growth tapering off in most markets,” the economist said. 

He also sees the declines gathering pace as the year progresses. “This shift is expected to accelerate in coming months as the RBA delivers a series of interest rate rises with a broad correction phase expected to begin mid-year,” he said.

With price growth slowing and seller-friendly conditions seen throughout the boom shifting, how will Sydney’s property market fare in the coming months?

In this month’s market update, we’ll look at the state of play in the city and what experts think will unfold in the wake of the recent events. 

Property values

Sydney’s property failed to shake off the slump seen at the start of the year as dwelling values continued to decline in April.

CoreLogic’s latest data showed average dwelling values in the city slid down by another 0.2 per cent over the period, marking the third consecutive month of declines for Sydney. 

In the last three months, the city’s property values are now down by 0.5 per cent, weakening from the 0.3 per cent figures seen in the previous quarter. It is also the first time since 2020 that the city’s quarterly growth entered the negative territory. 

Compared to April 2021, Sydney’s median values are now up by 14.7 per cent — edging down from the 17.7 per cent annual growth seen in the previous month. 

Despite the tapering in growth, the city remains the most expensive place to buy a property. The average cost of a dwelling in Sydney stood at a whopping $1,127,723 at the end of April — indicating a more than $10,000 increase in prices month on month. 

Looking deeper into the data, Sydney’s housing market also weakened over the month, posting a decline of 0.1 per cent over April. This marks the second month of declines for the sector this 2022. 

Compared to March 2021, median house prices are up by 17.1 per cent, bringing the average value of a Sydney house to $1,416,960. Month on month, the median price has risen by almost $14,000. 

Meanwhile, the city’s apartment sector also cooled during the month, notching a 0.4 per cent decline over April. The figures are a slight improvement from the 0.5 per cent decline seen in March. 

The monthly decline weighed on the average value of a unit in the city, with the median price falling by more than $3,000 over the month to $830,534. 

Supply and demand

As has been the case throughout 2022, supply and demand dynamics are dictating capital cities’ performance, as the gains or falls in each market are closely correlated to levels of available stock. 

In Sydney, SQM Research’s latest data showed total residential listings rose by 5.8 per cent over the month, from 28,494 in March to 30,138 in April. 

Compared to the same period last year, the number of available stock in the NSW capital is up by 5.9 per cent. 

New listings (or properties that have been on the market less than 30 days) fell 8.7 per cent from 15,783 in March to 14,403 in April. On an annual basis, new listings in the city are down by 9.5 per cent. 

Meanwhile, data showed that old listings or property listings over 180 days rose by 8.1 per cent from 3,403 in March to 3,678 in April. Year on year, old housing stock in the city has fallen by 22.5 per cent. 

Managing director of SQM Research Louis Christopher said that the stock trends in Sydney and Melbourne should not come as a surprise, as April tends to be a slower month for listings. 

But he noted that there are other factors affecting sellers’ sentiment. “There may also have been an element of caution by would-be new vendors given the slowdown in the market,” Mr Christopher said.  

The expert also noted the broad-based rise in old listings, stating: “This is a clear indication that absorption rates across the country are slowing and more and more existing vendors not achieving the price they seek.” 

Separate data from CoreLogic showed that the total advertised inventory in Sydney is 6.9 per cent higher than levels seen a year ago — indicating that stock in the city has normalised. 

Higher stock levels across Sydney can be explained by an above-average flow of new listings coming on the market in combination with a drop in buyer demand, according to the property data provider. 

Mr Lawless explained that with the gap between supply and demand in the city closing, the balance of power is shifting back towards buyers. 

“With higher inventory levels and less competition, buyers are gradually moving back into the driver’s seat. That means more time to deliberate on their purchase decisions and negotiate on price,” Mr Lawless said.

“Demand has been falling in these markets as shown by the slower absorption rate, which has allowed supply levels to bounce back to long-term average levels in Sydney and above-average levels in Melbourne.” 

The weakening buyer demand has triggered a steep drop in home sales in the past three months, with transactions in the city falling 0.5 per cent over the period. Month on month, sales turnover in Sydney slumped by 0.2 per cent. 

Auction markets

Clearance rates in Sydney continued to be below the 70 per cent mark in April, resulting from a combination of increased choice but reduced competition, according to Domain.  

Domain’s latest auction report showed that the NSW capital’s clearance rates recorded a marginal uptick in April, up 0.1 percentage points to 62.9 per cent. 

While the rate grew on a monthly basis, they are slowing overall, and clearance rates continue to remain below 70 per cent for the sixth consecutive month — suggesting an increasingly cooling auction market. 

As the market moves into the final month of autumn and the historically quieter months of winter, Domain forecasts the continual run of softening clearance rates, weaker competition, and improved buying conditions — ultimately turning Sydney into a buyer’s market. 

Data also showed that Sydney’s median auction house price is up 1.1 per cent over the month to $1.90 million. Compared to the same period last year, the figures are higher by 15.9 per cent. 

For units, the average auction price for apartments declined over the month by 2.2 per cent to $1.10 million but is up annually by 10.3 per cent.

Meanwhile, CoreLogic reported that over April, a total of 1,185 properties went under the hammer in the city, with a final average clearance rate of 61 per cent.

However, the property data provider noted that the slow activity in the city’s auction market might be caused by the public holiday celebrations throughout the month, particularly the Easter and Anzac weekends.

If you want to be in the loop about what’s happening across auction markets in the country, follow our weekly updates in our News section.  

Vacancy rates 

Domain says there’s a Hunger Games situation unfolding across the country — but instead of food, tenants are now competing for rental vacancies that are growing scarcer across capital cities. 

According to the latest data, tenants are facing tough competition for a rental in Sydney as the city’s vacancy rate stood at 1.4 per cent in April. The figures are the lowest vacancy rate recorded in the city since Domain’s records began, overtaking last month. 

This also marks the fourth consecutive month of decline for the city, with the figures falling from the 1.5 per cent vacancy rate seen in March. 

The areas with the highest vacancy rates were Pittwater (2.5 per cent), Ku-ring-gai (2.4 per cent), Rouse Hill – McGraths Hill (2.4 per cent), Blacktown – North (2.1 per cent), and Ryde – Hunters Hill (2 per cent). 

Meanwhile, the areas with the lowest vacancy rates were Blue Mountains (0.4 per cent), Camden (0.5 per cent), Campbelltown (NSW) (0.5 per cent), Sutherland – Menai – Heathcote (0.5 per cent), and Richmond – Windsor (0.5 per cent). 

The number of available listings in the city also fell by 1.5 per cent to just under 8,300 over the month. 

Rental market

According to Domain’s chief of research and economics Dr Nicola Powell, the increasingly short supply of rental properties across the country is driving up weekly asking prices to record highs. 

“Many cities are sitting at record high asking rents with all capital cities seeing an increase in median rents for the first quarter of 2022 (except Sydney houses which remain steady at a record high),” she said.  

Dr Powell added that things are likely to worsen for renters in the post-COVID era. 

“The current tightening conditions swing favour to landlords and bolster the likelihood of any future potential rental price increases post-COVID as rising investor activity and elevated rental demand will further worsen conditions for tenants,” Dr Powell said. 

Meanwhile, CoreLogic noted that rents for units are now starting to catch up with houses. 

“On a rolling quarterly basis, we are now seeing unit rents rising faster than house rents, especially in Sydney and Melbourne where rental conditions across the unit sector were previously much softer,” Mr Lawless commented.

“The shift in rental demand towards units reflects both rental affordability pressures, which are deflecting more demand towards the ‘cheaper’ unit sector, and the return of overseas migrants and visitors. Rental demand from overseas arrivals tends to skew towards inner-city and higher density precincts.”

Sydney’s unit rents were up 3 per cent over the three months ending April, a full percentage point higher than the rise in house rents (2 per cent). Over the year, house and unit rents are both up by 9 per cent. 

Outlook for Sydney’s market 

With an interest rate hike now added to the equation, what is the outlook for Sydney? 

CoreLogic’s report pointed out that there is a clear historical correlation between rising rates and cooling of property prices. 

“Although we are expecting the housing market to move into a downturn through the second half of the year, it is important to remember the context of the recent growth phase,” Mr Lawless said.

In the wake of the rate hike decision, economists have predicted house prices will take a hit, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne. 

Chief economist at AMP Capital Shane Oliver expects the two biggest cities to experience the biggest shock, forecasting a 15 per cent decline in prices by the end of 2023 or early 2024. 

The RBA issued a similar warning, stating in its latest Financial Stability Review that both banks and borrowers needed to consider the potential for a drastic drop in property prices.

“After nationwide housing prices increased by 22 per cent over 2021 (the strongest annual growth rate since the late 1980s), the pace of housing price growth moderated in most markets in early 2022,” the review said.

“Future increases in interest rates could also weigh on housing and other asset prices,” the central bank added. 

The Reserve Bank also cited the historical relationship between interest rate rises, as well supply and demand factors, and estimated a major fall in property prices could be on the horizon.

“A 200 basis point increase in interest rates from current levels would lower real housing prices by around 15 per cent over a two-year period,” the RBA forecast. 

But while there are widespread talks of steep declines in property values which could erase all the gains seen in the previous year, there are also experts who are more conservative with their forecasts for Sydney and Melbourne. 

Dr Andrew Wilson, the chief economist at My Housing Market, sees both cities contracting by only a few per cent this year. 

“Melbourne and Sydney have consolidated those higher prices and there is no more capacity to grow at the spectacular rates of last year,” he stated. 

Meanwhile, Mr Christopher has flagged a drop in property prices by 7 per cent in Sydney and 8 per cent in Melbourne as early as this year, although he said there the cities could stage a recovery if wage rises accelerate.

But he warned that the initial reaction after Australia’s first interest rate rise in over a decade would be to immediately “spook” buyers, and he expects a sharp drop in the number looking to snap up a property.

Mr Christopher added: “This will put further downward pressure on house prices, which [have] already started to weaken.”

For those looking for a more optimistic outlook, some experts have offered that surging inflation, a return to overseas migration and stronger-than-expected wages growth could all contribute to a recovery in the Sydney property market, depending on how much interest rates go up over the next seven months. 

PropTrack economist Paul Ryan said it wasn’t so much a matter of when the Reserve Bank hiked interest rates but the extent to which they did it.

“It will matter whether the cash rate is 1 per cent or 2 per cent at the end of the year,” Mr Ryan stated

The expert added that while there was a small chance that the NSW capital’s market could see a rebound after a general hiatus during the federal election, the factors that would bring this to play were unlikely.

“If the RBA doesn’t increase rates quite as quickly and we end up getting the really strong wages growth that people are expecting based on labour market conditions, that could maybe point to more growth on the horizon,” he said.

“The consensus seems to be that we’re more likely to have a flat kind of year, potentially with the prospect of some falls,” the expert concluded. 

This article was originally published on Smart Property Investment.

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