Australian household formation has been running faster than the population growth rate since the 1960s, and the average household size has fallen to 2.6 persons per dwelling. Home ownership rates (i.e. the proportion of owner occupied homes versus rented homes) has changed little over this period, staying close to 69% (plus or minus 1-2%) since the 1960s. This means an increasing proportion of Australia’s population are establishing new owner-occupied and rented households, indicating an ongoing improvement in housing affordability over time.
(Australia's home ownership rate from the 1930s to early 1950s was around 52%, well below the 67% figure from the latest 2011 census)
“Australia has one of the highest levels of home ownership in the world. Results from the Census of Population and Housing show that home ownership levels have changed little over the past 40 years and were at 70% in 2006. Small fluctuations in measured home ownership rates derived from census data in part reflect methodological differences from Census to Census” - ABS
“Survey of Income and Housing (SIH) show both those households that own the dwelling in which they currently reside and the ownership of other dwellings. The 2009-10 SIH results show that 68.8% of all households in 'not very remote' Australia own (with or without a mortgage) the dwelling in which they currently reside (down from 70.2% in 2003-04). However, when those who are in tenures other than owner-occupation but own residential property are added, the proportion of all households that own residential property rises to 72.8% (no significant change compared to 2003–04).” – ABS
Housing is second highest taxed sector of the Australian Economy
Property bears and renters often rail against first-homebuyer grants and negative gearing. They claim their taxes are used to 'prop up' the housing sector.
This is a nonsense.
None of the tax they pay goes to the real estate industry. In net terms the government gives no money at all to the housing market.
In fact, grants and negative gearing benefits are fully funded (and then some) by taxes taken from homeowners, buyers and developers.
Negative gearing costs the government approx. $2.5b per annum (tax forgone on $6.5b losses claimed). FHB grants cost approx $0.7b per annum ($7K x 100,000 FHBs).
So the total government 'tax spend' on property is approx. $3.2b per annum.
This is a tiny amount, and more than fully funded by the huge fees and taxes the government imposes on homeowners and developers, including...
Rates ($9b pa), Stamp Duty ($6b pa), GST on New Dwellings ($6b pa), DA Fees ($15b pa), Land Tax ($6b pa).
The net position is that the government takes approx. $40b per annum in taxes from homeowners. They treat the real estate market as a cash cow, receiving enormous tax revenue from homeowners, and using it to fund services for others. Renters pay far less tax than homeowners. They don't pay their fair share. Homeowners subsidise renters, not the other way around.
Studies have shown that total tax component of a new Australian house is 40% of the purchase price. By advocating the removal of grants and NG benefits, bears are effectively advocating even higher taxes on housing, which is already the second highest taxed sector of the Australian economy.
The housing sector is one of the most heavily taxed sectors of the Australian economy, both in absolute and relative terms. The housing sector contributes between $36 billion and $40 billion in taxation revenue each year to federal, state and local governments in Australia. This equates to 11 to 12 per cent of the total revenue collected by all tiers of government. Only one sector, wholesale and retail trade, contributes more and its contribution is only marginally larger.
The total taxation burden on a new home can now be well over 40% of its purchase price - most of which is borne by the home buyer. This means that the tax component of a new home is now so large, it usually exceeds the costs of land.
Some people (normally property bears) like to suggest that banks can 'call in' or 'margin call' or repossess the homes of borrowers who end up in negative equity simply because (through no fault of the borrower) house prices happen to fall/crash. They claim the banks can do this even if the borrower is keeping up with his repayments. One person has pointed to a statement in this CBA document to back up his claim. His document says...
What we require from you for the loan to operate 3.5 Value of the Security The value of and title to the Security Property must be to out reasonable satisfaction at all times during the term of the Contract. We may obtain a new valuation of any Security Property.
Default 9.1 When you could be in default You are under default under the Contract if any of the following conditions apply: (a) Overdue amount: You do not pay on time any amount payable under the contract (b) Breach of contract: You do not keep to the other terms of the Contract or the terms of any Security (c) Value or title unsatisfactory: We are not reasonably satisfied with the value of or the title to the Security Property or the Security over it will be inadequate security for the Loan in accordance with our usual prudent credit standards
It should be noted that the CBA document quoted above is not a contract - it is an information booklet about home loans, and therefore non-binding, and not a legal document. Clause (c) is there to cover circumstances where a revaluation is triggered for example due to the borrower knocking down the house. A general fall in house prices would not trigger a revaluation, and the CBA booklet doesn't claim that it would.
In fact, the NCCP Act 2009 actually makes it quite clear that banks can't 'margin call', or repossess, or force the sale of a residential property unless the borrower has defaulted on repayments and subsequently failed to comply with a request to remedy that default.
Division 2—Enforcement of credit contracts, mortgages and guarantees
88 Requirements to be met before credit provider can enforce credit contract or mortgage against defaulting debtor or mortgagor
Enforcement of credit contract (1) A credit provider must not begin enforcement proceedings against a debtor in relation to a credit contract unless the debtor is in default under the credit contract and: (a) the credit provider has given the debtor, and any guarantor, a default notice, complying with this section, allowing the debtor a period of at least 30 days from the date of the notice to remedy the default; and (b) the default has not been remedied within that period. Criminal penalty: 50 penalty units.
Enforcement of mortgage
(2) A credit provider must not begin enforcement proceedings against a mortgagor to recover payment of money due or take possession of, sell, appoint a receiver for or foreclose in relation to property subject to a mortgage, unless the mortgagor is in default under the mortgage and: (a) the credit provider has given the mortgagor a default notice, complying with this section, allowing the mortgagor a period of at least 30 days from the date of the notice to remedy the default; and (b) the default has not been remedied within that period.
Furthermore, ASIC stipulates the following conditions...
Note that these rulings applies to regulated loans. All PPOR (homeowner) mortgages are regulated. All IP (investment property) loans entered into since July 2010 are also regulated, with the exception of large property developer loans (loans for multiple properties values at greater than $5 million).
And regardless of the fact that banks have no legal right to take such action (repossession, forced sale etc) against homeowners who are not in default, it wouldn't be in the bank's interest to do so anyway. A loan is an asset to a bank. It would make no sense for a bank to repossess the home of a non-defaulting borrower and then force the sale of that home for less than the value of the loan. It wouldn't help the bank's balance sheet or financial position in any way.
Readers may also be interested in this discussion I had with Treasury on the matter...
I have a question about residential mortgages and the NCCP Act. I'm trying to determine exactly what protection a borrower has from a bank taking foreclosure action in an instance where the borrower continued to make all payments on time and adhered to all other provisions of the mortgage contract. My specific question is this...
Do lenders have the ability to foreclose, force the sale of, repossess, call in, demand a loan 'top up', 'margin call' or otherwise take action against a borrower simply because general house prices have fallen? If the mortgage contract includes a clause stating that a default occurs when the lender is not 'reasonably satisfied' with the value of the property, could the lender use this clause in the event of a general property crash to declare that the borrower has defaulted? Would the NCCP permit the lender to take action against the borrower in such a case?
For example, after taking out a mortgage, property values in the area fall to a point where the value of the property might be less than the originally agreed LVR, or fall to some other point where the lender is not 'satisfied' with the valuation. Does the lender have the right to then revalue the property, declare that the borrower has defaulted, and take action against the borrower?
In other words, the borrower is keeping up with their repayments, has not breached any other conditions of the contract, and the only issue is that the bank decides it is no longer 'satisfied' with the value of the property because house prices happen to have fallen. Is the borrower protected by the NCCP?
Thanks for your advice in this matter.
Dear Mr xxxxxxxxx
Thank you for your inquiry.
We understand that some lenders will require the borrower to reduce their liability to a specified amount to reduce their risk exposure where property values fall. However, this is restricted to lines of credit or interest only loans where the principal is not required to be reduced until the end of the contract.
We are not aware of any normal ‘principal and interest’ home loans where the lender has the right to sell a property simply because property values fall. However, a provision of this type, if included, could infringe the unfair contracts terms legislation in the Australian Consumer Law.
We trust that this information is of assistance to you.
Consumer Credit Unit Retail Investor Division The Treasury, Langton Crescent, Parkes ACT 2600
Note that when Treasury refers to 'interest only loans where the principal is not required to be reduced until the end of the contract', they are talking about commercial or developer type loans there, where the principal must be repaid, usually in full, at the end of the term. Normal property investor IO loans just roll over to P&I, or get extended as IO at the end of the term.
Anyone who wishes to verify this response can contact Treasury themselves.
The email address I used was ConsumerCredit@TREASURY.GOV.AU
If the loan is to a natural person, and the credit is provided wholly or predominantly to purchase, renovate or improve residential property for investment purposes, then the loan is regulated under the National Credit Act, and the credit provider needs to be registered and licensed. ‘Residential property’ is defined in the National Credit Act and includes land on which a dwelling is or will be affixed predominantly for residential purposes.
However it should be noted that large property developer loans are exempt (loans for multiple properties valued at greater than $5 million)...
http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/F2011C00035 65C Residential investment property loans — exemption from Code The Code does not apply to the provision of credit if: (a) the credit is provided for the purpose of investment in residential property; and (b) the credit is not provided for the purpose of investment in a single residence; and (c) the total amount if the credit provided, or to be provided, is more than $5 000 000.
(Note: the words 'and' above mean all three clauses (a), (b), and (c), must apply for the exemption to apply)
The majority of types of home loans or applications as a general rule are regulated under the NCCP Act. The rules of these can be quite complicated but a loan will usually be regulated if it falls under certain conditions.
These conditions include the fact that the home loans are issued to actual individuals and not companies; that the loans are being made for domestic or household purposes or to purchase or renovate the home or even to refinance the home. A charge is to be made for the credit and this must be done in the course of a business. Most standard home loans due to these conditions are regulated with the exception of those that are made to companies and those that are used to invest in commercial property. These exceptions may provide for more loan options.
As a general rule, almost all home loan types & applications are regulated under the Act. The rules for this are complicated, however a loan is likely to be regulated if it meets the following conditions:
The borrower is natural person; and The credit is provided wholly or predominately; For personal, domestic or household purposes; or To purchase, renovate of improve residential property for investment purposes; or To refinance credit that has been provided wholly or predominately to purchase, renovate or improve residential property for investment purposes; and A charge is made for providing the credit; and The credit provider provides the credit in the course of a business.
This means that most standard home loans are regulated under the Act. The main exceptions are:
Loans in the name of a company (i.e. not to a “natural person”). Loans used predominantly to invest in commercial property, shares or a business.
There may be more flexible lending products available for these loan types, where no form of income verification is required. These are known as a no doc loan.
Property bears often claim that Australia has a housing bubble, and they compare Australia to other countries that are known to have had housing bubbles that did burst. Such countries include the USA, Ireland, UK, Spain and Japan. Each of these countries had a confirmed housing bubble. Those housing bubbles were confirmed because they burst, and that is the only way to confirm a bubble. Bubbles can only be confirmed beyond doubt in hindsight, after they burst (because they burst).
However, there are indicators that may be used to identify the absence or presence of a potential bubble. We have enough experience of housing bubbles that burst in other countries to be able to examine the characteristics common to most confirmed housing bubbles.
The housing bubbles in USA, Ireland, UK, Spain and Japan had something in common. They were all characterised by a sharp rise in the house price to income ratio as the bubble inflated, followed almost immediately by a sharp fall in this ratio as the bubble collapsed after prices peaked.
The charts below illustrate this phenomenon quite clearly.
We can use this pattern (the sharp rise in the price/income ratio as the bubble inflates, followed immediately by a sharp fall as the bubble collapses) to determine whether Australia is likely to have a housing bubble at the present time. In Australia, the house price to income ratio did rise sharply until it reached a peak in 2003. At this point one would normally expect the ratio to collapse, if this was indeed a bubble. Instead, the house price to income ratio has remained close to that 2003 level for almost a decade. Now in December 2011, the ratio is still where it was in 2003. This is not normal bubble behaviour. Bubbles (not just housing bubbles, but all asset bubbles) are normally characterised by a sharp rise followed almost immediately by a sharp fall after prices peak. A house price to income ratio that doesn't fall shortly after a peak might be a good indicator for the absence of a property bubble.
Therefore, either Australia does not have a housing bubble, or we have a new type of bubble - a special/different form of property bubble never experienced before. I suspect the former explanation is the more likely. Either way, it is obvious from the charts that Australian property does not necessarily follow the path set by the other countries that the housing bears like to compare us to. Their claims that Australia has a property bubble just like USA/Ireland/UK/Spain/Japan, and that Australian property must crash just like those countries, are clearly unfounded, because we have not experienced house price changes that mirror anything like the changes in those other countries. The present house price to income ratio in Australia has held close to 2003 levels for almost a decade and there is no reason why that ratio needs to suddenly collapse. The current ratio appears to be sustainable.
But almost half a million families and individuals bought homes in Australia last year. So while housing may be unaffordable to some (has it ever been otherwise?) plenty of people do seem to be able to afford to buy houses. So how come so many people are buying houses in a country that Demographia claims to be completely unaffordable?
Obviously there must be many flaws in the Demographia survey, some of which I will outline here.
For a start, the Demographia survey uses a very simplistic measure of affordability - the median house price to median gross household income ratio. Using gross household income is an inappropriate way to determine household spending power, because the spending power of a household is based on the amount of gross income remaining after costs are deducted for essentials such as taxes, food, transport, clothing etc. Differences in tax rates and cost of living pressures across various countries make a comparison of spending power based on gross income meaningless.
Furthermore, there is no reason why a family on median wage income should feel entitled to be able to afford a median house, because houses are not purchased using wage income alone. Houses are purchased using wealth. A better measure of a household's ability to afford property would be to consider household discretionary income and total wealth. This would include non-wage income (such as income from interest, shares or other investments), and wealth stored in other assets (such as shares or equity in existing property) that may be liquidated or borrowed against in order to fund a new property purchase. A family with median wealth should feel entitled to a median dwelling, but an FHB on median wages (with no other wealth) should not.
Note that I don't agree with using imputed rent (because it isn't actual money) or superannuation (because it's not easily accessible to most people) in income/wealth calculations for the purposes of determining dwelling affordability. However I do believe rental income (and real income from any other investments including savings interest) should be included, along with any liquid assets or easily leveraged assets such as equity in existing property. The reality is that people can and do use those forms of wealth to buy property.
The average loan size in Australia is approximately 60% of the median dwelling value as shown here...
"Between October and November 2010, the average loan size for first home buyers fell $4,900 to $277,900. The average loan size for all owner occupied housing commitments rose $600 to $287,300 for the same period."
This shows that people are putting considerable wealth (in the form of savings/equity etc.) towards their property purchases, in order to reduce the size of the loan that must be serviced using wage and non-wage income.
Additionally, the Demographia survey only considers the initial purchase price of the house, but not the total holding cost. For example, homeowners in the USA are required to pay large annual property taxes, which over the course of their lifetime will result in the total housing cost being similar to or higher than that in Australia, despite the much lower initial purchase price in the USA.
The survey also fails to consider dwelling size. Houses in Australia are, on average, the largest in the world, so when comparing median houses it is important to note that a median dwelling in Australia is much larger than a median dwelling in the other countries. Why would Australians build the largest houses in the world if our houses are supposedly unaffordable? Wouldn't we build smaller less expensive ones if that was the case? The truth is that Australians have high incomes, Australia is a prosperous country, and as a nation we choose to spend a large portion of our disposable income on nice large well appointed houses. Clearly we can afford to do that.
Another major failing with the Demographia survey is its measure of median house price. The official median house price figures that Demographia use for Australia are sourced from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. However these ABS figures only include freestanding houses. They don't include units or townhouses, meaning that Demographia are overstating median house prices in Australia compared to the other countries assessed in their survey (countries where units and townhouses are included when calculating the median house price).
So, the Demographia survey compares median house price to income ratios across various countries, but clearly there is no reason why those house price to income ratios should be consistent across each country, because there are substantially different factors impacting the housing markets in each country. The Demographia survey fails to consider the following important factors:
- Disposable/discretionary income - Wealth (including wage income, non-wage income, and assets) - Employment rate - General cost of living (affects spending power) - Interest rates - Credit availability - Rental yield - Availability of public housing - Marginal tax rates - Mortgage default rates - Tax incentives such as negative gearing, FHOG, CGT reductions - Land/block size - Dwelling size and quality - Proximity to transport and infrastructure - Currency exchange rates - Economic and political stability - Average persons per dwelling - Home ownership rates - Urbanisation - Population growth rate - Demographics (it is ironic that a survey called Demographia ignores basic demographics!)
Of course, no survey is perfect and no survey can possibly hope to account for all these factors. The best we can do is try to look at as many different surveys as possible, each of which address a few of these factors, and this will give an better general impression of comparative affordability in each country, rather than looking at just one survey (I have linked to twelve alternative surveys below).
We should note that the historical '3 x income' house price affordability ratio that some bears cling to are no longer valid, because interest rates are historically low, and a large number of buyers today have large deposits, dual incomes, high discretionary income, and in the case of investors, rental income and negative gearing to off-set the holding costs. Although dual income families have been around for some time, lenders are increasingly willing to recognise the second income and allow families to borrow at a higher level.
The RBA demonstrated that 25-39 year olds today still have more real household income left over after buying a 30th percentile house than at any time in the past 30 years.
Returning to the 'demographic' failings of the Demographia survey, take for example Demographia's claim that a certain 'sea-change' town in Australia is particularly unaffordable. They base this on the median house price to medium income ratio in that town. What they fail to consider is that the median income there is largely irrelevant, because much of the population are cashed-up retirees (zero income) with substantial savings who purchased a large beach house, often with very low borrowings. Sure, these beach houses may be unaffordable to a first home buyer who works in the local supermarket, but that's not the primary demographic driving house prices in the town.
Another key issue with Demographia is that it compares cities in Australia with cities in only six other countries, yet the media proceeds to claim that Australia is the 'most expensive country in the world'. The survey conveniently ignores all the many cities around the world with much higher house prices than Australian cities. For example Moscow, Tokyo, Oslo, Seoul, Hong Kong, Geneva, Zurich, Milan, Paris, Singapore, Monaco. Here are some alternative studies...
Three of the above surveys quote data from the others, but they do also add their own additional information and commentary, so I have included them anyway. Although these surveys are not always directly related to house price per se, they are all directly related to affordability. Some of the surveys do show that dwelling prices are lower in Australia, while others show that rents are lower here, and others show that the cost of living is lower. Taken together (along with Demographia survey), would suggest that Australia is somewhere in the middle of the road in terms of global housing affordability.
Back to the Demographia survey. So far, I have discussed the flaws in the Demographia survey in general terms, and I have explained why I don't believe median house price to gross household income is a particularly useful way to measure affordability. But anyway, that's the ratio that the Demographia survey does use, so let's look at some of their figures in more detail.
If you're going to use gross household income, then you should at least get the figures right. Demographia claims that the median gross household income for Sydney is $66,200. It is unclear how they derive this figure - it doesn't exist in any of the official ABS statistics for Sydney. However the Demographia survey does state the following (on page 46 of their most recent report):
"Median household income data is generally estimated using the most recent national statistics bureau (census) base for each metropolitan market and adjusted to a current estimate by the best available indicator of median income growth. In the United States, the United Kingdom, China, New Zealand and Ireland, specific metropolitan area interim adjustments are possible from data sources. However, in Canada and Australia, it is necessary to use more general provincial or state level data."
Is the Demographia survey using the median income for the whole of NSW, rather than for Sydney? And then comparing this to the median freestanding house price in Sydney itself? It's really not clear how they derive their income figures, but the site here (http://www.abcdiamond.com/australia/australian-median-income-2006-and-2010/) suggests that the median gross household income figure for Sydney is likely to be closer to $82K for the Sydney Locality (rather than Demographia's claimed $66K), or $107K for the Sydney LGA. Quite a difference.
And various sources (RPData, Residex, APM) put the Sydney median dwelling price at around $525K (rather than the Demographia figure of $634K for freestanding houses only).
So if we take the more accurate median home price to gross household income figures, we get a ratio of 525/82 = 6.4 for Sydney, rather than the 9.6 ratio claimed by Demographia.
Does this ratio of 6.4 mean Sydney houses are really affordable after all? Not necessarily. In my opinion this ratio is almost as meaningless a measure of 'affordability' as Demographia's 9.6 figure (but at least 6.4 is more accurate as a house price to gross household income ratio). As mentioned above, the spending power of an average family depends on many things, not just their gross household wage income. In my view, the best way to determine whether homes in Australia are affordable or not is to employ a little common sense.
1 - Would we choose to build the largest homes in the world if homes were unaffordable? 2 - Would half a million families and individuals (approximately) be buying homes every year if they couldn't afford those homes? 3 - Would we have one of the lowest mortgage default rates in the western world if people couldn't afford their homes?
I believe the answer to each of those questions is 'no'.
Can every first home-buyer in Australia afford the home they desire right away? Of course not... they never could. But any family willing to work hard can afford a home of some description, and as they progress through life, increasing their income and wealth, over time they will be able to afford comparatively better houses. Once they have achieved median wealth then the average family can afford a median dwelling, and later in life an average family who continues to build their wealth can afford increasingly higher quality dwellings. This is the way it has always been.
Some people might argue that housing was apparently 'affordable' in the USA, Spain and Ireland prior to their recent property crashes. I will point out that this blog is not an attempt to prove that house prices in Australia can't fall. House prices in Australia can fall, have fallen in the past, and will do so in the future. They could even crash given sufficiently adverse conditions in the future.
The fact that house prices fell in Spain, Ireland and the USA does not necessarily mean that prices there were unaffordable. Cheap affordable things can fall in price, and often do. In my opinion, prices fell in those countries predominantly due to an over-supply of housing following construction booms. Home-buyers in those countries could afford their houses when they were first purchased, under the environment at the time of purchase, however conditions later changed so that some of those people could no longer afford their homes.
If conditions change for the worse in Australia then some people here may also be unable to afford their homes. Credit could tighten, interest rates could rise, unemployment could rise. Similarly those factors (and many others) could improve, rather than worsen. Many things could happen in the future to either reduce or improve affordability. However the Demographia survey is not saying that houses in Australia are unaffordable because conditions might change in the future to make them unaffordable. The Demographia survey is claiming that house prices in Australia are severely unaffordable today, under our present environment, which includes our present employment levels, interest rates, credit availability, and all of the factors mentioned in the bullet points above.
In conclusion, I believe that under present conditions, homes in Australia are affordable. I also believe the Demographia survey is flawed, and does not consider enough factors to be able to determine where Australia ranks in housing affordability compared to the other six countries surveyed.
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