Property market recovering, but September will be the true test, says REINZ chief

It's a time for cautious hope for the property market. But we're still waiting for the true test.

New Zealand's lockdown measures created an initial, brutal hit on the economy. But the success of those measures meant a recovery into a virus-free community, with the opportunity for a strong economic bounce back.

We have the luxury of free movement, even if our borders have closed. As a result many businesses say they've been able to recover the lost ground faster than they thought they would.

Property is no exception. It's still down on where we were last year, make no mistake. But it's bouncing back faster than many in the industry had feared, and there are hopes that recovery will only pick up pace.

The June REINZ Residential Market Confidence Report shows May sales climbing back up to 1300 properties sold a week.

That's a far cry from the 227 sold a week in the worst of lockdown, even if it's still down from last year's 1700 sold each week of May.

The prices themselves are a mixed bag depending on where you are in the country, with tourism-dependant areas seeing price falls, while some such as the Waikato actually increased in price.

Tellingly the number of days for a house to sell have increased, from 39 days in a previous "typical" May, to now 60 days.

All in all, property is nowhere near the depths many had feared, and it's picking up speed again faster than many had hoped. This is a faster recovery than we saw after the Global Financial Crisis in 2008.

In the latest Cooking the Books podcasts, REINZ chief executive Bindi Norwell said the data was heartening to many in the industry.

"I think it's much better than people had expected. At the moment we've got a lot of wage subsidies, we've got mortgage holidays.

"So in essence, we've had some buffering of the market."

In that explanation, you also see there's reason for that optimism to remain cautious. Because we still have a major hurdle to clear.

September will be the month to watch.

September will be an important month by anyone's measure, because of three key factors.

The election, of course, happens then, which has typically been an uncertain time that buyers and sellers like to wait out to see who wins.

The wage subsidy will end, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has ruled out extending it.

House prices are closely tied to unemployment, and if people start losing their jobs without wage support, then some will be forced to sell under pressure.

Mortgage holidays are also scheduled to end in September, although the Reserve Bank is considering extending those.

Housing is the biggest expense for most New Zealand families, so that was another intervention that eased the pressure.

The mortgage holidays and wage subsidies were like a shot of adrenaline to the heart of our economy.

It gave time to recover while the team patched up other areas, not least stamping out community transmission of Covid-19.

But it's also hard to know how the patient is holding up underneath those interventions.

House prices holding up

Norwell said that lack of certainty was one of the reasons house prices were currently holding up.

"What's happening at the moment is there have been a lack of listings. So there has been more pressure and more competition for certain properties in the market."

Those "certain properties" are the ones deemed "affordable". As in, the first home buyers are seizing the day and hoping now is finally their chance.

Low interest rates are encouraging many of them, who think that even if prices are holding steady, a lower mortgage rate still makes it easier to pay off.

They're clearly hoping this is one of those "lemons into lemonade" situations. They may have a point - there are plenty of other signs that New Zealand's economy could be well placed to ride out Covid-19 shockwaves.

New Zealand is the safe haven

Expats are coming home, with New Zealand so far one of the few safe havens from the virus.

Those people are more likely to stick around for a while, potentially at least a couple of years while they wait for a vaccine to be developed.

A second hopeful possibility also stems from our status as Covid-19 community transmission free. Employment opportunities could start shifting here from overseas, particularly for industries that find it impossible to socially distance, like film and television.

Those people might not be buying houses, but it will be better for the economy more generally.

Again, that link to housing and employment is pretty important. Anything that keeps the money-go-round turning will have an impact, even if not directly.

The early signs for our economy, and the property market, are good. But taking samples for testing will only get us so far.

When September hits we'll find out how well the patient has truly recovered.


Source: One Roof

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