Nicola Powell is the Chief of Research and Economics at Domain, one of Australia’s leading property marketplaces. Nicola is an expert on the Australian property market, who has worked in property and demographic trends for nearly 10 years.
In this episode, Nicola explains the trends that are currently affecting first-home buyers and breaks down concepts like supply and the cost of holding debt. Nicola also shares her thoughts on whether the dream of home ownership is still achievable for the average person, and her answer might surprise you.
the information contained in this podcast is general in nature and is not to be taken as financial or personal advice.
It does not consider your objectives, financial situation or needs.
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Hi and welcome to the home Run your guide to buying the first home in Australia.
On the show.
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No matter what stage you’re at, you’ll learn everything you need to know about buying your first home.
I’m your host, Michael Nasser, and I’m a mortgage broker at Lendstreet, and I really love helping people buy their first home.
I’m lucky to be joined by Doctor Nicola Powell, the chief of research and economics at domain.com.au.
One of Australia’s leading property market places.
Nicola has a unique perspective on the property market as she analyses data and trends from a big-picture level.
She knows what’s going on in the market and how it impacts first home buyers.
In today’s episode, you’ll hear about the trends that are currently affecting first home buyers.
She’ll break down concepts like supply and the cost of holding debt.
And Nicola will share her thoughts on whether the dream of home ownership is still achievable for the average person.
I hope you enjoy our chat with Nicola.
Let’s get into it, Nicola.
Welcome to the show.
Thanks so much for having me on Michael.
I’ve been looking forward to having this chat.
As have I, obviously. But being the chief of research and economics for domain, you see a lot of data and a lot of information, and you interpret it in ways that many people probably don’t know or how to.
And being able to explain that to our first home buyers.
and listen to this podcast.
We really appreciate your time to get started.
Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself?
How did you get to where you are today?
So I’ve been focused actually on property and demographics for the past decade of my career, so I’ve purely focused on Australia’s property market.
You know, I’ve experienced quite a number of property cycles during the past 10 years, which is also really useful when you’re actually living through them, too.
We do have lots of data, so it does mean that we have, you know, 30 odd years of data at Fingertips to be able to analyse and interpret.
But I started my journey, actually, and my career journey as a researcher.
And then 10 years ago I found my love of property and I don’t know what it is about property.
You know, once you’re in the property world, it’s really hard to leave.
And you really do get that.
And I really admit I am obsessed with property.
I speak about it and analyse it every single day of my work life, er, all of my friends, all they talk to me about is property.
And if somebody finds out that I’m a property analyst, all they do is ask me for advice.
I think the Australian market in particular, is very property focused and and very property hungry, whether it’s a very common interest topic amongst all.
So I can totally understand once people know what you do, why they wanna pick your brain in terms of, and it seems like you love it.
So it’s perfect.
Look, I even have, you know, people in my letterbox, You know, when I’m going to collect my post, you know, you start those chats and they start talking about property.
And, you know, I’m originally from England, and I have never experienced a nation that is so obsessed with property as Australia, you know, in the UK, you don’t see segments on really consumer-focused TV showed like the Today show being focused on, you know, having a segment about property.
It doesn’t happen in the UK.
But it happens here regularly, and it’s just it’s amazing that obsession and how that’s been ingrained in the way that we think and the way that we just view and see property as that vehicle for building wealth.
And did that love of property start in the UK or did it develop once you moved out here to Australia?
It occurred here, actually, And as soon as I started really focusing on the property market, I come from a data research background.
Originally, the obsession was just so strong, you know, it’s really interesting even watching property cycles unravel.
And I really enjoy actually the behavioural side and the impact that it has on everyday Australians.
You know, I really take the role that I do at the domain very seriously, because what we’re doing is we’re helping people make better decisions through the use of data.
And for most people, buying a home is their biggest financial commitment that they’re going to make.
And they want to know that they’ve got, you know, the right pieces of data, the right pieces of information and research at their fingertips to help them make a better decision and judgement when it comes to buying a home.
Yeah, And can you tell us a little bit more about your current role?
You You briefly mentioned it there.
What do you actually do as the chief of research and economics at domain?
What does that involve?
So I lead our research and economics team, so that ultimately means we have the fabulous job of picking apart what’s going on in Australia’s property market, both at a macro level from Australia wide and we go all the way down to suburbs.
So we do various different reports such as rent reports.
So we do do rental markets, vacancy rates.
We do other things like pricing.
We do a First Home Buyer report we actually launched last year a sustainability and property report and looking at how energy efficient homes or more energy-efficient homes perform on the market in terms of do they sell for more?
Do they sell for quicker?
So, yeah, we track obviously the the basic fundamentals of the property market, such as auction clearance rates.
I mean, that’s a sport in itself, isn’t it?
Watching the the auction market days on market or anything to do with property stats?
That’s what my team looks after.
Ok. And so you get to look at things at a much higher level, and I guess at a more micro level as well that most of us, I wanted to ask you about some of the trends that you see from your vantage point and what trends are affecting first home buyers in particular.
Right now, there are a few and one of the ones that occurred during the pandemic was this record price gap between houses and units.
We started to see it narrow a little bit, but it appears to be widening again.
That obviously impacts first-home buyers in a couple of ways.
Probably the first one is when they’re on the market, and perhaps they purchase a unit.
Is that upsizing?
That property leap from one property type to another has become harder, and that’s a consideration when someone’s looking to get into the market in terms of what type of home is their first home.
But the flip side of that, you know, the fact that we have got such a wide gap, so it’s still very elevated in terms of the price gap, and this is largely across most of our capital cities.
It does mean that it either tells us two things about the market.
Houses are overvalued or units are undervalued.
And I think there is this perception of value that units offer first home buyers and the fact that they haven’t if we capture that covid price gain as well.
The fact that units didn’t see as much growth during that period of time, they didn’t pull back in price as much as house prices had.
But I think that value is there in the unit sector, relative to what we see in houses.
But I think when you go to that second home and perhaps your family is expanding and you want to have a house, you want to have a garden.
That upsizing has become harder.
You also mentioned the first Home Buyer report.
What’s that about?
And what sort of metrics are you analysing and interpreting there for first-home buyers?
And what’s the latest in that sort of space that you’ve seen with domain?
We’re actually really passionate about affordability and really helping First home buyers understand property market dynamics and understanding the journey they need to go on in order to be able to purchase their first home.
So we do an annual report, which is called the First Home Buyer Report.
And there’s two main aspects to this report.
Firstly, we look at and calculate How long does it take to save the recommended and I’ll say, recommended 20% deposit.
We know many people go with a much lower deposit than 20% so we look at the journey time it takes to save for a couple.
We focus it on that first home buyer age, which is the bracket between 25 and 34 So the average age of a first home buyer is in the early thirties.
We also look at the change over the time.
So have we seen the journey time it takes for an entry level house or unit change over the past year?
Change over the last five years?
As you can imagine, the journey time it takes to save for a house in Sydney is the longest, and this is an entry-level house.
It takes six years and eight months to save for an entry house in Sydney.
We have seen the journey time it takes to save for an entry house improve.
And that’s because, obviously, the interest rate environment has changed, and what we do is we calculate savings rates.
And that compounded rate of savings obviously helped to speed up the time it takes to save the other part of the First Home Buyer report actually looks at the other side of the spectrum because there’s always two sides to the affordability conversation.
There’s I need to save X amount to have a deposit and gain access to the market.
Then I need to be able to service an ongoing mortgage.
And what is that cost of holding debt?
What we also calculate is mortgage affordability.
So what is the proportion or the percentage of income needed to cover the mortgage for an entry-priced house and what’s been very interesting?
So we do this report annually.
So the last time we did this was early this year, So it was back in kind of February March time.
What we saw was a change in the affordability conversation.
Largely speaking, we’ve seen the journey time it takes to save for an entry-priced property decline, so decrease.
So that’s good news for first-home buyers.
But the conversation had really changed and morphed into a mortgage affordability conversation.
You know, this is totally your realm of expertise, and we’ve seen that those interest rates have changed so dramatically over the last 12 months or so.
When we look across the combined capital cities, the amount of income required to service a mortgage repayment on an entry priced house surged to 41%.
That’s increased from 29% in 2018.
Now, 30% is more or less the benchmark, and when you go over 30% you’re deemed in mortgage stress.
So across the combined capital C for an entry priced house, it’s telling us that largely speaking, people are in mortgage stress based upon that kind of aggregated data.
But for units, it’s much better.
It’s 27% to cover an entry price unit across our combined capital cities, but again, it’s increased, but not as dramatically as we’ve seen for houses.
It’s gone from 23% in 2018, up to 27% of your income needed to cover a mortgage repayment for an entry unit.
You mentioned that the same has been decreasing in terms of the time and correct me if I’m wrong here.
But the time that it takes for the average first home buyer to save is decreasing in time.
Is that a result of any incentives that have been in place?
Or, you know, there’s a 5% low home deposit scheme?
Do you guys look at that as part of the reasons as to why that might be occurring?
So we don’t take into account first home buyer incentives because obviously there are some people might not be eligible for those incentives, so we really look at almost like a base case scenario.
This is a couple, so obviously, if you’re a single, your situation is is much different.
But you’re really right.
There are lots of incentives, and I think it’s really important to remind first-home buyers.
If I’m ever talking to a first home buyer, whether it’s a colleague, you know whether it’s someone I meet on the street or whether it’s a friend.
My advice is always the same.
When you begin your journey of looking for a home, make sure that you are aware of the types of incentives that are currently in the market.
New South Wales is a really great example where they had that choice on stamp duty or property tax earlier in the year.
And then, you know, it was canned very, very quickly.
So things change and I think it’s important to be across, you know, get some advice from professionals that really are like yourself that specialise in this space to help understand what are those either cash incentives or low deposit schemes that I can get access to because, as you said, like that low deposit scheme which there are 35,000 is available this financial year, you can go with as little as a 5% deposit.
What that does is it supercharges your access to market and you’re in the market sooner, so it’s a great incentive.
But I also think it’s important to do the pros and cons because not everybody’s situation is the same.
And that’s why it’s always important to talk to the professionals that know what they’re doing.
It definitely does help.
And and with the start of the new financial year, they they’ve changed again.
And and so it is important to be on top of those.
And there are a lot of times I’ll speak to clients and they won’t even know about them.
And it’s like, Well, hold on, let’s look at this as an option and it just opens up a whole other playing field in terms of what’s possible and whether they’re guarantors loans that they were looking at initially and now they don’t need it because they’ve got the 5% deposit and we can use the scheme and and that in itself has changed recently because that was only available to Australian citizens up until the financial year, and now it’s available to PR as well.
So it’s it’s really expanded.
So really being on top of that, especially with that savings challenge, because I think historically, the savings component for flying first home was always the most challenging.
It’s like a 20% deposit, which is the norm, and considered the norm has just been such a high threshold to try and achieve, and I think these incentives help that.
But on the flip side now, and you do say, there’s two sides to the equation here, the borrowing capacity is presenting new challenges as well.
That’s I guess, just the way it works.
So it’s about finding out what’s best for you, any particular scenario and sort of working forward, knowing all the variables that are in play in your particular case.
And I think that borrowing capacity has been one of the hardest things for first home buyers.
What that would have done is actually knocked some first home buyers out of actually purchasing, because they just can’t get the finances in place to be able to purchase in the area or in the city in a particularly a higher priced market like Sidney and Canberra, which is a very high priced market as well.
And I think that’s one of the trends that we’ve seen is that rent Investor, where people continue to rent in the area that they want to live.
So it might be, you know, they’re renting in Sydney, but they decide to buy in Regional Australia, or they decide to buy in a much more affordable capital city like Perth, and I think that’s where there are other options to consider.
And I think it’s been very interesting to watch this growing cohort of rent investors across Australia.
Yeah, actually, our last episode was on investing as your first purchase so totally, something that is adopted and a lot of the clients that we work with, you know, their first intention is to buy their own home.
But when they figure out they can’t buy exactly what they want to buy, it’s like, Well, let’s consider this option now where you can rent where you need to be and then invest somewhere else and and look at what you can afford in in a different region or a different area and and start off with that investment property, obviously with the end aim being to eventually own your own property to live in possibly.
But yeah, I think there are as well as incentives.
There are a lot of strategies that can be employed in terms of what works best for somebody to get them into the property market, which we’ve already established.
Australia has a high obsession with so one thing you spoke about earlier and you did mention it was the higher cost of holding debt.
What does that mean?
And how would we explain that to a first home buyer?
So interest rates are really interesting.
So this is what a bank offers in terms of the cost of actually holding the debt and interest rates are influenced by the cash rate, which is set by the RBA.
And obviously we’ve seen the RBA go through one of, or if not the most aggressive rate hike cycle that we’ve seen.
And so what that has done is it’s changed the cost of debt.
So what it means is that generally speaking, what’s a mortgage?
25 30 years?
The cost of holding that debt has increased, so it means that your mortgage repayments will be higher because your interest rates are actually higher well compared to what they were say 12 18 months ago.
So for a first home buyer, it just means that it’s gonna cost them more to buy the house over a longer period of time because the interest rates haven’t turned well enough.
So you’re paying more interest, basically, so the cost of holding that property is gonna cost you more, and it’s something to be mindful of.
It’s one of the most important pieces of advice that has come out over the last kind of 12 months, where we’ve seen interest rates continually move higher because we call it a.
It’s really important for first time buyers to build in a buffer so they can continue to meet that obligation of mortgage repayments if their interest rates go up.
And that’s been very important, I think, and I think it’s important for all buyers to build in a buffer because obviously you don’t want to get in that situation where you are in mortgage stress or where you are in a default situation.
You know, that is worst-case scenario.
You need that buffer.
And I think you know one of the other trends You gonna get looping back to that very first question you asked me.
One of the other things is we’re actually very probably very close to a peak in the cash rate.
So what that means is we’re probably maybe one or two rate hikes away from interest rates being at a peak.
That is good news for first home buyers.
And when you look at market pricing kind of mid next year in that first half of next year, the market is actually pricing in interest rate cuts.
So that actually reduces the cost of debt.
And I think there is some light at the end of the tunnel when it comes of these rate increases.
You did mention that Buffer and the banks, when you’re looking at a serviceability point of view, the banks will always throw a buffer in.
You’re never actually gonna be assessed on the rate that is currently in the market.
And I guess what the biggest challenge is now is if people and this is not necessarily for first home buyers, but people that have purchased in the last two or three years and have taken out a loan.
When the cash rate was 0.1 and the respective interest rate that they paid was between two and maybe 2.5%.
The buffer was 5.5% that the banks were using.
And if we look at the rates now, they’re sitting at between 5.5 and six.
And so those people that took out those loans then were assessed at the higher buffer amount and that they’re the ones probably the most at risk of exceeding going higher.
And I guess that’s the stress that a lot of people are feeling now.
Obviously, people that already have mortgages, so not necessarily people that are first home buyers.
But if you’re a first home buyer coming in now, we’re at the top of that cycle, so hopefully it’s only gonna get better.
So it’s not a bad time to be, I guess, looking to purchase , at this stage as well, considering the timing of everything.
Another concept that gets thrown around a lot is the concept of supply.
We hear it a lot with there’s not a lot of supply or there’s a lot of supply and supply is holding prices up for the first home buyer, who probably isn’t familiar with this concept and again knowing that it’s probably a relatively simple term.
What does the term supply mean and are there different types of supply?
Look, this is a really interesting question, as as somebody who is watching the market.
Daily basis supply is one of my go-to stats to look at to see what’s happening in terms of the dynamics of the overall housing market.
So supply, basically is the total number of properties that are for sale in a given period of time.
We also look at new supplies.
So what’s the flow of new listings coming onto the market through a given period of time?
Generally speaking, when you’ve got property markets slowing down, so you’ve got maybe price.
We’ve got prices falling.
You’ve got days on market lengthening.
Generally, you start to see a build up of stock.
So a build up of supply and that really is indicative of a slowing property market and prices falling.
On the flip side, when it’s a really heightened property market in terms of prices are roaring along, there’s lots of demand.
Generally speaking, you start to see supply drop because you tend to find that demand is higher than the level of new listings and overall supply that’s on the market.
So it’s actually a really important stat to understand and a really important stat to help.
You kind of give a benchmark of where the current property market is at.
And it’s really poignant conversation at the moment because the lack of supply and I’m going to say the lack of new listings has been one of the reasons that’s really helped to drive a recovery in our housing market.
You’ve got to remember we’ve still had interest rates rising, but we’ve had property prices rising as well, and normally you would see the opposite occur.
If interest rates are rising, you would see property prices either subdued or falling.
What we have seen is an unseasonably weak flow of new listings coming on, and this is one of the behavioural aspects of our housing market.
Roughly about one-third of Australia owns their property outright and what you tend to find during a downturn.
You see homeowners sit on the sidelines, they wait, they don’t want to sell when the market gets a bit rough and you start, you know you’re seeing property prices fall, so they do sit on the sidelines, and that’s exactly what we saw.
But to a greater extent during that 2022 downturn.
And even now today, just before this morning, I had a look at where supply currently is at overall.
Across the combined capital cities, total supply is 22% below the five-year average, which is a significant lack of supply.
When you compare it to that five-year average and 18% lower over the past year listings, we’re actually now starting to see, I would say, a bit of an improvement in new listings, so new listings are still down significantly.
Year on year.
They’re about 18% down year on year.
But compared to that five-year average, they’re now 3% down.
That’s a big improvement, so new listings previously were about 15 to 18% down compared to that five-year average.
So they’re now sitting at 3% so you can see that dynamics might be starting to change.
And I think what we’ve seen is that Australia has embarked on its recovery in its housing market.
Some markets were recovering even midway through 2022 but it was being led by the premium end of the housing market.
But I think that that continuous growth has really helped to pull homeowners to the market and decide to list their properties for sale.
And I guess that potential supply increase comparatively, to say this time last year is going to help soften the prices, would you say, Because if we’re gonna have more stock on market and the rates are still quite high, that equilibrium that has kept it as high as it is may start to change a little bit.
Would you Would you foresee that happening, or is that a little bit too hard to predict?
It is one of the risks we are expecting.
We do a price forecast report, so we are expecting prices to continue to rise over this financial year.
But what I would say it’s a slow recovery in price, and they’re going to be bumps along the way.
I think what we’re likely to see is I’m going to be interested to see how spring performs this year, so once we get to September winter time.
It’s a much slower property market anyway.
I think what we could be finding is we’ve got they call it pent-up supply.
So people have waited.
They want to sell, but they’re delaying for the market to improve.
And there will be a cohort of people that want to time it with that spring selling season, you know, busiest period of of the property.
Buying and selling journey Spring is gonna be a really important time.
And if we do see an increase in new listings and it’s not matched by a level of demand, it’s really going to test the depth of buyer demand that we’ve got.
And as you say, you know, buyers are still battling high costs of debt and potentially even one or two more rate hikes.
Thanks for listening to part one of our two-part series.
Join us next time for the conclusion you’ve been listening to the home run your Guide for Buying your first home in Australia.
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