The Auckland market continues to mark time, showing little in the way of a clear direction. It is as if the market were an indecisive person caught at the fork in the road.
“Do I show signs of heightened activity and enjoy sales volume growth and price appreciation, or do I see retrenchment with lacklustre or declining sales and with it a weakening of sales prices?”
Neither future path is yet to be definitively taken. However analysing the core metrics of the market as I love to do, helps to identify the future direction of the market. These metrics are the sales volume trend, the median sales price trend and the clearance rate.
The final quarter of 2018 saw one of the most erratic changes in sales volume for many years. As a total, sales for the months of October, November and December totalled 5,417 properties. This was a 3% rise as compared with the same quarter of last year and totally reflective of the normal market we have seen over the past year as the market has continued somewhat flat. However within that 3 month period the sales as compared to prior year were all over the place.
October sales were up 19%, November up 12% and the December collapsed with a 21% fall. Yet in total for the quarter - a 3% rise. Why?
I believe what we witnessed was entirely the result of the deadline for the introduction of the changes to the law restricting overseas buyers which came into force on the 22nd October. The fact is any property purchase under contract (be it a conditional or unconditional contract) made legal before this deadline was except from the changes and I firmly believe what we witnessed was a surge in buying activity that brought forward property purchases to meet the deadline. These sales show up in both October and November due to the extent of conditional agreements going unconditional in November and recorded in that month’s stats, as well as unconditional sales in October.
This short term hiccup though does not materially impact the underlying trend in sales volumes as is seen in the moving annual chart below. Sales volumes for property sales across Auckland remain flat. The latest total for the calendar year 2018 was 21,850 down 35% from the most recent peak of the market back in October 2015.
Just as sales volumes have remained flat for close on 15 months, so the median sale price have continued to simply mark time. The median sale price for the final month of the year was $862,000. A year ago it was $860,000. Two years ago it was $855,000. You have to reach back into 2015 and early 2016 to witness the last time median sale prices in Auckland was seen rising significantly. Interestingly way back in August 2016 the median sale price was $854,000, that is 27 months ago, such has been the flattening of Auckland sale prices.
When seen as year-on-year variance it becomes ever clearer as to the fact that Auckland median sales price has experienced an unprecedented period of stagnation. This though as many people will likely comment is not a bad thing. Stability of house sale prices drives over time greater confidence in the market. Initially from buyers who feel less panicked into the fear of ‘missing the market’ as it rises; and then subsequently from sellers who feel more confident as to what the market value of their property is and therefore more confident to move.
The final of the 3 core metrics which I like to look to to get a rounded and truly objective view of the state of the market is the clearance rate. The measure of the transactional ‘health of the market’. It uses the comparison of sales to new listings ratio as a measure of overall activity in the market.
For the past 3 months, the final quarter of 2018 the clearance rate has bounced back. The last quarterly report for 2018 Q3 highlighted a noticeable and sudden weakening in the market. Halting a trend that looked to be showing all the characteristic signs of recovery. Well, the last 3 months of 2018 seem to have put that weakness out of its mind, and set the trend back on the predictable path which is towards a strengthening in the market.
The current clearance rate is edging back towards 60% . Still a far cry from the 70+% levels seen back in around 2015 but as ever with property markets there is typically a cyclical movement. The current projection is surely heading towards an upward trend in the clearance rate which then tends to be the lead indicator that (as shown by the historical context in the chart above tracking the past 10 years) may well see a resulting inflationary impact on prices.