The Auckland quarterly property review - Q1 2018

by Alistair Helm in


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Having summarised the broad New Zealand property market for the 1st quarter of 2018, it is critical to examine separately the Auckland property market.

Auckland is a very different market to the rest of the country by fact of scale and greater international influences. Additionally Auckland tends to be a bell-weather to the broader regional market, thereby investigating the local market trends provides insight both for Aucklanders and as a future indicator for the rest of the country.

As far as volume sales are concerned it appears from the latest March data to the end of this first quarter of the year, that we seem to have bottomed out. Sales of properties have been falling for close to two and a half years. Seen on a 12-month-moving-total the Auckland market peaked in October of 2015 and has fallen in volume terms consecutively by 37% since then to the current March 12-month-total of 21,350 sales. We do seem to have avoided dropping below the 20,000 sales a year threshold experienced through the GFC and the rebound in 2011.

The chart below tracks the monthly variance for a year-on-year comparison of Auckland property sales for the past 18 years. It is clear looking at the chart that the market experiences significant volatility in sales movements in Auckland, up over 50% year-on-year at times and equally falling by similar variances. Since that peak in October 2015 the variance has been consistently negative with just couple of months where there was a small correction. As noted in the wider NZ analysis the March month this year did see a surprising fall year-on-year in sales but this is not unusual as can be seen in prior market cycles of the past 18 years.

As I have mentioned many time in the past in the context of property market commentary, a critical issue in NZ analysis of property sales is the number of dwellings and how that has grown over time. In the case of Auckland, hardly a day goes by when the media does not refer to the 'shortfall in housing' affecting the city - whether that shortfall is 20,000 or 50,000 the fact is Auckland has grown at a staggering rate over the past 25 years. 

Based on the trending of the last census data it is likely that Auckland now has surpassed 500,000 dwellings - this is up from around 445,000 10 years ago. This growing level of new dwellings naturally will be a factor in assessing the true level of property sales. Tracking this over the past 10 years further reinforces the market view that we are bottoming out of the cycle at a low level of 4.3% of all homes being sold in the past 12 months, this compared to a 10 year average of 5.4%. The broader NZ position interestingly is that 4.5% of all homes were sold in the past 12 months as compared to a 10 year average of 4.7% emphasing that the Auckland market has fallen in volume terms further than the rest of the country.

As I have often stated I am of the belief that watching closely the sales volume trend is a better indicator of the state of the property market than following the median price, as price is largely a reflection of the state of the market rather than an indicator. This is best demonstrated by the chart below. This analysis which I introduced a couple of months ago tracks the clearance rate to the median price movement. Clearance rate is the relationship between the new listings coming onto the market in a 12 month period of and number of sales.

This latest update to the Auckland chart of Clearance rate to median price shows again evidences the bottoming out in the clearance rate and the start of some degree of increase in the past 4 months, whilst at the same time the median price variance year-on-year is showing an arresting of the fall seen in the past 2 years with the current situation seeing median price level or slightly down compared to this time last year.