Is there really a shortage of properties for sale?

by Alistair Helm in , ,

We have been seeing statements in the media for years now, stating how we have a shortage of properties for sale - ever since the property crash in 2008 in fact. However the question I constantly ask (myself as much as anyone) is, if this were a real issue then how come it could continue to be a real issue 6 years later?

I wonder if this issue is as much a function of available data as an intrinsic problem. Prior to 2008 there was no available data on inventory or new listings - the supply side data of the property market. Up until that time the only available data on the property market was transaction data on sales volumes and prices. Then in April 2009 published the first NZ Property Report covering the market in March 2009 looking back 15 months to January 2007. This report provided a whole new set of data particularly centred around new listings and inventory as well as asking price.

The data set of the NZ Property Report covered the period from January 2007 as this was judged the most accurate starting point, due to the fact that the database for the website was truly reflective of the whole market from late 2006 - the inaugural year of the website.

The problem is that without data from say the nineties and early years of this century we have difficulty in accessing what a normal market was, as 2007 was the last of the froth of the property market before the crash and subsequently the market has moved into very different modes over the past 6 years.

I thought I would look at the core data and see what components are valid and what we may be able to shine a light on to see a clear picture of the market to be a true indicator of trends and to answer the question as to whether there is a shortage of property for sale.


1. Inventory data

The actual level of available property for sale on the market over the past 6 years has not changed that much.


It has been as high as 53,000 properties and as low as it is today at 39,000 properties - but then at 39,000 properties that is nearly half of the total current annual sales. Certainly buyer and real estate agents would love to see more properties on the market, but 6 months stock is a pretty good level and in relative terms the availability is pretty consistent.

Inventory on its own does not really help us understand the trends in the market


2. Sales and New Listings data

The supply side data of inventory and new listings, takes on a greater relevance when assessed against the rate of sales through the addition of the monthly sales data which provides a greater contextual insight.

This chart whilst a little confusing with dual axis tries to capture the key data sets and align them to provide insight. Inventory as per the previous chart is measured in actual monthly levels in the grey area at the base of the chart. The red and blue lines measure listings and sales respectively - both are reported on a moving annual total basis. This method of reporting removes the seasonality, so much a component of property data.

The take out from this chart is the almost flat level of new listings coming onto the market over the past 2 years - steady at around 130,000 per annum. Whilst at the same time sales have risen over the same period from an annualised total of 55,000 to 80,000. This shows clearly the component of demand in the market. That demand has not driven more listings to come onto the market despite all the communications from within the real estate industry and yet despite this, inventory has not actually fallen that drastically. This indicates more of a 'liquid market' where sales occur more quickly.

These charts which to me provide insight I know are to many confusing and I have been looking for ages for a simpler indicator of the overall sentiment of the market in regard to supply and demand - something that better answers the question as to the pace of the market and whether there is a shortage of supply. I will note here that I hold the view that price is a lagging indicator and as such tracking the market sentiment of supply and demand will provide the key to future trends in price.

I recently saw this chart from the UK property market showing actual inventory (green bars) matched to monthly sales (blue line).

It got me thinking that this measure had relevance tracking the effective rate of sales each month as a proportion of the available stock.

Producing this chart for the NZ market shows somewhat of a different chart. The seasonality of home sales in NZ seems far more pronounced than in the UK and therefore it is harder to determine easily a trend, whereas I would judge that there are key trends easily determined in the UK data - significant rising sales in the past months matched to falling inventory.

So how to present this data in a meaningful and simple way was the challenge, as I sensed the data contains the core insight needed. Especially at this time where I see the property market slowing and a lack of inventory is not the real issue or the driving factor. 

It came to me! - inventory and monthly sales - what we are really looking at is "Property Clearance Rate" - what percentage of the available stock of properties on the market in a month are sold in that month. A quick analysis produced this chart which shows the ratio of sales to inventory.

Again the seasonal volatility makes it hard to see a trend - the dotted line is a trend line overlaid, but as we all know applying a different fundamental equation to the trend line could produce a different picture! 

Then it came to me - take the 12 month moving average monthly sales and apply it as a percentage to the available inventory and I think we have what to me is a very relevant picture of the NZ Property Market.

Now I could be guilty of endlessly seeking data to fit a story, but in my mind this is a visual of the property market that to me makes sense. It uses the current rate of sale (adjusted to remove the seasonal fluctuations and short term movements), combined with the available stock which is itself the function of existing unsold inventory, new listings and sales.

The telling image from this chart is the sharp rise in the clearance rate once the property market got into gear around 2011 - that rise, from 9% to 19% speaks to the dynamic market we have seen over this past two and a half years. However what this chart graphically shows which I have sensed is that the market has turned. It turned even before we saw the LVR restriction introduced in October as this chart shows the turning point in August / September of last year and the latest data from REINZ on sales in March only reinforces this fact. 

So in my opinion given this declining clearance rate is the key trend and talk of a shortage of properties for sale is nothing but a red herring!




The importance of sales volume trends in the property market

by Alistair Helm in

Property expert evaluation fixed.jpg.png

Watching the property market as an active investor or an interested property owner you are, I am sure, always looking to see where the current trend is heading to try and be ‘ahead of the curve’.

There is one basic fundamental that is key to remember and that is the fact that trends in property prices always follow trends in sales volumes.

Sales are a reflection of demand. If demand picks up, sale spick up and as a result property price rise. This is not the case with most other products or services; as a rise in demand usually leads to a rise in supply and that manages through competitive pressure to curb price rises. In the property market as the base product is not homogenous the supply side (vendors) is very poor at responding to the demand side pressure. Just read the constant headlines of the NZ Property Report of the past 2 years – low inventory of houses on the market drives a sellers' market leading to rising asking prices and, as we have seen recently, rises in the selling price of property.

Naturally as demand falls, then sales fall, and again as a result of the inability of the supply side of the property market to adequately and effectively respond to this change, the levels of unsold properties on the market rise and this drives a buyers' market which will see prices ease or fall.

This is why to be a smart observer of the market you need to focus on the property sales volume trend, as the price trend is a ‘rear-view-mirror’.

The definitive source of property sales data is the monthly REINZ report, however on its own it is not clear what this is saying about sales volume at this time. The latest report for the April month stated:

REINZ data shows there were 7,104 unconditional residential sales in April, an increase of 1,428 sales (+25.2%) compared with the same time last year and a fall of 12.6% compared to March 2013. The increase over March on a seasonally adjusted basis was 0.8%, indicating that sales were slightly stronger than what would normally be expected for this time of the year

Sales are up, they are slightly stronger and yet they were down!

As with all statistics it is how you look at them; get too buried in the minutia of the granular data and you cannot see the trends, take too holistic a perspective and you risk missing the inflection point.

To assist in this process of spotting trends I have developed a couple of charts which I think show a valuable perspective of the property market.

Monthly sales volumes.png

First the core data of monthly sales data for the past 13 years, this certainly shows that sales have risen considerably since 2010 and just last month topped 8,000 – however 8,000 a month sales were the norm rather than the exception through 2002 to 2007. This speaks to the fact that the current fascination for property transaction is nothing as compared to those heady days of the financial easy-money honeymoon, pre GFC.

The trend of property sales growth comparing year-on-year as the chart below shows, provides a valuable insight.


Variance in sales yr on yr.png

We have seen 2 years of consecutive year-on-year percentage growth, compare that to the 3 years of consecutive growth at the beginning of the last decade and the 2 years of consecutive decline through 2008/2009 and you get a reminder that property markets, like all markets have cycles – what goes up has to come down.

The final chart is for me the most interesting. It tracks the moving annual total of property sales as a percentage of all private dwellings in NZ.

Percentage of all NZ homes sold each year.png

The long-term average (1992 to 2013) is that 5.9% of all dwellings are sold each year.  The current level is 5.0%. The level of transaction is still well below the long term average, but considering the "new normal” that we may well be experiencing in the property market, post the GFC, then we may well not see the heady highs of 10 years ago of 8% of all homes being transacted as that rampant period of speculation and investor fever is well passed.

To me it ‘feels’ like we are going to see some cooling of property sales, this will likely see year-on-year drop in sales growth, this is likely to lead to a rise in available inventory of homes on the market and thereby ease some of the markets and edge them out of being sellers' markets. A consequence of that could well be an easing in the price increases of property and even some degree of a fall. That scenario is good for everyone (possibly with the exception of the real estate agents).