Property sales - the end of the golden summer?

by Alistair Helm in


Courtesy Flickr - James Watkins

Courtesy Flickr - James Watkins

Residential property sales for 2013 totalled 80,119 as reported by the Real Estate Institute. This total is down by a third from the peak of sales in 2004 when 120,000 a year was a more typical level as highlighted in the chart below which tracks sales over this last 10 years as measured on a 12 month moving annual total. The 80,000 level whilst clearly no where near a return to those heady days, is though up 50% from the lowest point of the market in early 2009.

NZ sales to Dec 13.png

 

Sales have been in a steady and sustained recovery for a period of 30 months, the longest sustained growth period of the past 10 years, however that period of growth appears to be coming to an end as total sales appear to be plateauing at around 80,000. The past 2 months have seen the rate of growth turn negative as that plateau - real or imagined is reached.

Growth rate in property sales.png

 

Where to from here is the key question and why is it, that the level of sales has not returned to the pre-GFC levels of 100,000+?

The latter question is easier answered than the former. The banks and lending institutions are approaching residential property with a tighter control than they did in the mid 2000's, added to which property owners and prospective owners have come through the very real experience of property price falls, a phenomena that until recently was judged to be something that happened in other countries and to other people. A final consideration is that a significant portion of the sales in those early years of the first decade of the 21st century were a function of private investors keen to buy any property for rent based on the simple premise of banking the 'guaranteed' capital gain and writing off the 'paper loss' against tax. That approach to property investing especially by naive amateurs has been shown to be far riskier than was thought at that time.

So what of the future? - are we really at the end of the golden summer in terms of sales volumes? - has the Reserve Bank and its rules around LVR's finally had the desired effect of constraining the market? 

To better understand this requires a closer examination of the state of the market matching supply and demand across the country and in the major cities. The level of inventory as an indicator of available properties for sale as reported in the monthly Property Dashboard based on the Realestate.co.nz NZ Property Report is a good guide however seeing the trend over a 2 year period provides a clearer picture.

For this reason I have tracked the respective trends in sales volumes on a quarterly basis, year-on-year against the number of new listings over the past 2 years. The red bars reflect the trend in property sales, with the grey bars the trend in new listings.

NZ sales & listings.png

 

The picture for the whole of NZ shows the tailing off of property sales. A year ago sales were up 27% against the prior quarter of 2011 with listings up 4% - in the last quarter of 2103 sales were down 6% whilst listings were up 2% - this would indicate as the intermediary quarters show, the market is lessening its tight grip as a sellers' market and entering a more balanced period - a period that should allow buyers to breath a bit more easily and require sellers to be more pragmatic to buyer demand which in the past couple of years they have taken for granted.

Looking at Auckland specifically, the picture is somewhat similar to the national picture with this tailing off of sales whilst listings are shown to be growing albeit slowly thereby potentially allowing this heated market to cool significantly.

Akl sales & listings.png

The Wellington market equally is experiencing a tailing off of sales volumes, however what is most conspicuous is the consistent decline in new listings through the past year. For the past 4 quarters new listings have tracked below the level of the prior year and that decline accelerated in the final quarter to a 6% decline indicating that the market activity is declining and the market availability of new listings equally in decline.

Wellington sales & listings.png

The Canterbury market is the one major city / region that is not mirroring the national trend. The market here is as anticipated, continuing to see a recovery with growth in listings and sales albeit at modest levels.

Chc sales & listings.png

 

This article and analysis is focused on property sales, the number of transactions. It is not about property prices, however they are inextricably linked and tend to follow the same trends with volumes leading prices, if as we are seeing a lessening of demand through a plateauing of transacted sales then that is likely that we will witness a lessening of pricing pressure which should have the effect of cooling the market, not necessarily leading to price falls but at least taking the steam out of the market.


Adjusting to a new normal in the property market

by Alistair Helm in


The latest monthly report from Realestate.co.nz tracking the supply side of the property market headlines a story that has been consistent for well over 2 years now. Step back to December 2011 and the report headlined "Active property market still favours sellers". The fact is we have been experiencing a property market with what we constantly describe as a shortage of supply for close on 3 years now. 

At some point you have to ask are we merely living in an aberration of the norm, or is this the norm?

The chart below ably demonstrates the supply constraints which the market has experienced as measured by the availability of houses for sale set by the number of weeks it would take 'in theory' to sell all the current stock based on current rate of sale per week.

Inventory Nov 13.png

We certainly experienced a period when inventory levels exceeded a full year and topped 60 weeks back in 2008, but for the period of the last two and a half years the level of inventory has settled to around 6 months levels.

The fundamental problem we face in analysing the property market is access to data. In regard to sales data we have through the Real Estate Institute sales data by month going back to 1992 which allows us to identify the cycles of the market - the highs of the mid 90's, the lows of the late 90's the bubble of the mid '00's and then the crash and subsequent recovery. However when it comes to supply data we are limited to the past 7 years as the database of Realestate.co.nz only really became reliable from January 2007.

It is therefore somewhat risky to assume that the levels of inventory below the 26 week level is exceptionally low and assume that the 7 year average of 37 weeks is the norm. It is quite likely that the norm may actually be 26 weeks and the 50+ weeks levels the aberration. In fact from a cursory reference to some overseas markets 26 weeks seems to be the norm.

Supporting this proposition is a further analysis I have undertaken on available data examined the trending of both sales and listings across the country over the past 5 years using a 12 month moving average to eliminate any seasonality and look to see a long term trend. The insight is valuable.

NZ sales & listings trennd Nov 13.png

This chart highlights in grey the fact that the variance trend in sales is more significant than that in listings - not surprising to some extent as listings volumes have tended to be around twice the number of sales, but what is very interesting is the past 6 months right up to November where there has been effectively no growth in the 12month average number of listings yet sales continue to growth on a moving annualised basis of over 10% - so we continue to see sales rising far faster than listings.

With this as an interpretation of the status of the property market it would now seem to be illogical to constantly scream that listings are in short supply - are they really?!

I am now more than ever convinced that what we are really seeing here is a maturing of the interpretation of the data around listings and inventory such that in overall terms I judge that the NZ property market is actually pretty well balanced with 26 weeks being the norm and the current level of 24.8 weeks being right on the norm. After all if this was a supply constrained market would we not expect to see either of growing listings or erratic buyer behaviour (although I suspect some would argue the rise in price is just such an erratic behaviour).

Clearly taking this approach to a new norm would mean that some regions are actually in buyers' markets whilst other are actually less likely to be in severe sellers' markets. In terms of the Property Dashboard could this actually be a truer reflection of the NZ property market?

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At last some easing in the property market

by Alistair Helm in ,


The latest NZ Property Report released today by Realestate.co.nz for the month of July for the first time in what seems like an eternity shows that the pressure in the property market caused by a shortage of listings may be easing.

In July 9,857 new listings came onto the market, which compares with 9,411 in July last year. Not much of an increase you might well say but given the fact that the past 5 months have all seem lower numbers than a year previous – it is good to see greater choice.

This increase in new listings however did not actually increase the available stock on the market. At the end of June there were 37,615 properties on the market, by the end of July that had fallen by 1,383 to 36,231. However available stock of property on the market is not the true test of the state of the property market; for that you need to look at the rate of sale. For June the sales on a seasonally adjusted basis were down from 6,748 to 6,217.

So with an increase in new listings matched to a slower sales, the inventory as measured by the number of weeks of equivalent sales actually rose in July. The Property Dashboard for July shows a level of 26.7 weeks  - still placing the market firmly in favour of sellers but some easing does bring some hope for buyers.

Across the country the picture reflected the national trend with 9 regions experiencing a sellers’ market as compared to 13 last month. For the first time for quite a while one region – the West Coast of the South Island is showing a buyers’ market.


The NZ Property Cycle - 4 years to June 2013

by Alistair Helm in , ,


The Properazzi Property Dashboard portrays the barometer of the regional property market which is very firmly in favour of sellers

The Properazzi Property Dashboard portrays the barometer of the regional property market which is very firmly in favour of sellers

Property markets move in cycles. The current market is firmly established as a sellers market. This current state is widening, in the sense that the total market when seen by region is gradually migrating in the direction of more and  more favouring sellers. 

In order to present this analysis of the market I have created a series of 4 charts which show the picture of the NZ property market by region for each of the past 4 years 2010 - 2013. I have used the measure of inventory as presented by the NZ Property Report from Realestate.co.nz which each month assesses the market in each region measuring the available inventory of property on the market and dividing it by the average weekly sales for the past 3 months using the REINZ sales figures. This computation generates an inventory; not as an absolute number, but as an equivalent stock in number of weeks based on the current rate-of-sale.  

I very much favour this approach as it reflect the key driver of the property market which is supply matched to demand. As sales increase and inventory is slow to respond, as has been the case for the past two years the inventory measured in the number of weeks of equivalent sales falls sharply.

These monthly statistics of available inventory drive the Property Dashboard which is presented by Properazzi each month in the form of a barometer of the market visually showing the degree to which each region of the country is experiencing a buyers or sellers market. 

The four charts presented below present the inventory at June 2010 / June 2011 / June 2012 and June 2013 and clearly show the trend. The trend which over the 4 years has seen a situation where in 2010  4 years ago, all but 4 of the 19 regions were in a balanced or buyers market to where today in 2013 only four regions are in a balanced market with none favouring buyers and the majority in a moderate or extreme sellers market.

 

 

NZ regional inventory cht June 2010.png
NZ regional inventory cht June 2011.png
NZ regional inventory cht June 2012.png
NZ regional inventory cht June 2013.png

Auckland inventory levels plummet

by Alistair Helm in ,


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It may be hard to believe but a year ago there were 11,272 properties on the market for sale across Auckland. At that time an average of 2,000 properties a month were sold across the region. Leap back to the current time - May 2103 and there are now just 7,557 properties on the market across Auckland, a drop of nearly a third in just 12 months. Over the same period sales have risen over 20% on a moving average to around 2,500 per month.

Auckland is very nearly running out of properties to sell.

Based on the seasonally adjusted sales matched to available inventory if no new property came onto the market, the Auckland property market would stall, with the very last property being sold on 23rd August, just 12 weeks away!

Now this is a hypothetical calculation but for context look at the Auckland property market over the past 5 years as seen in the chart below tracking sales on a 12 month moving average and the representation of inventory using the Property Dashboard from that time.

Akl MA sales & inventory dashboard May 2013.png

Five years ago in April 2008 you couldn’t give property away! – there were 18,266 properties on the market, which is virtually two and a half times as many as there are today. That total at the time represented over 60 weeks of equivalent sales. From 60 weeks to 12 weeks in 5 years, how the property market has shown its cyclical nature!

Whilst this is the current picture, the real question looking forward is – when will things improve?

By the nature of cycles they do self-correct and tend to overcompensate, so at some stage the Auckland market will move out of being a sellers’ market. However don’t wait for this flush of new building (estimated at 30,000+ over 3 years) to ease the problem, the issues are more immediate, new builds take 12 to 18 months before they appear in inventory in a best case situation.

The picture tracking new listings and sales looks pretty dire as the chart below shows – sales are growing at a year-on-year rate of 20% whilst listings are falling on a comparable year-on-year rate of over 25% and actually getting worse!

 

Microsoft Excel.png

This decline in listings is actually the result of the low inventory in what is becoming in my opinion a downward spiral. Property owners, ready to sell, know full well now that property sells quickly in this sellers' market, yet at the same time they also know that such a tight market with rising prices means that they are being held back from selling because they fear not being able to buy.

This problem is also potentially being exacerbated by the focus on auctions as the predominant  method of sale. Whilst auctions might well favours sellers, they do not suit buyers who themselves need to sell their house in order to complete the desire transaction.These buyer/sellers' therefore are cautious about making unconditional offers and finding the necessary 10% deposit when there own house is not sold, or even on the market.

How to unblock this log-jam? 

This situation could be alleviated by agents moving away from auction as the preferred method of sale. Not a likely scenario as it is their own favoured method. What is more likely to happen is that at some point, and in my view we have reached this point within the inner ring of Auckland suburbs, auctions will start to falter, resulting on property moving to ‘sale by negotiation’ which then suits conditional offers thereby allowing those buyers to then put their house on the market and create some liquidity in the market.

What we have witnessed in the Auckland property market over the past 18 months to 2 years has been a kind of tidal wave of property activity and increasing prices which started in the top suburbs, the inner ring of city suburbs and is moving out to the outer suburbs now. This tidal wave heightens demand and sales volumes which sucks up inventory driving prices, before we see this situation self-correcting as property sales stall and inventory rebalancing.

Data for this analysis is supplied from the Realestate.co.nz NZ Property Report