Property is all about supply and demand

by Alistair Helm in


Property as we all know is at its core, a fundamental of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, the primary need for shelter. Far more important than even safety and self-esteem and self-actualisation.

For this reason property exhibits the same fundaments of economics of supply and demand. When the supply of a good (in this case property) is limited, price go up as we have seen in Auckland as supply of property for sale has been constrained whilst demand has grown faster than supply and the access to finance has been relatively easy and cheap. These latter two components also impact the economics of property as does the substitution of property options between renting and buying.

If the cost of buying becomes affordable and the access to finance is available then people will buy, equally if it is cheaper to rent and finance becomes less accessible rental demand will grow and consequentially rents will increase. 

This is all logical. Let's now examine these principles when applied to the constant media story of 2013 - the dire housing shortage in Auckland. We hear weekly how Auckland needs 20,000 or maybe 30,000 new homes to be built almost immediately as well as 350,000 homes over the next 25 years to solve the housing crisis.

If the housing crisis is so dire and is the reason why property prices of houses for sale are growing at double digit levels, then why is it that rental prices of property in Auckland are not growing.   

This is very clearly seen in the chart below which tracks Auckland's stratified median house price over the past 4 years on an index basis with the red line; as compared to the index of mean rents based on bonds submitted to the Dept of Housing & Building with the grey line - the index is Jan 2009 = 100

Akl rent sale price Aug 13.png


The chart clearly shows that whilst property prices have increased by over 45% since the start of 2009 rents are up just 15% and the past 18 months have barely seen any change. 

If Auckland really had a housing crisis then rents would be increasing - it's the same economics of supply and demand. To look for proof, look at the same chart for Christchurch below. The fact is that Christchurch has a real housing crisis. There are too few available properties to meet demand as a consequence of the earthquake and the subsequent rebuild programme. In that market both rents and prices are rising, almost in alignment. 

Chc rent sale prices Aug 13.png


Now look at Wellington, a market that is not suffering a shortage of property and we see an alignment of rental price appreciation to property sale price appreciation. 

Wtn rent sale price Aug 13.png


This analysis would seem to support a view that the recent appreciation in property prices in Auckland have been fuelled by speculation.

With easy access to low cost finance over the past 2 years people have returned to property assets, this has been especially true of rental investment and property re-development. Investor growth has actually increased the supply of rental properties, which has as a consequence has maintained fairly stable rental prices at and contributed to a further tightening in the property-for-sale market through effectively taking home-owner stock out of the market. To this has been added inbound migration demand into the region from both domestic and international sources which has often been accompanied by higher equity capacity which has only further stoked the property price inflation.


Long term property investing reduces volatility

by Alistair Helm in , ,

House prices.jpg

The headline may be a case of deliberately stating the obvious, after all, economists will always tell you that investments of any shape or form; whether shares or property perform well in the long term, their advice is be patient, stick with it.

No; my interest was not in a catchy headline. I wanted to examine the data behind the claim that longer term investing in property from a rental business perspective is less volatile, especially when compared to shorter term investing. To be clear I judge short term to be 3 to 5 years with long term being 10 years. 

The ability to undertake a detailed analysis of the investment returns of rental property has been greatly assisted by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment who have released online the full data set of rents by Territorial Local Authority (TLA) by month going back to 1993. The data set identifies the mean rents and the lower quartile rents.

I have used this data set and mashed it together with the REINZ median house price data going back to 1992 and the Reserve Bank of New Zealand data on mortgage interest rates for the same period. This collection of data has allowed me to build a model that shows the real rate of return based on the median house purchased and rented with a notional 100% mortgage paying the monthly variable rate of interest on the mortgage. The rate of return is based on the selling price at the end of an investment period being the median price at that month, plus the monthly rental income, less the mortgage payments, less the original purchase price at the start of the investment period based on the median price at that month. Note that mortgage payments are only the interest component.

Before detailing the presentation of this data I thought a couple of preliminary charts might be of interest. The first is the indexed growth of property prices and rents over the period since 1993. 

House prices have far outstripped rents.png

Not surprising here. Property prices have soared ahead of rents. Given the often quoted economists view that property prices need to reflect fundamentals of the comparable cost of renting, the message clearly have not got through. The massive divergence of the indicies from 2003 onwards is so clearly seen in the chart. There was some adjustment as property prices eased back in 2008 but the recent resurgent property market now sees property prices at an index of 350% of where they were in 1993 with rents at 232%.

Looking at the financial performance of rental investment, a simple judgement of the investment is to see how much of the monthly mortgage repayments is covered by monthly rents. The chart below details this as a trend line by month from 1993 to date.  


Rents as a of mortgage.png

As can be seen the fact is that at only two occasions over the past 20 years has the the mean rent actually come close to covered the monthly mortgage. Towards the end of the 90's when property prices stagnated and interest rates fell as a function of the Asian Crisis and then again in 2002 jus before the massive surge in property prices again at a time of low interest rates. However in today's world when interest rates have never been lower for longer the rental income barely covers 80% of the mortgage repayments as property prices continue to grow. 

So having provided some contextual data for the mean rents, property prices and mortgage rates here are the charts which show the actual financial return in dollar terms for rental property invested over a 3 year / 5 year / 10 year period for each month right up to June 2013.


3 year investing.png

Over the 3 year horizon the significant returns achieved by buying in the early 2000's are not even close to being achieved again at this time and clearly the worst outcome would have come from the net losses attained in the period of 2009 to 2011.

5 year investing.png

The 5 year horizon resembles very much the 3 year investing picture, with slightly higher returns for those exiting in the perfect position of the peak of the market in 2007 - again recent returns based on a 5 year investment come nowhere close to those levels.

10 year investing.png

The 10 year investment horizon demonstrates the value of long term investment which is always around $70,000 for the 10 year period. What is interesting is despite the recent low interest rates and rising prices the recent level of return is declining and is likely to continue to show lower returns on a 10 year horizon as the purchase period slips into that period that saw the greatest rise in property prices. So the guidance would be - hang on in their for the long term.

The short term investment of 3 or 5 years can achieve excellent returns but as ever you have to time the market perfectly and this is only ever really seen in hindsight. The current return on all 3 periods shows a level lower than the peak and the average.