The up-and-down nature of the real estate business is notorious, but Australia in particular has been on a consistent “up” since the turn of the millennium. That trend, however, has seen a significant downturn as of late, with home prices dropping at a rate of 4.5 percent in Sydney alone. So what are the reasons behind this sudden decline?
Prices soared dramatically around the time of the Great Recession
In 2008, the Australian government doubled an existing tax credit, offering $14,000 instead of $7,000 for first-time buyers of an existing home. If the home was new, the credit was increased to $21,000. This incentive contributed to buyer interest, keeping home prices higher than they might have been otherwise.
It’s also worth noting that Australia offers tax breaks on rental properties, to the effect that the government essentially subsidizes any losses incurred from investing in real estate. With a safety net like this, it’s no wonder that the industry thrived for so long.
The Australian economy continued to strengthen over the past decade
While the United States floundered beneath the tide of the Great Recession, other markets were booming. China was purchasing large amounts of and coal and iron ore from their Australian neighbors, thereby keeping the economy strong enough to justify the rising home prices.
China also invested heavily in real estate during this time frame
Although the Australian government has restrictions on foreign buyers, a small percentage does manage to sneak in under the radar. Lately, it’s become increasingly clear that a number of Chinese buyers made these investments as a way of keeping their funds off-shore, as the homes they purchased were lying vacant. As this foreign interest in Australian real estate has waned, so too have the prices.
An increase in interest-only loans has created a speculative bubble
Interest-only loans allow investors to borrow more, which increases their debt but allows their gains to flourish as long as the value of the homes continues to rise. Conversely, however, when home prices fall, so does their equity. As many as 40 percent of Australian mortgages are currently interest-only, which leads prognosticators to assume that the investors are concerned mainly with short-term gains. If the prices continue to go down, many of them may try to bail out by selling their properties, which will contribute to the downward spiral.