2020 property market far stronger than anticipated when the pandemic first hit: Shane Oliver

At the current rate of increase average capital city dwelling prices will surpass their September 2017 record high by March

2020 property market far stronger than anticipated when the pandemic first hit: Shane Oliver
2020 property market far stronger than anticipated when the pandemic first hit: Shane Oliver


With the deepest recession since the end of World War 2, a sharp collapse in employment in April and May and a halving in underlying population based demand for housing (as a result of the hit to immigration) it might have been expected that 2020 would have been a pretty bad year for house prices. As its turned out though the property market held up pretty well and in recent months has started to accelerate again. It certainly turned out a lot stronger than I anticipated 6-9 months ago.

Basically, the combination of reopening unleashing pent up demand, an avalanche of government incentives (including stamp duty concessions, various state support measures, HomeBuilder which has now been extended to March albeit at a reduced payment and an expansion of the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme), a further easing in lending standards on the way for early this year (with the removal of responsible lending obligations), record low mortgage rates, the desire to "escape from the city" helped along by ongoing bank payment holidays and Government income support measures averted a sharp fall in prices that would otherwise have followed from higher unemployment and underemployment, weak inner city rental markets and the hit to immigration and brought forward demand from first home buyers and owner occupiers. As a result property prices turned up far earlier than I had been expecting and there appears to be a bit of FOMO (or the “fear of missing out”) creeping into some markets – particularly outside of Melbourne and Sydney.

At the current rate of increase average capital city dwelling prices will surpass their September 2017 record high by March, although this masks a wide divergence with: record highs already in Brisbane, Adelaide, Hobart and Canberra and in average regional home prices; Perth and Darwin remaining well down on their 2014 highs; and Sydney and Melbourne prices having been range bound since 2017.  


Australian home prices are likely to continue to be boosted through 2021 by record low mortgage rates, government home buyer incentives, with the recovery in the economy expected to offset the phasing down of income support measures and bank payment holidays. As a result average home prices are expected to rise by around 5% through the year.

However, the outlook is widely divergent across cities, within cities and across units versus houses.

The risks relate to: renewed coronavirus related lockdowns although so far new case numbers seem to be getting kept down and vaccines should help head off this risk entirely later in the year; higher unemployment and underemployment and distressed sales as government income and bank support measures wind down although the risk on this front are rapidly diminishing; falling rents and high vacancy rates in inner city Melbourne and Sydney weighing on investors; a 100,000 per annum reduction in underlying dwelling demand flowing from the hit to immigration; and a pandemic/work from home driven “escape to the suburbs and regions” that is weighing on inner city/unit prices but pushing up outer suburban/house and regional prices.

It remains hard to see that the reversal in net immigration from around 240,000 people per annum to an expected net outflow of people this financial year (of -70,000) and next (of -20,000) won’t have a significant impact. The surge in population growth of around 150,000 people per annum taking it to around 375,000 people per annum due to higher immigration from the middle of the 2000s was the main factor explaining very expensive Australian housing over the last 15 years as the property market became chronically undersupplied. The collapse in population growth which is likely to result in a halving in underlying demand for housing this financial year and next at the same time that governments are intent on supporting housing construction via various initiatives including HomeBuilder is likely to weigh on prices at some point as chronic undersupply gives way to oversupply in some areas. Particularly with rate cuts and incentives pulling demand forward and mortgage rate reductions reaching the end of the road. This is particularly likely to weigh on unit rents and prices along with investor demand in Sydney and Melbourne.


Source: ABS, AMP Capital

Inner city Melbourne and Sydney are the most vulnerable to the hit to immigration, but this may not become fully apparent for another six months or so. Outer suburban areas and houses in these cities are likely to continue seeing solid price gains reflecting the “escape from the city” phenomenon against a backdrop of very low mortgage rates. On average Sydney and Melbourne price gains are likely to be modest at around 2 to 3% through 2021.

Other cities and regional areas are likely to perform well reflecting lower levels of debt and less exposure to immigration and as such as likely to see rising average prices with record low mortgage rates dominating. Adelaide and Brisbane are playing catch up after years of underperformance compared to Sydney and Melbourne, Canberra is benefitting from strength in public sector employment and Perth and Darwin are starting to recover after bear markets ever since 2014 helped by the recovery in mining investment in WA. Expect average price gains of close to 10% in Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth, Darwin and regional areas and around 5 to 7% in Canberra and Hobart.

The next chart puts the relative performance of the capital cities into perspective by focussing on rolling 5 year price gains. Basically, Sydney and Melbourne lead the longer term cycle and the other cities follow. Right now, Brisbane, Adelaide, Hobart and Canberra dwelling prices are playing catch up after underperforming Sydney and Melbourne through much of last decade and Perth and Darwin home prices are finally recovering from a multi-year bear market that went bust with the end of the mining investment boom. The surge in immigration played a big role in the outperformance of Sydney and Melbourne into 2017 and this is now going into reverse.

Source: CoreLogic, AMP Capital

Outer suburban houses and dwellings in regional centres are likely to perform better than inner city units in most capital cities as a continuing trend to working from home and a greater focus on lifestyle dominates.

SHANE OLIVER is the Head of Investment Strategy and Chief Economist at AMP Capital 

Shane Oliver 2021 Property Forecast 2020 Property Breakdown

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Although immigration may have come to a stand still for the time being, is this being somewhat offset by the large numbers of ex-pats returning home to the safer haven of their homeland - Australia?
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