How the demographics of divorce affect property

How the demographics of divorce affect property
How the demographics of divorce affect property

Each year in Australia there are about 50,000 divorces, although the ABS figures were last published in 2012, the divorce rate had been in steady decline since peaking in 2001.

Divorce is one of those key social factors that does have a marked impact on the residential property market, and sometimes in surprising ways. I frequently come across mainly males who ‘unexpectedly’ find themselves in the housing market where finding a new home can have a material impact on diverse areas from location to design.

For both males and females granted a divorce in 2012, 60.3% were less than 45 years of age at divorce, while 51.0% of males were less than 45 years of age at divorce. The highest incidents of divorce is then in the age bracket of 40-44 years of age, and this fact alone is not worthy as this age bracket is also when people are at the peak of their earning and debit capacity.

We earn more in our 40s but also that’s when debt, including mortgage debt peaks, and so this along with the fact that many married couples in this age bracket will also have kids in their late teens, we are looking at a tricky situation. For some this can result in them having to enter or re-enter the housing market in a ‘gun to the head’ state of affairs.

A Mix of Family, Personal and Financial Needs

The impact of divorce on housing is far reaching and is underscored by the fact that in 2011, there were some 24,144 divorces involving children under 18 years of age. This represents 48.4% of all divorces granted.

The complexity of financial arrangements is further explained by the fact that the median length of marriage increased from 10.5 years in 1992 to a peak of 12.6 years in 2005. Since 2005 it has decreased slightly, with a median duration of marriage to divorce of 12.2 years recorded in 2012 and so over the intervening decade plus, many families would have purchased a home and be close to the mid-way point of their loan terms.

Divorce is one of those key social factors that does have a marked impact on the residential property market, and sometimes in surprising ways.

Another key reason why divorce for people in their mid 40s impacts their home living arrangements comes via the fact that over the last 20 years, the proportion of joint divorce applications has been on the rise, and the proportion of one party applications has been on a downward trend. Now joint applications remain the highest and they account for almost 40% of all applications.

There has also been another and possibly related demographic shift, and that is the number of children aged below four living with two parents has been on decline for some years, while the number of children in the same age group living with one parent has been on the increase. With more sole parents, housing demand has been shifting and this trend may well continue to grow.

The rate of divorce may well continue to decline if couples do not marry for the reason of looking after younger children. But when they stay married the entire family unit will be older and this will further impact housing outcomes when a divorce does happen.

Housing Post Divorce

It does appear that at times couples could well be putting off getting a divorce because they simply cannot afford all the costs involved in re-housing. However when in their mid 40s there is evidence of some degree of greater mobility, although at a cost.

One hurdle will be the costs associated with buying and selling two homes. Coinciding with a real estate slump during the GFC divorce rates declined, because couples without ample money to spare were forced to stay together because no one wanted to sell the family home at a loss. Possibly because in the past the individual who kept the family was in the end financially better off.

However we also see many couples leaving the family home with the female partner and the children with males moving on, which is helping to create demand for smaller apartments to both buy and lease. This demand is also causing some males to look for accommodation near the family home, and this would directly reflect the no fault trends that I detailed earlier.

However women in particular are becoming less attached to the old family home, wanting to begin a new life in a new home and this again is having an impact on the demand for smaller apartments.

However while some divorces do result in the forced sale of the family home, higher real estate prices might well be causing couples to work harder on the relationship to avoid the complications and costs of dealing with the family home.

We are seeing more flexibility in what type of new home divorcees are seeking and this helps create demand for new projects with a good mix of product for sale. After all, for both parties a new well-located apartment can now be an attractive option. But for now we will have to wait a few years to see if current high property prices keep a ‘lid’ on divorce rates.

Peter Chittenden

Peter Chittenden

Peter Chittenden is managing director for residential of Colliers International.

Demographics Peter Chittenden

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