Every week there’s a new headline declaring house prices have risen again, or that a new property record has been broken in Sydney.
Statistically, the increase seems eyewatering—according to Australian Bureau of Statistics data, house prices in Sydney have more than doubled since 2003, up 116%. But does this mean property is twice as unaffordable? Dry your eyes, because the answer mightn’t be what you think.
When it comes to affordability, house prices are just one piece of the puzzle. You have to take a more holistic approach by accounting for increased prices of other goods, increased wages over the past two decades, and of course, reduced interest rates. Once you take those other factors into account, the data doesn’t look so damning: since 2003, real repayments have only increased by about 22%, and housing repayment costs are actually at the same level as in 2007.
If anything should kick your tear ducts into overdrive, it might be that because repayment costs are below 2010 levels, it’s likely that house prices haven’t come close to peaking yet.
The next time you’re up in arms about a multi-million dollar price tag on a seemingly derelict two bedder without a roof, stop and think about how much more money people are making these days. Just kidding—you’re still allowed to shake your head in disbelief—the house literally didn’t even have a roof. BUT, before you resign yourself to the fact that you’ll never be able to afford a home in this climate, think about how much the repayments would be, and remember that the cost of other goods has increased exponentially overtime, too.
Everyone loves to reminisce on the good old days when you could buy a Paddle Pop for $1.50, right? But now you’d be lucky to get change from a $5 note. How come no one’s publishing headlines about the soaring prices of Streets products? Sure, your uncle Pete might’ve given you an earful about inflation, but it’s actually an important factor to consider when it comes to the current state of the property market. Relative to other goods—even something as inconsequential as the humble Paddle pop—the cost of housing has increased at similar levels.
Furthermore, thanks to a significant drop in interest rates, the cost of borrowing has fallen despite house prices rising. According to analysis by Domain, repayments on a new variable-rate mortgage of $100,000 have halved from $800 per month in 1995 to $400 or less today.
In fact, analysis suggests that housing repayment costs are roughly on par with those 13 years ago. And with low interest rates here to stay for the considerable future, it’s going to stay this way for a while.
Going deeper into the stats, inflation-adjusted prices are up 44% from 2003, but considering actual repayments on a given amount are now 25% less, we’re left with an inflation-adjusted repayment cost only about 15% higher than it was two decades ago. In the immortal words of Einstein, it’s all relative.
Despite the reality that rising house prices don’t equate to unaffordability, house ownership in Australia has fallen by 18% among 30–34-year-olds in the last 35 years. If affordability isn’t to blame, what is? Perhaps it’s accessibility, and the burden of paying stamp duty on top of saving for a deposit.