Property market update: Sydney, May 2022

Sydney ended autumn on a gloomy note, as the harbour city’s dwelling values took a nosedive in May and led other capitals in what experts claim to be the start of the great Australian property market correction.

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The great Australian property market correction has begun, as one of the world’s most expensive property markets, which recorded unprecedented growth throughout the pandemic, ended its 20-month winning streak in May.

According to CoreLogic, the growth seen across the majority of capital cities in May was not enough to offset the declines in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, which dragged down the combined capitals index 0.3 per cent lower over the month – the indicator’s first decline since July 2019.

Particularly, Sydney and Melbourne – which have been the vanguard cities of the latest boom – are now lurching lower at a faster rate compared to their peers.

A closer look at the data showed that Sydney has recorded progressively larger monthly value declines since February, while Melbourne has fallen across four of the past six months, according to CoreLogic.

Weakness in the premium Sydney and Melbourne markets in part reflected the Reserve Bank of Australia’s (RBA) move to raise interest rates on 3 May, the first hike in 11 years.

But while the RBA’s recent tightening in monetary policy had a hand in cooling the markets, CoreLogic research director Tim Lawless stated there were a number of factors putting the brakes on an already slowing housing market.

“There’s been significant speculation around the impact of rising interest rates on the property market and last month’s increase to the cash rate is only one factor causing growth in housing prices to slow or reverse,” he said.

The expert noted that the quarterly rate of growth in national dwelling values peaked in May 2021, shortly after a peak in consumer sentiment and a trend towards higher fixed mortgage rates.

Mr Lawless said that “since then, housing has been getting more unaffordable, households have become increasingly sensitive to higher interest rates as debt levels increased, savings have reduced, and lending conditions have tightened”.

“Now we are also seeing inflation and a higher cost of debt flowing through to less housing demand,” he said.

He stated that the rate hike came at a time when housing affordability was already stretched to the limit in many locations, particularly in Melbourne and Sydney.

He added that with the perfect storm of conditions that sparked the 2021 housing boom now dissipating, a correction in the market is to be expected.

Head of Australian research at CoreLogic Eliza Owen echoed Mr Lawless’ observation, adding that the two biggest Australian cities are historically the “bellwethers” of the events across capital city markets.

“Generally when we see an increase in the cash rate that has an impact on prices. There are also other factors at play – more supply is hitting the market that is giving buyers a little bit of buying power,” Ms Owen said.

Will market conditions finally normalise for the city in the coming months? For now, let’s see how Sydney’s property market performed in May 2022.

Property values

Sydney saw its fourth consecutive month of decline in dwelling values in May, recording a 1 per cent decline in dwelling values over the month. The figures are a steep decline from April’s 0.2 per cent drop.

In the last three months, the city’s property values were down by 1.4 per cent, a further weakening from the 0.5 per cent decline recorded in the previous quarter.

Over the year, the median value of dwellings in Sydney is now just up by 10.3 per cent – edging down from the 14.7 per cent annual growth rate seen in the previous month.

Despite the further cooling of the city’s property market, Sydney defended its title as the most expensive place to buy a property. The average cost of a dwelling in the harbour city stood at $1,120,836. However, the figures are down by about $6,800 month-on-month.

Sydney’s housing market also continued to cool down over the month, posting a decline of 1 per cent over May. The monthly decline is significantly bigger than the 0.1 per cent drop recorded in April and also marks the third month of declines for the sector this year.

Compared to May 2021, median house prices are up by 12.1 per cent, bringing the average value of a Sydney house to $1,403,964. Month on month, the median price has declined by almost $13,000 – reversing the sector’s gain in the previous month.

Meanwhile, growth in the city’s unit sector also winded down during the month, tallying a 0.7 per cent decline over May. The figures indicate a continuation of the 0.4 per cent decline recorded in April.

On an annual basis, units are up by 6.2 per cent, with the median price for apartments falling by more than $1,000 over the month to currently stand at $829,598.

CoreLogic also revealed that the trophy and inner-city suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne are seeing a steeper decline in values as market conditions become softer.

A new report released by the property data provider showed a decline in values across 23.6 per cent of suburbs in capital cities, the majority of them located in the two biggest cities.

“High-end and inner-city areas are emerging as the first suburbs to experience this shift in market conditions,” Ms Owen said.

“It is likely that slightly tighter lending conditions and higher average fixed rates are hitting the very top of housing markets first.

“These same areas are seeing some of the bigger jumps in advertised stock levels too so as we see new demand for housing in these areas decline buyers have more choice, more time for decision-making, and more power at the negotiating table.”

Supply and demand

Like the previous months, supply and demand dynamics are playing a key role in the weaker market conditions observed in Sydney and Melbourne throughout May.

SQM Research’s data showed that residential property listings in the NSW capital fell by 0.7 per cent over the month, from 30,138 in April to 29,920 in May.

Despite the monthly decline, the number of available stock in the city is up by 9 per cent annually, the only other capital aside from Darwin and Hobart where listings are up over a 12-month period.

New listings (or properties that have been on the market less than 30 days) in Sydney fell by 4.8 per cent from 14,403 in April to 13,718 in May. Compared to the same period last year, fresh market stock in the city is down by 13.6 per cent.

Data also showed that old listings or property listings over 180 days rose by 9.1 per cent from 3,678 in April to 4,032 in May, indicating a slowdown in absorption rates. Year on year, old housing stock in the city has fallen by 5.1 per cent.

Managing director of SQM Research Louis Christopher said that the general decline in listings during the month is mainly due to the federal elections held on 21 May.

“Listings fell during the month of May due in large part to the election with many sellers and buyers waiting on the market sidelines for the outcome,” he said.

“A number of properties which were already listed struggled to sell over the month and that pushed up the counts of old listings – a phenomenon that happens during market slowdowns,” Mr Christopher further explained.

Despite the traditionally quieter winter months ahead, the expert stated he expects listings to see an upward trend.

“Going forward, I expect a surge in new listings for this current month, even while we have now reached the quieter winter months. SQM Research has recorded a surge in new auction listings, hence why we have this view,” he stated.

Separate data from CoreLogic showed that inventory in Sydney is now higher than 12 months ago and against the five-year average.

Data showed the city’s advertised listings are 5.1 per cent higher compared to the same period last year and 1.5 per cent higher than the five-year average.

Similarly, Melbourne’s advertised stock levels are up 1.3 per cent from last year and 8.1 per cent above average based on the previous five years.

“With stock levels now higher than normal across Australia’s two largest cities, buyers are back in the driver’s seat,” Mr Lawless said.

Local experts observed that buyers in the two biggest cities are having a change of heart – when it comes to buying, at least.

The fear of missing out (FOMO) sentiment that has fuelled the market’s growth throughout the boom has been replaced by a far more measured and circumspect approach to the market, according to experts.

Agents and auctioneers also report that selling is becoming tougher than last year, as buyers become more discerning and fear of missing out changes to fear of overpaying.

Domain chief of research and economics Dr Nicola Powell said buyers became more selective in their property search during softening markets.

“Buyers become more mindful of what they’re purchasing. They don’t want to compromise, particularly not on space,” the expert stated.

This weakness in demand is translating into lower sales. CoreLogic’s data showed Sydney recorded the largest drop in estimated home sales during the latest quarter, down -33.4 per cent in the three months to May compared to the same period in 2021.

Ms Owen predicts that as the housing market enters a downturn phase, the number of sales and listings that take place nationally are tipped to fall from recent highs.

“Transaction activity is another facet of the housing market that slows amid higher interest rates,” she stated.

She also observed: “In recent weeks, new listings have been rising, and auction numbers spiked at the end of May, following volatility amid the federal election. But listings volumes may also eventually ease, as vendors become reluctant to sell in a falling market.”

Auction markets

Sydney property sellers could be facing difficult decisions in the coming months, according to Domain, as auction clearance rates in the city dip below 60 per cent in May, in what could be taken as an indication of further declines in property prices.

The city’s clearance rates for May fell to 55.9 per cent out of 3,425 auctions scheduled throughout the month, according to Domain. The monthly clearance rate is the lowest point for the past 12 months in Domain data.

Dr Powell explained that clearance rates are an indicator of whether the property market is rising, falling or remaining steady, with rates above 70 per cent pointing to an annual house price rise of at least 10 per cent.

Meanwhile, anything below 60 per cent broadly points to a fall in prices and a weakening market.

“Clearance rates have fallen below 70 per cent in all capital cities this month as a result of more homes on the market but reduced competition among buyers, highlighting the overall slowdown in the property market,” Dr Powell said.

She added: “The gradual shift to a buyers’ market could see a continual run of softening clearance rates, reduced choice among buyers and a change in seller price expectations.”

Meanwhile, Sydney’s median auction house price decreased over the month by 3.1 per cent to $1.80 million, continuing the downward trend in auction average prices as the rate of growth slows down. However, the figure is still up 1.9 per cent over the year.

Sydney’s house clearance rates continue to outperform units for the third consecutive month in May. Domain data showed the house and unit sectors recorded clearance rates of 56.7 per cent and 54.2 per cent, respectively.

Commenting on this disparity, Dr Powell stated: “This gap between houses and units could continue to remain low after record house price growth in 2021 resulted in affordability constraints for many buyers.”

Westpac senior economist Matthew Hassan said the RBA’s decision in May was a shock to the market.

“It’s a very clear jolt to the market,” Hassan said. “It’s really due to the rate move and the wider expectations that the cost of living is rising and there are more rate rises to come.”

Hassan said clearance rates were falling while there had also been a sharp rise in withdrawn auctions in May. In Sydney, the number of withdrawn auctions doubled from April’s figures to 25.1 per cent.

“From a seller’s perspective, they are facing a quandary: do they take the hit and sell, or wait possibly for the next two to three years for things to improve?” the economist asked.

Meanwhile, AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver also weighed in on the potential trend of clearance rates, warning home sellers and buyers could expect clearance rates to bottom out about 40 per cent over the next 12 to 18 months, similar to previous market downturns.

But he stated that while clearance rates would fall further, it would not be as far as they had during pandemic lockdowns, where some had fallen as low as the 20 per cent range.

“I think we will go down to the low forties and spend time bouncing around the bottom until recovery starts,” he said. However, he also warned that “we’ve still got a bit more damage to come”.

Separate data from CoreLogic mirrored Domain’s results. According to CoreLogic, 3,501 auctions went under the hammer in the city, with a final average clearance rate of 56.7 per cent. The monthly average is down from the 61 per cent clearance rate recorded in April.

If you want to be in the loop about what’s happening across auction markets in the country, follow our weekly updates in our News section.

Vacancy rates

Sydney’s vacancy rate remains at its lowest point since Domain records began, standing at 1.4 per cent in May.

The record-low vacancy rates indicate that the NSW capital’s rental market is tighter compared to the pre-COVID era, according to Domain.

Data also showed the number of vacant rental listings fell for the fifth consecutive month. Vacant rentals in Sydney fell 3.3 per cent to just under 8,000, highlighting the city’s shift to a landlords’ market.

The areas with the highest vacancy rates were Pittwater (2.9 per cent), Pennant Hills – Epping (2.4 per cent), Eastern Suburbs – North (2.3 per cent), Manly (2.2 per cent), and Ku-ring-gai (2.2 per cent).

Meanwhile, the areas with the lowest vacancy rates were Campbelltown (NSW) (0.4 per cent), Wyong (0.5 per cent), Richmond – Windsor (0.5 per cent), Camden (0.5 per cent) and Blue Mountains (0.5 per cent).

Rental market

While housing value growth has slowed, rents continue to rise swiftly, according to CoreLogic.

In Sydney, house and unit rents rose by 9.2 per cent and 9.8 per cent over the year, data showed.

Amidst rising rents and a general easing in home value growth, yields are also recording some upwards momentum, especially in Sydney and Melbourne.

Data showed that Sydney’s gross rental yields are up from a record low of 2.42 per cent in December 2021 to 2.59 per cent in May.

Meanwhile, Melbourne yields have increased from a record low of 2.74 per cent in December 2021 to 2.86 per cent at the end of May.

“Despite the upwards trajectory, yields remain remarkably low in both cities, but a recovery back to average levels may be relatively quick if housing values continue to fall while rents maintain this growth trajectory,” said Mr Lawless.

According to Dr Powell, the record-high asking rents and reduced choice in rentals resulted in tightening conditions that continued to favour landlords and increased the likelihood of rental price rises after the reduction in rental prices seen during COVID.

She further forecast: “The rise in investor activity, the arrival of overseas migrants, and the return of international students will see rental demand remain elevated, worsening conditions for tenants.”

Outlook for Sydney’s market

Over the past months, there has been plenty of speculation on when and how a market correction will unfold in step with rate hikes.

Now with interest rates seen to significantly increase in the coming months, what does it bode for Sydney’s property market?

The RBA’s statement that “it’s not unreasonable to expect that interest rates would get back to 2.5 per cent” had resulted in market experts predicting a drop in buyer demand over the next 12 months, which in turn will push down price growth across the country.

Economists are mostly in agreement that the biggest capital cities will bear the brunt of the further tightening in monetary policy in the coming months.

“Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra are likely to be hardest hit, Brisbane and Adelaide may hold up for a few months longer and Perth and Darwin may hold up better as Perth is only just above its 2014 high and Darwin is still below,” Mr Oliver stated.

On the other hand, he commented that “units may not fall as much as they did not go up as much”.

On the upside, Mr Lawless pointed out that there are also some positive economic factors to note, including ultra-low unemployment, which is putting upward pressure on wage growth.

“As income growth outpaces housing values, the home deposit hurdle will gradually lessen, reducing one of the key barriers to entry for home buyers,” he said.

“With the RBA set to steadily raise the cash rate through the rest of the year and into 2023, we are likely to see falls in housing values become more widespread as mortgage rates trend higher,” he added.

Meanwhile, Mr Christopher said that SQM’s overall outlook remains unchanged, stating: “[We] expect price falls of up to 8 per cent this year for Melbourne and Sydney and low net single-digit growth for the other cities.”

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