It’s official. COVID-19 restrictions have pushed New Zealand into recession – unemployment is rising, people are spending less, businesses are firing instead of hiring and economic output is falling.
Despite this, and contrary to many early predictions, house prices are not plummeting. In fact, all over New Zealand, prices are now higher than they were a year ago.
Why is this the case and what could turn it around?
Here are five key reasons why house prices aren’t plummeting, yet...
1. Banks are being supportive
Well-capitalised banks with the ability to offer mortgage payment freezes have been a key factor in supporting struggling home owners through the pandemic and preventing price declines. The loan holiday period expires this month meaning those people who are able to start repaying their loans will be expected to do so, although those who still can’t pay their mortgage will be given an extension.
Right now, we are seeing very few mortgagee sales in Whangarei, with just one distressed sale out of more than 660 listings available.
But if banks stop supporting virus-hit home owners, mortgagee sales would likely increase dramatically causing house prices to tumble.
Why would banks withdraw support? For now, their focus is on managing risk, but if the current problems with productivity morph into a financial crisis, the banks would likely have no means to support mortgage holders. This would be very bad news for the economy and tumbling house prices would only be part of the fallout.
2. Unemployment is hitting renters
Unemployment is rising. At this stage, younger people have been hardest hit with job losses, primarily those employed in travel, hospitality and education. If previous recessions are anything to go by, this trend will continue. Youth unemployment hit 20% in the last recession so it will be interesting to see what happens here in the next 6 - 12 months.
The rapid rise in unemployment among younger people has hit the rental market very quickly. Rental listings – also aided by a drop in short-term holiday listings becoming long-term residential listings – decreased dramatically on TradeMe in the months after the health crisis, causing rental prices to rise. While the increase has eased a little, it is leading to problems in some suburbs.
3. Parts of the economy are doing well
Despite the recession, not every part of the economy is struggling. For example, the primary sector, of which is a big part of Northland, continues to perform very well - and related businesses like trucking and transport have never been busier.
4. Employed people aren’t spending as much
For now, the majority of well-paid, white-collar professionals have escaped job losses, but the recession is making them nervous and households are currently saving nearly 20% of their disposable income, compared to 6% in the first quarter of 2020.
While people are saving more, safer conditions among well-paid job types is also good news for premium property markets. We are yet to see tough house price conditions emerging in Whangarei’s most expensive suburbs, with many of them continuing to see price growth through the pandemic.
5. Stimulus had helped
Record levels of government stimulus, such as the Covid subsidy, are helping keep house prices steady. While this is generally helping the unemployment rate and the stability of our banks, policies targeting home buyers such as the continued historically low interest rates, are ensuring a steady flow of demand into housing.
What’s the biggest risk?
The biggest threat to house prices right now is potential withdrawal of support to home owners from the banks. Other factors that could derail the economy could include the inability for the economy to bounce back quickly, continued unemployment rises extending to more established workers and a sharp withdrawal of financial support from government.
For now, prices are far more stable than expected but the future is very uncertain...
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