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More interest in housing market from younger potential buyers

May 12, 2020

For the first time in years, more people in their 20s are eyeing up the housing market.

Trade Me has reported a spike in people between the ages of 18 to 29 browsing listings, putting it down to low interest rates and the temporary scrapping of the loan-to-value ratio (LVR), in the wake of Covid-19.

Home ownership has been steadily declining for the under 30s for years. But post-lockdown, that typically locked-out group are starting to look.

Trade Me said during March and April, there was a nearly 40 percent spike in interest from the under 30s, compared to this time last year.

It was the only group to show any big change in behaviour, Trade Me head of property Nigel Jeffries said, adding it was a result of changes in lending.

"There are obviously very low interest rates, LVR changes, and there is some expectation those [house] prices will drop," Jeffries said.

"So there will be a lower entry point for those buyers into the market."

Jeffries said there were signs that this was genuine interest, but it was hard to tell if that would translate to sales.

"If all they do is look at images and read descriptions, you could say they are quite a passive homebuyer, but if they start creating watch-lists and playing with mortgage calculators and sending emails to agents asking questions, you would say they are a lot more qualified than the passive people," he said.

"We can see the activity levels further down the funnel also skyrocketing."

Trade Me's data also shows where potential buyers of all age-groups are showing interest.

Jeffries said there was significant interest in the Queenstown Lakes area.

"That area is up 130 percent - so 130 percent more people browsing property in that area compared to this time last year. Part of that story, is there is a price drop expectation by a lot of consumers."

It was still too early to predict what, if any, changes there would be to house prices, he said.

In addition, it was a 'wait and see' situation as to how eager banks would be to lend money to potential buyers while the economy was unstable, he said.

Some housing advocates worry that scrapping of the LVR will provide only a momentary sweetener for first homebuyers, before it creates an investors market.

The restrictions mean no more than 10 percent of banks' new mortgages by value could be to people with deposits of less than 20 percent, but that is stopping for a year.

Shift Aotearoa is a five-year project focusing on a better housing system, with the right to housing at the heart of it.

Its lead, Brennan Rigby, said scrapping the LVR risked making the market more investor friendly.

"At this particular moment in time, we are getting more lending capacity being given to the banks through the removal of the LVR restrictions," Rigby said.

"More lending capacity, cheaper assets, low, low, low interest rates, I think are a pretty risky combination of characteristics for our housing system."

Rigby said he was not anti-investment, but that decisions for the housing system must be carefully considered.

"The Reserve Bank decision to remove LVR restrictions deactivates the most successful intervention in our housing system in recent memory," he said.

"Changes to the LVR restrictions in 2016 took heat off the market and provided hope to first homebuyers literally overnight."

He said there was no reference to family well-being in the Reserve Bank consultation and that the decision making process was problematic.

"The consultation period was very short and the material outlining the implications of the proposal was insufficient, given the significance of this move."

He said an altering of the LVR, rather than canning it, would have been more appropriate.

Economist and housing commentator Shamubeel Eaqub said he did not think the removal of the restrictions would have much of an impact.

He said these were not normal times and the banks were not likely to be handing out money quickly.

"A lot of the reasons why LVR restrictions were removed was so that we didn't get into the issue of a decline in home prices making it difficult for people to renegotiate their mortgages, payment terms and so on," he said.

"If you think about what's going to happen in the next year or so of the housing market, not much is going to happen, there will be very few transactions because the bank will be rationing."

CoreLogic research analyst Kelvin Davidson said activity in the market during alert level 3 had been slow, but that could shift as the country moved into level 2.

"We'll actually see some decent activity and prices over the [next] couple of months, but as we get to the end of the year we will see unemployment rising and confidence taking a hit."

Davidson said sales were likely to weaken in the the last quarter of the year.

People looking to buy their first home should consider doing so sooner rather than later, he said.


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