The Property Imperative 8 Now Available

The latest and updated edition of our flagship report “The Property Imperative” is now available with data to end February 2017. This eighth edition updates the current state of the market by looking at the activities of different household groups using our recent primary research, and other available data. It features recent work from the DFA Blog and also contains new original research.

In this edition, we look at mortgage stress and defaults across both owner occupied and investment loans, housing affordability and the updated impact of “The Bank of Mum and Dad” on first time buyers.

We also examine the latest dynamics in the property investment sector including a review of portfolio investors, and discuss recent leading indicators which may suggest a future downturn.

The overall level of household debt continues to rise and investment loans are back in favour at the moment, though this may change. Here is the table of contents.

1       Introduction. 
2       The Property Imperative – Winners and Losers. 
2.1         An Overview of the Australian Residential Property Market.
2.2         Home Price Trends. 
2.3         The Lending Environment. 
2.4         Bank Portfolio Analysis. 
2.5         Broker Shares And Commissions. 
2.6         Market Aggregate Demand.
3       Segmentation Analysis. 
3.1         Want-to-Buys. 
3.2         First Timers.
3.3         Refinancers.
3.4         Holders. 
3.5         Up-Traders.
3.6         Down-Traders. 
3.7         Solo Investors. 
3.8         Portfolio Investors.
3.9         Super Investment Property. 
4       Mortgage Stress and Default.
4.1         State And Regional Analysis. 
4.2         Stress By Household Profile. 
4.3         Stress By Property Segments.
4.4         Stress By Household Segments. 
4.5         Post Code Level Analysis.
4.6         Top 100 Post Codes And Geo-mapping. 
5       Interest Rate Sensitivity. 
5.1         Owner Occupied Borrowers. 
5.1.1          Sensitivity by Loan Value. 
5.2         Cumulative Sensitivity. 
5.2.1          Owner Occupied Borrowers. 
5.2.2          Investment Loan Borrowers. 
5.2.3          Owner Occupied AND Investment Loan Borrowers. 
6       Housing Affordability And Hot Air.

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Is Investor Property Appetite On The Turn?

Each week we receive updated data from our household surveys. One element in the survey looks at investor appetite – specifically whether households are intending to transact within the next 12 months. It is a leading indicator of future investment loan volumes.

However, in the past three weeks we have seen a change in intention. It has started to fall quite significantly (and actually represents the biggest move in the 10 years of the survey).

The chart plots the average intentions each week against the volume of new investor loans written each month. We see a significant downward movement in intention. This is being driven by a range of factors including concerns about future property values, falling rental returns, rising investment interest rates and most recently concerns about potential changes to the generous tax breaks which currently are enjoyed by property investors.

It is early days but it does appear investor property purchase intentions are on the turn. If this is the case, then auction clearances, investor lending momentum and property price rises may be be impacted. We will watch the next few weeks’ data with interest.

This Is Why Mortgaged Household Are Debt Exposed

When we published our sensitivity analysis on mortgaged households, which shows that more than 20% were on the edge financially speaking even at current low rates, a number of people asked why this was so, given the assumed affordability buffers and other underwriting safeguards.

Well, apart from the obvious issues of static incomes, rising costs of living, and potentially higher interest rates ahead, many mortgaged households also have other debts to repay. So today we run through some of our survey results looking at these other household debts. And it is not pretty.

To start, here is the average balances for mortgaged households, looking at their use of unsecured credit (e.g. personal loans, store cards etc) and credit cards. In the case of credit cards, we show two balances, first the current outstanding balance, and second the average revolving (hard core) debt outstanding.  Households with debts, on average and on top of the mortgage have $12,000 in unsecured loans, $11,000 in card debt, of which $10,000 is revolving.   These can cost as much to service each month as the mortgage repayment!

We can slice and dice the households, using some of our custom SQL views. For example, here are the average balances by household age bands.  Households between 40 and 59 have the larger loan and revolving balances, though interestingly, those 60-70 have the largest card balances.

As incomes rise, debt levels also rise, so some of the debt is owned by households with more ability to repay. However, remember the larger number of households are in the first three bands, where debt is still rife.

We can examine this debt by our master household segments. Once again, more affluent households have larger debts, but young growing families have on average close to $20,000 in debt, including some on revolving cards (where interest is charged at a high rate).

We can examine the data across our regions. Urban centres, including ACT, Greater Sydney and Melbourne have the highest debt levels. Many of these households also hold the largest mortgages.

Finally, it is interesting to note that from a digital behaviour standpoint, those younger households who are online most of the time and prefer to use digital channels (Natives) borrow more than Luddites (those who prefer not to go online, but the larger debts are held by households who have migrated online. These Migrants are progressively using online channels more than ever.  You can read more about our channel use inour report  The Quiet Revolution.

So, to sum up. Many households have large mortgages AND other debts, including credit cards and personal loans. This entire portfolio of debt must be considered when looking at their sensitivity to rising rates, and when comparing static incomes with rising debt repayments. Just looking at the mortgage gives only part of the full picture.

Much of this debt would not exist when the bank made their mortgage underwriting decision. That point in time view however does not necessarily still hold true. Should ongoing affordability testing be required by the regulators?

More On Household Debt, From The ABC

ABC’s RN Breakfast‘s Business Reporter Michael Janda discussed household debt as part of his segment on Radio National Breakfast this morning, and was kind enough to mention our recent research on owner occupied and investment housing debt sensitivity.

There was a subsequent flurry on Twitter discussing the DFA research approach.

To be clear, our household modelling is based on a rolling 26,000 statistically robust omnibus survey, to which each month we add 2,000 new households and drop off the oldest set. We have data from more than 10 years of research and it feeds our programme of activity and is reflected in the DFA blog.

From a mortgage stress perspective, we run our modelling, based on our household profiles and segments, which looks at net cash flow (before tax) and we also sensitive the modelling based on potential future rate movements. We take account of their total financial position, including other debt demands, and costs of living.

You can read more about our modelling here.  If you want to read our mortgage stress work, this overview is a great place to start.

P.S. Our research is separate and distinct from other research in the housing affordability arena, including the international Demographia survey. Whilst some of the findings may align, the research is based on different underlying research sources.


More First Time Buyers Open An Account At “The Bank of Mum and Dad”

We have updated our analysis of assistance first time buyers are getting from their families in a desperate effort to get into the housing market at a time when the entry barriers in terms of price and affordability are as high as ever they have been. In addition, high loan-to-value loans are less available, so first time buyers need a larger deposit, and first owner grants are harder to access. Savings interest rates are also very low.

We released analysis a few months back, which caused quite a stir as it highlighted the inter-generational  issues in play. We have now updated the quarterly analysis with data to December 2016.

First, more first time buyers are getting help from parents – up to 54% in the past quarter. This help varies from a loan for a deposit, a cash present, help with transaction expenses, or ongoing assistance with mortgage repayments or other household expenses.   Parental guarantees are falling out of favour.

Parents are able to assist, thanks to the wealth effect created by home price appreciation, which is still occurring in the eastern states, though more patchily elsewhere.

Just under half the assistance is going towards first time buyers in NSW (mainly Greater Sydney), where the affordability issues are most difficult, and home prices the highest. But other states are also, to some extent, also in the game.  Ignoring the volume growth, the percentage mix has been relatively stable.

But here is the volume picture, which shows the relative number across states (note the small counts in some states are less statistically robust), but the trends are clear.

Another cut on the data is looking at the type of property being purchased. In 2015, more investment property was is the mix, but now the growth is among owner occupied purchasers.

In terms of the value of the financial contribution, it varies. But for those making a loan or payment direct to assist in a purchase by way of a deposit, the average amount is now north of $85,000.

If parents bring forward payments to assist their offspring, it is worth asking whether this act of kindness may have unintended consequences.

  • First, are parents giving away some of their future financial security?
  • If it is a loan, is the basis of repayment clear, and documented?
  • When a bank assesses a mortgage application do they consider the source of the deposit – receiving a “seagull” lump sum is not the same as demonstrating a history of saving, and the risk profiles down the track are different.

It also raises complex questions around equity between siblings, and a whole raft of questions relating to inter-generational finance.

It is also worth remembering that more first time buyers are going to the investment sector before purchasing their own home for owner occupation, as our first time buyer tracker shows.

So Just How Sensitive Are Property Investors To Rising Interest Rates Now?

Having looked at changes in investment loan supply, and the motivations of the rising number portfolio property investors, today we use updated data from our rolling household surveys to look at how property investors are positioned should mortgage rates rise. In fact, for many, rates have already been raised, thanks to lender repricing independent of any RBA cash rate move, some as much as 65 basis points. We think there is more to come, as loan supply gets tighter, international financial markets tighten and competitive dynamics allows for hikes to cover capital costs and to bolster margins.

To assess the sensitivity we model households ability to service mortgage debt, taking into account their other outgoings, and rental income.  We are not here looking at default risk, but net cash flow. How high would rates rise before they were under pressure? Where they also have owner occupied loans, or other debts, we take this into account in our assessment.

The first chart is a summary of all borrowing investor households. The horizontal scale is the amount by rates may rise, and for each scenario we make an assessment of the proportion of households impacted, on a cumulative basis. So as rates rise, more households would feel pain.

The summary shows that nationally around a quarter of households would struggle with a rate hike of up to 0.5%, and as rate rose higher, this rises to 50% with a 3% rate rise, though 40% could cope with even a rise of 7%.

So a varied picture. But it gets really interesting if you segment the analysis. Those who follow DFA will know we are a great believer in segmentation to gain insight!

A state by state analysis shows that households in NSW are most exposed to a small rate rise, with 36% estimated to be under pressure from a 0.5% rise (explained by large mortgages and static rental yields), compared with 2% in TAS.

Origination channel makes a difference, with those who used a mortgage broker or advisor (third party) more exposed compared with those who when direct to a lender. The pattern is consistent across the rate rise bands.  This could be explained by brokers knowing where to go to get the bigger loans, or the type of households going to brokers.

Households with interest only loans are 6% more exposed to a small rise, and this gap remains across our scenarios. No surprise, as interest only loans are more sensitive to rate movements. We have not here considered the tighter lending criteria now in play for interest only lending.

Our master segmentation reveals that it is Young Affluent and Young Growing Families who are most exposed, followed by Exclusive Professionals. Some of the more affluent are portfolio investors, so are more leveraged, despite larger incomes.

Finally, we can present the age band data, which shows that those aged 40-49 have the greatest exposure as rates rise, though young households are most sensitive to a small rise.  Note this does not reveal the relative number of investor across the age groups, just their relative sensitivity.

This all suggests that lenders need to get granular to understand the risks in the portfolio. Households need to have a strategy to prepare for rate rises and should not be fixated on the capital appreciation, at the expense of cash flow management, especially in a rising rate environment.

Do Investment Property Investors Also Use SMSF’s?

We recently featured our analysis of Portfolio Property Investors, using data from our household surveys. We were subsequently asked whether we could cross correlate property investors and SMSF using our survey data. So today we discuss the relationship between property investors and SMSF.  We were particularly interest in those who hold investment property OUTSIDE a SMSF.

To do this we ran a primary filter across our data to identity households who where property investors, and then looked at what proportion of these property investors also ran a SMSF. We thought this would be interesting, because both investment mechanisms are tax efficient investment options.  Do households use both? If so, which ones?

We found on average, around 13% of property investors also have a self managed super fund (SMSF). Households in the ACT were most likely to be running both systems (17%), followed by NSW (14%) and VIC (12.8%).

Older households working full time were more likely to have both an SMSF and Investment Property, but we also noted a small number of younger households were also using both tax shelters.

We found a significant correlation between income bands and use of SMSF among investment property holders (this does not tell you about the relative number of households across the income bands, just their relative mix). Up to 30% of higher income banded households have both a SMSF and Investment Property.

Finally, we look across our master household segments. These segments are the most powerful way to understand how different household groups are behaving.  The most affluent groups tend to hold both investment property and SMSF – for example, 30% of the Exclusive Professional segment has both.  Less affluent households were much less likely to run a a SMSF.

This shows that more affluent households are more able and willing to use both investment tax shelter structures. It also shows that any review of the use of negative gearing, investment properties and the like, needs to be looked at in the context of overall tax planning. Given the new limits on superannuation withdrawals, we expect to see a further rotation towards investment property, which as we already explained has a remarkable array of tax breaks and incentives. We expect the number of Portfolio Property Investors to continue to rise whilst the current generous settings exist.

Household Finance Confidence Slips After Christmas Binge

We have released the latest edition of the Digital Finance Analytics Household Finance Confidence Index, to end January 2017 today, which is a barometer of households attitudes towards their finances, derived from our rolling household surveys.

The aggregate index fell slightly from 103.2 in December to 102.68 during January, but is still sitting above a neutral measure of 100, and the trend remains positive. However there are a number of significant variations within the index as we look across states and household segments. These variations are important

First, the state scores are wider now than they have ever been, with households in NSW the most positive, at 110, whilst households in WA slip further to 81. Households in VIC and SA also slipped a little, whilst households in QLD were a little more positive.

The performance of the property market is the key determinate of the outcomes of household finance confidence, with those holding investment property slightly more positive than owner occupied property owners, whilst those who are renting, or living with family or friends are significantly less positive. Whilst some mortgage holders have received or expect to see a lift in their mortgage rate, this is offset by strong capital growth in recent months. The NSW property holders, especially in greater Sydney are by far the most positive. Renters in regional WA, where employment prospects are weaker, are the least positive.

Looking in detail at the drivers of the index, we see a rise by 1% of households who are felling less secure about their employment prospects – especially those in part-time jobs – and more are saying they are under employed.

In terms of the debt burden, there was a 4% rise in those less comfortable about the debt they hold, thanks to rising mortgages, the Christmas spending binge and higher mortgage rates.

More household are saying their real incomes have fallen, up 3%, whilst those who say their costs of living have risen was up 8%.

To offset these negative indicators however, some households reported better returns from term deposits and shares, as well as a significant boost to capital values on their property. Those who said their net worth had risen stood at 64%, up 5% from last month.  The property sector is firmly linked to household confidence, and vice-versa.

By way of background, these results are derived from our household surveys, averaged across Australia. We have 26,000 households in our sample at any one time. We include detailed questions covering various aspects of a household’s financial footprint. The index measures how households are feeling about their financial health. To calculate the index we ask questions which cover a number of different dimensions. We start by asking households how confident they are feeling about their job security, whether their real income has risen or fallen in the past year, their view on their costs of living over the same period, whether they have increased their loans and other outstanding debts including credit cards and whether they are saving more than last year. Finally we ask about their overall change in net worth over the past 12 months – by net worth we mean net assets less outstanding debts.

The Rise and Rise of Portfolio Investment Property Households

The number of Property Investing households in Australia in rising. Today we look specifically at the fastest growing segment – Portfolio Property Investors.

This sector, though highly leveraged, is enjoying strong returns from property investing, are benefiting from generous tax breaks and many are expecting to purchase more property this year. However, we think there are some potential clouds on the horizon, and that the risks linked to this segment are higher than many believe to be true. Our latest Video Blog post discusses the findings from our research.

The investment property sector is hot at the moment, with around 1.5 million borrowing households now holding investment property and the number of investment loans is the rise. In December according to the RBA, investment loans grew at 0.8%, twice as fast as owner occupied loans, and around 36% of all loans are for investment purposes.

But not all property investors are created equal. Using data from our large scale household surveys, we have looked in detail at those who hold multiple investment properties.

These Portfolio Investors have become a significant force in the market. For example, in November about twenty per cent of transactions were from portfolio investors – or about six thousand transactions. Whilst overall investment loans grew at 0.8%, there was an estimated 4% increase in transactions from Portfolio Investors.

If we plot the overall loan growth trends against the proportion who are Portfolio Investors, we see a that since late 2015, it is these Portfolio Investors who have been driving the market. In addition, more than half of these transactions are in New South Wales, which is the property investor honeypot.

Many Portfolio Investors will have three or four properties, though some have more than twenty and the average is about eight. Some of these households have taken to property investment as a full-time occupation, others see it as their main wealth building strategy.

Property portfolios vary considerably, although we note that there is a tendency to hold a portfolio of lower value property – such as would be suitable for first time buyers, rather than million dollar homes. This is because the rental income is better aligned to the value of the property, and there is more demand from renters, and greater supply.

About half of portfolio investors prefer to buy newly build high-rise apartments, whilst others prefer to purchase a property requiring renovation, because they believe renovation is the key to greater capital appreciation in the long run, even if rental income is foregone near term.

Property Investors are able to get a number of tax breaks, especially if negatively geared. They are able to offset both capital costs by way of adjustments to the capital value on resale and recurring costs, which are offset against income.

Together negative gearing and capital gains makes investment property highly tax effective. There is good information on the ATO site which walks through all the benefits, but in summary you can claim:

In terms of financing, you can also claim:

  • stamp duty charged on the mortgage
  • loan establishment fees
  • title search fees charged by your lender
  • costs (including solicitors’ fees) for preparing and filing mortgage documents
  • mortgage broker fees
  • fees for a valuation required for loan approval
  • lender’s mortgage insurance, which is insurance taken out by the lender and billed to you.

Stamp duty and legal expenses can be claimed as capital expenses.

Given the strong capital appreciation we have seen in property values, especially down the east coast, portfolio investors are less concerned about rental incomes than capital values. Indeed, in recently published research we showed that about half of investment property holders were losing money in cash flow terms – but significantly, portfolio investors were on average doing better.

But these capital gains are now being crystallised by sassy portfolio investors.

If we chart the proportion of portfolio investors who have sold an investment property, to buy another property, it has moved up from 5% in 2012, to 11% in 2016. These transaction means they are able to release net equity for future transactions, and offset capital costs in the process. Once again, portfolio investors in NSW are most likely to churn a property.

Our surveys also show portfolio investors are most likely to transact again in 2017, are most bullish on future home price growth, and will have multiple investment mortgages.

Significantly, many portfolio investors are using equity from one investment property to fund the next, and are reliant on rental income to service the mortgage. They often have multiple mortgages with different lenders. In addition, we found that many portfolio investors are using interest only loans, to keep loan servicing to a minimum and interest charges as high as possible for tax offset purposes.

So long as property prices continue to rise, this highly-leveraged edifice will continue to generate high returns, which are, after tax, better than cash deposits or the share market. Of course the world would change if interest rates started to rise, capital values fell, or the banks clamped down on interest only loans. Overall, we think there are more risks in this sector of the market than are generally recognised.

In addition, we think there is a case to look harder at the tax breaks available to portfolio investors, and suggest that a cap on the number of properties, or value which can be so leverage should be considered. This is because as property values rise, tax-payers end up subsidising portfolio investors more than ever.

So, in summary, our analysis shows the market is being severely distorted, making homes less affordable, and shutting out many owner occupied purchasers who cannot compete. Risks are building, but meantime Property Portfolio Investors are having a field day!




More On Rental Yields – It Matters Where You Buy

We continue our update on our rental yield modelling, using data from our household surveys. Last time we looked across the average gross and net yields (in cash-flow terms) by state, and also at average capital gains. Today we drill into the location specific analysis and also look at our master household segmentation.

But before we look at the data specifically, it is worth reflecting on why we show the data the way we do. New rules from Basel will require banks to hold more capital against loans which are required to be serviced from income other than rent. As a result, the question of net yield – meaning rental income, less loan repayments and other costs before tax suddenly become more important. Whilst the Basel rules are yet to be finalised (there are internal squabbles between members as to where to set the limits), this data is significant – and needs to be separated from any equity held in the property – as equity is no guide to loan serviceability, only an indicator of potential risk should a sale be forced.

So now we turn to our household master segments. We find a startling truth. Most affluent households seem to be able to hold investment property where net yields are still positive, whereas less affluent households – those on the urban fringe, battlers, stressed older households and multicultural segments, as well as young growing families; on average have net yields in negative territory. Whilst there are a smaller number of these households, compared with the number of more affluent households who hold investment property, it is telling. In addition – and no surprise – more affluent households on average have more equity in the property (and more properties per household).

Another way to look at the investment portfolio is by regions and locations. We use a list of 50 or so, which cover the country. There are variations across these.  On average households in Horsham, Ballarat and Wangaratta have little equity in their investment properties, and are well underwater in terms of net rental yields.

At the other end of the spectrum, investment properties in Darwin, Tasmania and areas of Queensland are in much more positive territory.

Investors in Warnambool, Canberra and in the Central Coast have the highest average paper capital profits (current property value less outstanding mortgage). But of course many investment households have large mortgages so they can offset interest against other income thanks to negative gearing.

The pressure of rising investment loan interest rates, low rental income growth, and in some cases, vacant property are all having an impact. But the fallout is not equally spread across the country, or across households.