Growing availability of credit may help the residential housing market to regain some momentum from mid-year, but affordability and lack of confidence remain the two major stumbling blocks.
In spite of increased sales, improved buyer activity and further relaxed credit criteria by the banks, the residential property market still has one major hang-up — house prices remain in limbo, with very little exception. After peaking around April last year, deceleration followed and, according to the latest Rode’s Report, prices in January, on a national basis, were down by roughly one percent on the same month a year earlier.
The reasons are fairly straightforward; lack of confidence, job insecurity, fears of upward pressure on household expenses and the threat of higher interest rates. Hardly an environment for a major capital investment…
We have had a minor recovery in the market over the first five months of this year, but it has been too mild to make a significant impact on house price growth.
Buyers with cash and access to funds are active, looking for bargains. The May First National Bank House Price Index reveals a very slight acceleration in price growth from 1.2 percent year-on-year in February to 2.1 percent in May. But if one adjusts this average house price index with the consumer price index (CPI) real house price growth is around -2.5 percent. But again, this is a national average — there are pockets of sunshine amidst the gloom. Some industry analysts suggest that the negative growth trend will reverse shortly after mid-year.
It is a classic case of supply exceeding demand and the mini-recovery may well have a lot to do with the enjoyable summer months. The benefits emanating from the interest rate cuts since mid-2008 have waned and First National Bank’s property strategist John Loos warns: "This reflects the very weak financial and debt position of the household sector following the 2008/09 recession. If the residential market cannot achieve respectable house price growth after such a huge interest rate stimulus a period of house price decline would be the likely outcome of a possible phase of interest rate hiking or of slowing economic growth, or both."
Fortunately, the outlook for economic growth looks brighter following recent indicators. First quarter GDP figures show a marked improvement in annualised growth to 4.8 percent, which is well ahead of the general expectation. The big question now is whether this growth can be maintained. The first quarter figures are worth analysing; the trade sectors showed positive growth, led by retail and finance and business services. Underperformance came from agriculture, construction and mining, while manufacturing produced an excellent performance, the latter being boosted by basic iron and steel as well as oil refining.
Business indicators tend to correlate well with residential property demand, so the upside in GDP is positive for the market.
Increased willingness by the mortgage bankers to lend should help the market in coming months. According to Saul Geffen, CEO of mortgage originator ooba, there has been a significant relaxation in deposit requirements, which opens up a much broader homebuyer base.
Other positive news is that the banks’ initial decline ratio is 8.7 percent lower year-on-year at 45.4 percent, while the effective approval ratio has increased significantly from 57.3 percent in April last year to 64.4 percent.
Geffen says that strong April approval rates build on recent record numbers recorded in March, when ooba’s approval figure was the highest value of approved home loans since October 2008.
According to Standard Bank, mortgages with values between R350 000 and R700 000 comprise the largest share of the market. On the other hand, the bank states: "The proportion of mortgage loans granted attributable to the highest category of income earners recorded the highest annualised growth rate of any income category. In addition, the average size of mortgage loans applied for has seen a steady increase."
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