Something different


I called a friend of mine in Sydney for his birthday and found myself in the inevitable conversation about property. “What’s happening to property in Sydney?” was the question. I almost heard, “Eish!” but seeing he speaks Australian now, it was more along the lines of, “Shew! Bad…Mate” We spoke about Cape Town being a proxy for Sydney – high performance prices over a long period of time but now tailing off quite rapidly.

Then my wife showed me an article about Bo-Kaap, those beautiful painted houses in which the oldest Muslim community in the country live. In reading it, I decided to title this blog, Something Different. You see, in this country of ours there are always pro’s and con’s, swings and roundabouts, and contradictions. With protests again in Hermanus, it feels like we’re always on the edge and never quite sure of what is going to happen.

But you know that! You’re in the property business

Coming from the Cape[town]etc website, the following extract:
“Long standing local residents of the Bo-Kaap are clamouring to hold onto their homes as property rates increase and investment markets turn on the heat in order to obtain their houses.
Bo-Kapp is nestled in the corner of the City Bowl and offers an authentic Cape Malay cultural experience right in the city centre – it is safe to say that Cape Town would not be the same without this ironically vibrant neighbourhood.

Well-known for its rich history and culture, Bo-Kaap is a place where many residents inherited their homes.  With recent developments along the area, Bo-Kaap is becoming prime real-estate and international investors are bidding to obtain property or land in the district. Property has obtained a higher value than ever before, causing property rates to increase rapidly. Locals are unable to keep up with the increasing property rates as their wages account for the bare minimum. Combined with the increasing gentrification and opposing protests, residents fear losing their homes along with their heritage as Bo-Kaap is one of the oldest Muslim communities in the country.

International investors are focused on the property value and numbers. Many buyers are interested in purchasing the house, flipping it and selling it to the highest bidder. A lifelong resident, Shamil Jassiem shares his grievances with GroundUp, ““Investors are not interested in you and your history and your culture. All they want to do is buy the houses, renovate them and sell them for more a year later,” In a world where we are increasingly alert about strangers, the Bo-Kaap offers a sense of community that echoes the principle of ‘ubuntu’ – where residents can rely on one another for a helping hand. “I will never leave this place because everybody knows everybody and it’s a safe place to stay” says resident Faiza Larney. At the age of 68-years and retired, residents such as Larney are having to pay property rates that amount to R 6000.00. Larney’s only source of income is her pension which amounts to R4300 both government and private pension are included in this. Property rates do not include water, electricity, sanitation and refuse collection – meaning that residents must fork out more money that they do not have. Many residents are currently in arrears with their rent causing the option of selling tempting.

Properties have risen in value by 11 – 12% annually over two decades with property being purchased in 1999 at R200 000, now valued at R1.3 million. The overall increase in value can be attributed to the method of marketing, geographical location and beneficial investment output. Chairperson of Bo-Kaap Civic Ratepayers association Osman Shaboodien shared, “Property sales are spurned by marketing. Bo-Kaap for instance is sold as a quaint, historical place with cobblestone streets and old Dutch houses.” The people of Bo-Kaap are now faced with a daunting situation – to sell their house, heritage, history and culture for financial comfort or turn away buyers and work more than one job to cover the basic costs of staying in their homes.”

We have been talking about the Cape Town market slowing down but here pops up an article that investors are still hunting for and finding value. We had a cooking lesson in one of these houses for a friend’s 60th birthday, and I can tell you the Bo-Kaap is beautiful, friendly and quaint. Not a reason in the world that if these little homes achieve R1.3m in the market that you would not want to renovate a few and rent them to young professionals who work in the City Bowl. Big returns at that price, so I can understand the problem and even, the dilemma, residents may have.

Now, some interesting news from Sydney. Remember in Australia, homes are not sold by agents but rather auctioned. As a guideline, 90% are auctioned there as opposed to 90%+ here that are sold by agents. That explained, this weekly report I received from my friend, talks about Clearances – this is the term used for “sales on auction” over a weekend and imply that if there were a 100 houses listed and 92 are sold on auction, then the Clearance would be 92%. This example is exactly, according to my friend, the Clearance figure 18 months ago. In other words, 92 out of 100 auctions achieved a house sale; imagine that demand!

But times have changed and last night’s [10 July 2018] Clearance Rate was 53.53% on 673 Total Scheduled Auctions in New South Wales, the province in which Sydney resides. In other words, Australian auctioneers [read: estate agents] have experienced a 92-53 = 39% decrease in sales and I bet, the house prices have also declined concomitantly. That, in 18 months. I’m not sure that you have experienced anything like that anywhere in South Africa; I certainly hope not! Mind you, I was also comparing house prices with my friend and in that regard, I have another friend who has just sold in Hermanus within walking distance to the beach for R12m. He has purchased a similar sized house within similar access of the beach and he paid R35m ie A$3.5m. That’s three times the price in Rands. And, just by the way, I see the interest rate advertised in the report, is 3.69% variable. That’s three times less than our rates.

Moving on to house price increases, the report is also quite insightful:

Demand for all property across Australia has increased 5.2% year-on-year with houses increasing at 7.8% but apartments decreasing at -1.2%. The report continues, “The housing market slowdown in Melbourne and Sydney is dominating headlines, but the reality is the market is highly divergent. On one hand, Sydney prices have declined by 7.4% year-on-year, while on the other extreme, Hobart continues to surge, with prices rising by 16.1%.

Sydney is experiencing the biggest drawbacks. Melbourne is still holding. Pricing is up year-on-year and although activity among offshore buyers is cooling off, foreign investors are still actively looking for properties in the city. Softening market conditions are now starting to take hold and, surprisingly, given the widespread concern about apartment over-supply, in relative terms, it is housing demand that has weakened more. While Melbourne and Sydney slow, demand is creeping up in Perth. Although prices are still down year-on-year, the increase in demand is now the third highest in Australia, after Hobart and Canberra. Brisbane is experiencing similar increases, also suggesting that the tough times are over in the city, which is consistent with recent jobs growth numbers.”

And, final thought about the factors causing much of this reduction:

“Generally, across Australia, the premium market is holding up better than more affordable locations, however it is too simplistic to say that it’s the only market doing well. The strongest suburb over the past 12 months was Tamarama in Sydney’s east, which saw a median price increase of more than $1 million. [That’s R10m! In one year!!] Looking ahead, the housing market in Australia is under a lot of pressure, which will cap price growth everywhere. The reasons for this are varied.

Fewer offshore investors: Last year, new taxes were implemented in many capital cities and Foreign Investment Review Board applications dropped dramatically. Foreign buyers are still interested in Australian property (we continue to see growing numbers of Asian property seekers looking in all capital cities, except Sydney and Adelaide), however they are not transacting. While the new taxes are partly to blame, a change in sentiment has also occurred. There is also less development taking place (foreign buyers are restricted to buying new properties), as well as fewer Chinese developers. Property is now on the restricted list in China and more often than not, Chinese developers tend to sell back to their home market.

Fewer local investors: Investor lending has dropped by 15% over the past 12 months and sentiment of local investors has changed. A lot of this has to do with problems related to getting finance (far more restrictive and more expensive), but many of the incentives that investors got on off-the-plan developments, for example, are no longer available. The beginning of price declines is only worsening the situation.

Financial Services Royal Commission: This is currently underway and although it won’t be completed until late this year, banks are already starting to restrict lending on the back of what they expect to happen. The biggest impact right now is greater scrutiny of potential borrowers’ spending behaviour. [ed. I’ve heard that somewhere before ] Previously, banks mostly accepted what people said they spent at face value, however they now require more proof. Interest-only loans have also been restricted and many investors had relied on these. It is likely even greater restrictions will be put in place over the next 12 months.

Mortgage rates: Australian rates aren’t budging but US rates are increasing. Australian banks raise about 20% of funds that they lend to Australians from wholesale markets, so this is impacting mortgage rates already. Add in an interest rate rise and we will see less money being borrowed, as well as lower levels of interest in buying a house.

Change of government: A federal election will happen in the next 12 months and changes to negative gearing have been flagged by the ALP. This would have a big impact on the market, with an expected decrease in prices of about 10% in Sydney and Melbourne, according to Riskwise and Wargent Consulting. If markets are already weak and dropping, this could have a dramatic impact on investment levels and, subsequently, prices.

The likely outcome over the next six months is continued moderation of pricing in Melbourne and Sydney, while our other markets will hold up a lot better. Predictions that median prices will decline by about 10% seems a bit light in Sydney, given that prices have already dropped by more than 7%. Melbourne is likely to see declines this year, however, at this stage, it is unlikely to be as extreme as in Sydney, particularly given that on a year-on-year basis, we are still seeing a very slight increase.

On the positive side, the Australian economy is very slowly heading back to growth mode and as the development pipeline has slowed dramatically, particularly for apartments, this means less property will be available to buy. These will provide buffers to negative changes in the market, something that was not occurring the last time we saw big declines post the Global Financial Crisis.”

Just, by the way, the median [read: most often achieved] price in Sydney is A$925000 or, wait for it, R9.25m. No wonder, even at 3% interest, the market is adjusting.

Something Different, indeed! And when you read the reasons for the changes, if you closed your eyes, there wouldn’t be too far a difference to our reasons. Government change struck me and are we expecting that quite soon. However, banks tightening lending and the Financial Services Royal Commission [What a mouthful; sounds so British! Just read: National Credit Regulator] automatically adjusting spending patterns of applicants to avoid over-lending, is pap and wors in our mortgage space. The Chinese influence is very interesting and simply resulted from mega-rich Chinese buying practically whole developments and then loading unit prices by A$100000 only to sell to the locals for enormous gain. The Aussie government stressed out [that’s an election issue in the modern economies] and got the Chinese government to stop approving offshore monies going into such ventures.

In little ol’ SA we have our problems. But so far, we have held our own. The list of headwinds would be similar and the interest rate may rise even this year. I stand by my prediction that SARB will hold the rates fearful of curtailing growth and therefor, employment. Time will tell.

Hope you enjoyed Something Different. Good to see that other countries are struggling and that we are not unique. At Homeloan Junction we plough ahead. No time to put your head in the sand, but rather to Stand Tall with positive self-expectation. We have a proud history and we intend to keep our yesterdays on the same trajectory.

Yours in Property.

Jack Trevena
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