Several Money Morning readers have brought your editor’s attention to an extraordinary article from News Ltd over the weekend:
“Auction rates fudged by failed campaigns”
I’ll get on to that in a moment. First, in yesterday’s The Age, James Kirby writes:
“Don’t believe the reports on Australian house values”
“It’s quite a call – our house prices are more overvalued than anywhere you’d like to name – Shanghai, Sweden or Switzerland. According to The Economist Australia’s home prices are 56.4 per cent overvalued. And that’s comfortably above the second-highest figure of 53.7 per cent in Hong Kong.”
Mr. Kirby then goes on to knock out the usual Aussie housing clichés: “one of the best economies in the developed world…”, “…exceptional tax shelter encased in the family home…”, “…concentration of our population in four cities”, “…localised exceptions.”
Blah, blah… It all adds up to one thing – Australia is different.
But what of The Economist’s claims? Is Australian housing really overvalued by 56.4%?
The Economist states:
“Hong Kong’s price rises are the steepest in our index but it is not the most overvalued housing market. That honour remains with Australia, which is overvalued by about 56%…
“In Australia the market is at least inching closer to fair value. Home prices in Australia’s eight state capitals rose by only 1.2% in the year to January, according to the RP Data-Rismark index. Compared with the month before, prices fell by 1.6%.”
The Economist provides the following handy table for comparison:
Source: The Economist
Are Australia’s houses overvalued?
To the extent The Economist claims, no.
That answer may surprise you given our commentary on house prices since 2008.
But the reason is simple. The article from News Ltd confirms everything we’d thought. That auction and house price numbers are being fudged.
And it quotes a property expert rare among property experts – a non-spruiker. Louis Christopher, director of SQM Research told News Ltd:
“We are having a very high percentage of auction campaigns going unreported to the reporting bodies, and we strongly believe those unreported auctions are actually failed campaigns.”
And it’s not just Mr. Christopher saying it. The article also quotes Damian Cooley from “Sydney’s largest independent auction house” Cooley Auctions.
“In the vast majority of cases, the results that don’t get reported were either withdrawn or passed in, and the agents don’t want those results reported the next day.
“Ours [auction clearance rate] is 100 per cent accurate as we represented 12.2 per cent of the market on that day, so I find it hard to believe there’s a 14 per cent difference across the market.”
Mr. Cooley was referring to the Australian Property Monitors’ clearance rate of 65 per cent for the weekend before last. Cooley Auctions had just a 51 per cent clearance rate.
In other words, it doesn’t make sense that there would be such a large discrepancy between the clearance numbers.
And it’s not just in Sydney where there’s rampant under-reporting.
Last week Domain.com.au ran an article titled, “Results good but not great” The article rounded off with, “There are 975 auctions scheduled next weekend.”
Remember that number. Because this week the Real Estate Institute of Victoria announced the past weekend’s auction results:
“This weekend looks like a carbon copy of last with a total of 565 homes from the 852 auctions selling resulting in a clearance rate of 66 per cent compared to last weekends 65 per cent.”
No mention of what happened to the other 123 scheduled auctions. Our tip is they were cancelled, passed in, or sold below the advertised price.
But whatever the outcome, the real estate agents don’t want to reveal the results. And it’s possible the real clearance rate is closer to 58%. That’s a big difference.
It shows you the extent the spruikers will go to hide what’s really happening to house prices.
Even now, CommSec’s economists are claiming Australia’s house prices are going up:
“It is important to highlight that while the housing sector is cooling it is not about to collapse in a heap. Overall CommSec expects house prices to consolidate over the next few months, but for the year as a whole we would expect prices to lift by 5 per cent.”
It’s almost embarrassing to see them still carrying on. Too late dudes, prices are down and heading further south.
But still the property gurus want you to think it’s still a good time to buy.
Look, I’ll take anecdotal evidence and real stories from people trying to sell their houses, plus what I can see happening in the market, over anything some dodgy house price index tells me.
A few months ago I warned you the housing bubble had already started to burst. It was just that the dodgy indices hadn’t shown it yet.
At that time the spruikers were still claiming house prices were rising and that we’d see “normal” growth of between 5-10% this year – CommSec are still flogging that horse.
As usual, they and the mainstream press were lagging what was really happening.
The fact is, while the spruikers keep trying to talk-up Aussie house prices, prices have already fallen. All the myths given by spruikers to justify why Aussie house prices can’t fall are proving to be no more truthful than [look away kids] unicorns and fairies.
Expect the Aussie housing market to get much, much worse before it improves.
for Money Morning Australia