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Unaffordable Twaddle

Unaffordable Twaddle

The silliest people skulking around the edges of the property industry are the shallow attention-seekers who pump out nonsense reports claiming that no one can afford to buy property – not because it’s true or useful, but simply to drum up some free publicity for the business who is the source of the misinformation.

The shallowness and pointlessness of these reports is demonstrated by the results being seen in property markets, which emphatically contradict the notion that most people can’t buy homes because they’re unaffordable to the vast majority.

We are constantly inundated with reports claiming young Australians are priced out of the property market and doomed to a life-time of renting – but the latest official data shows there has been a 13% annual increase in the number of loans to first-home buyers.

The attention-seeking report writers claim no one can afford to buy, but first-timers are out there buying homes in rising numbers.

Beyond the apparently dire plight of young buyers, there are growing instances of reports saying most households are priced out of the market, not just the first-timers, and that our real estate is unaffordable to the vast majority of people.

And yet, in stark contrast to those claims, our markets are extremely busy with buyers in all price ranges – and prices continue to rise steadily.

Here’s the thing: if you want to achieve cheap and easy publicity for yourself or your business, the fast-track is to publish alleged research on housing affordability – and to guarantee maximum coverage, your so-called report needs to conclude that it’s a dire situation and hardly anyone can afford to buy homes.

Media loves that story line and will publish it every time, despite the fact that they ran the same or a similar story last week, and the week before, and the week before that.

Apparently journalists believe we all have an insatiable appetite for lies about housing affordability.

The sad reality is that it’s really easy to pump out a report with negative findings – because the report writer gets to decide their own definitions of affordable and unaffordable. It’s completely random and arbitrary – but the creators of these shallow documents pretending to be research can rest easy in the knowledge that no journalist will ever challenge them on their definitions and parameters, nor ever question their findings. They’ll go for the easy option of the cheap headline, every single time.

Recently one of the big four banks produced a particularly scurrilous and worthless press release, pretending to be serious research, which found that only 13% of homes in Australia are affordable for buyers.

Now, if that was true, property markets across the nation would be largely dormant. There would be few sales occurring and prices would be falling in most markets.

Of course, the opposite is happening. Current sales levels across Australia are 24% higher than the same time last year and prices are rising in most markets across Australia.

How can these two contradictory things be happening?

It’s because the report in question is shallow nonsense.

And we shouldn’t be surprised that a major bank would produce a dishonest document to generate publicity – we all know from the royal commission and from our own personal experiences that the big banks are very comfortable with being unethical in the pursuit of profits.

So we’re not surprised to see National Australia Bank producing a headline-grabbing report that was based on the principle that you should never let the facts get in the way of a cheap headline. When you’re a big four bank using the media, the truth is always optional – and indeed usually rather inconvenient.

So, here’s what the NAB report claimed – and, to their credit, they managed to keep a straight face while talking about it.

They said that just 13% of the homes that are for sale in Australia are affordable to the average household. Presumably that means that 87% of the homes for sale across the nation won’t sell because they’re beyond the financial reach of most of us.

How did they manage to come up with this implausible scenario, which is contradicted by what’s happening the market every single day?

By deciding, in the interests of a screaming headline, that if you have to spend more than 25% of household income on servicing the mortgage, then it’s unaffordable.

Who says that this is the definition of unaffordable? Well, the National Australia Bank, because if they’d used a realistic benchmark that’s in line with the reality of most households with mortgages, they would NOT have been able to claim that most homes are unaffordable and they wouldn’t have got any publicity.

If NAB was right, of course, and spending more than a quarter of the household income on the mortgage WAS unaffordable, then mortgage delinquency rates in Australia would be sky-high.

But they’re not. The mortgage delinquency rate in Australia, according to S&Ps, is just 1.4%. Yes, slightly more than 1% of people with mortgages are behind on their payments. Which means over 98% of home-owners are paying their mortgage on time, which means they’re finding it affordable, even though some might be finding it difficult.

But according to the NAB report, that cannot be true, because 87% of homes, and the loans needed to buy them, are unaffordable – according to them.

Sadly, this is just another case of economists demanding that property markets behave the way they think they should, rather than observing the way markets are actually behaving, and trying to understand why.



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