The RBA released their latest Bulletin today and it contained an interesting section on Housing Accessibility For First Time Buyers. They suggest that in many centers, new buyers are able to access the market, at the current low interest rates. But the barriers are significantly higher in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth.
They also highlight that FHBs (generally being the most financially constrained buyers) are not always able to increase their loan size in response to lower interest rates because of lenders’ policies. Indeed, the average FHB loan size has been little changed over recent years while the gap between repeat buyers and FHBs’ average loan sizes has widened.
The article starts with an analysis of housing price-to-income ratios.
In Australia, the housing price-to-income ratio has increased since the early 1990s, and has increased particularly rapidly over the past five years to reach its highest level on record. At face value, this suggests that housing affordability is at a record low. However, this masks significant differences across states. The recent trend increase in the housing price-to-income ratio is largely due to increases in the ratios in New South Wales and Victoria (Graph 2). The housing price-to-income ratios have increased by less in other states in recent years and suggest that housing affordability in those states is at a similar level to the mid 2000s.
This housing affordability measure accounts for changes in average housing prices and household income. However, it ignores the effect of changes in interest rates on borrowing costs and other financial factors that may affect a household’s purchasing capacity and therefore their ability to purchase a home.
If interest rates fall, households can afford to repay a larger mortgage, all other things being equal. This would be reflected in a lower mortgage debt-servicing ratio, and would imply greater affordability. There is no role for changes to the deposit burden in the mortgage debt-servicing ratio, as the LVR is considered to be fixed. Looking at the trends over time, the aggregate mortgage debt-servicing ratio has risen over the
past year or so and is currently above the average of the inflation-targeting period but below historical peaks
A shortcoming of the conventional estimates of housing affordability is that, by focussing on the average home price and average household income, they measure affordability for the average household. But the typical FHB is not the same as the average household – they tend to be younger and less wealthy. Also, if most FHBs buy homes that are cheaper than the average, then measures that focus on the average home will provide a poor guide to the ability of FHBs to purchase their first home (i.e. housing accessibility). To address these shortcomings, we construct a housing accessibility index that specifically focuses on the purchasing capacity of potential FHBs
This measure combines information from household surveys with data on all housing sale transactions in Australia. It shows housing accessibility is around the long-run average in aggregate in Australia, with the median potential FHB being able to afford around one-third of all homes sold in 2016, although this share is significantly lower in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. Moreover, the quality of homes that potential FHBs can afford has fallen over time, as measured by location and the number of bedrooms. This measure also shows accessibility is lower in capital cities, particularly in areas close to the CBD.
The cost of renting is also an important component of housing affordability and the number of households renting has trended up over the past few decades. In aggregate, rents have grown broadly in line with household incomes, although rent-to-income ratios suggest housing costs for lower-income households have increased over the past decade.