Economic Weekly: Housing front and centre

Notwithstanding the global pandemic, the NZ housing market has hogged the local media headlines as well as the domestic political and market narrative.  House price inflation is rampant (22% yoy and climbing).  There is the view that the circa $1.5 trillion housing market has become a one-way bet, benefitting property owners and bolstering investor demand at the expense of those wanting to get onto the housing ladder. Something needed to be done.

Last week, the Government rolled out a trifecta of policies to bolster housing affordability and provision (see our take). Ultimately, we need to build more homes, but it will take time for the $3.8bn Housing Acceleration Fund to bear fruit. In the interim, the Government has moved to slow the buying demand from residential property investors, who typically account for around 30% of all property purchases and own more than 600,000 rental properties. Moves to extend the bright-line test from 5 years to 10 will effectively see a longer lock-in period for property investors and fewer property sales.

However, the policy that caught the most attention was the removal of interest rate deductibility from investor housing. Starting from October this year, deductibility will be reduced in 25% increments and will be fully phased out by April 2025. This policy will generate a significant amount of additional tax to be paid by property investors and will weigh on investor cashflows. The nationwide impacts would be in the region of $0.5-$1bn per annum according to our estimates.  The impacts will uneven and will hit property investors with higher levels of debt and smaller cashflow buffers. It will lower the purchase price for dwellings that investors would be willing to pay. It could also trigger widespread increases in dwelling rents as landlords seek to recoup higher after-tax costs.

There could be more to come. In May the RBNZ will be reporting back to the Government on whether to impose debt-to-income limits and to curb interest-only mortgage lending for investors. Considering more than 40% of investor lending over the past year was interest only, the impacts on investor cashflows and demand could be sizeable.

What will be impacts of these policies be?  The simple answer is that we do not know at this early stage. Our initial thinking is that house price growth will slow more sharply than we had factored in, but that the policies will not necessarily trigger outright price falls. Broader economic activity would also be weaker than it would otherwise be, while higher rents could add to NZ CPI inflation. We will be closely monitoring the housing market over the next few months with a focus on property listings, sales volumes, house prices and dwelling rents. Stay tuned. mark.smith4@asb.co.nz.

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Mark Smith

Senior Economist

Mark joined ASB in 2017, with over 20 years of public and private sector experience working as an economist in New Zealand and the UK.

His resume includes lengthy stints at ANZ and the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, and he has also worked at the Bank of England, HM Treasury and the New Zealand Transport Agency. Mark's areas of specialisation include interest rate strategy, macro-economic analysis and urban economics.

Born and bred in the Waikato, Mark studied at Waikato University where he graduated with a Master of Social Sciences, majoring in Economics.

Mark's key strengths are the ability to use his extensive experience, inquisitive nature, analytical ability, creativity and pragmatism to dig a little deeper and to deliver common sense solutions to tackle complex problems.

When not at work Mark likes to travel, keep fit and spend time with his friends and family.