Housing market heats up: strongest winter gains since 2007

The housing market was running hot this winter, with Melbourne and Sydney driving the strongest gains since 2007.

Figures from RP Data and Core Logic show capital city prices rising 4.2 per cent over the three months to August 31 - the strongest winter gains in seven years - including a 1.1 per cent gain in August.

The winter price rises have kept capital city home price growth comfortably in double-digits over the past 12 months, at 10.9 per cent.

RP Data's Cameron Kusher says it is unusual for prices to rise so strongly over winter.

"We thought that perhaps the momentum in the market was slowing, but today's data shows that's not the case," he told ABC News Online.

However, Mr Kusher says there was a similarly strong winter last year, and price momentum actually eased as more properties came onto the market in spring.

"Last year we saw values increase by 4 per cent in winter, which was abnormally strong at that time, and throughout spring we saw values increase by about 3.5 per cent," he observed.

"Maybe we'll see similar conditions again this year, but another 3 per cent growth over the next three months is obviously very strong in light of the fact that we've already had about 28 months of growth in the housing market."

Tale of two cities

The national figure again masks very divergent trends between Australia's two biggest cities and the rest of the nation.

Sydney prices were up 1.8 per cent last month, 5 per cent over winter and 16.2 per cent over the past year.

Melbourne saw a 0.8 per cent August rise, a 6.4 per cent jump this winter and an 11.7 per cent rise over the past year.

Over the last 12 months, the next best gains (Adelaide, Brisbane and Darwin) have been around half those of the two most populous capitals.

The weakest property markets over the past year have been Canberra (up 1.4 per cent), Hobart (up 2.8 per cent), Perth (up 3.5 per cent) and the regional and rural property markets (up 3.6 per cent).

Mr Kusher says investors are continuing to drive the outsized gains in Sydney and Melbourne property prices, despite very low and shrinking rental returns.

"It's just the attractiveness of investing into the two largest housing markets we have, and also those markets are seeing the strongest level of capital growth at the moment, clearly they're chasing that capital growth," he said.

Mr Kusher says that trend should be of concern to policymakers, as it is indicative of speculative investment.

"I do wonder if people are just coming into the housing market at the moment chasing those capital gains, what then happens once there are no capital gains in the market, or if we start to see property prices fall, we could see lots of investors looking to exit the market at once, and particularly in the inner-city unit market where they do have a strong focus that could push prices even further down," he warned.

The Sydney market is the clear standout for those concerned about speculation pushing prices unsustainably high.

Sydney home prices are now 20.8 per cent above their previous peak, which has prompted the Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens to recently warn prospective investors.

The next highest is Melbourne, which is 6.9 per cent above its previous high water mark, while the other capitals are either slightly above or just below previous highs, except for Hobart which is still 9 per cent down.