Housing market still strong

Garry Shilson-Josling, AAP Economist

ousing prices mostly steadied in the past month but, with supply constrained and demand keen, the market is tipped to stay strong.

At least for the time being.

Only Melbourne of the mainland state capitals posted a notable rise - 3.1 per cent for the month - according to RP Data's report for the week ending Sunday.

But the big two capitals were still sitting on big increases over the year, with Sydney prices up by 13 per cent and Melbourne up 10 per cent.

Perth managed rises of just under eight per cent on average, with Brisbane and Adelaide beating the latest official inflation rate of 2.2 per cent by less than a percentage point.

The average for the five capitals was up by nine per cent through the year, RP Data said.

Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics last Monday showed the value of housing loans approved was up by 25 per cent over the year to November, so there's plenty happening on the demand side.

But RP data's report also showed the number of homes on the market has fallen across the board, with Sydney down by 27 per cent, and the national average down by 14 per cent.

So there's a squeeze on the demand side, too.

So it should be no surprise, despite talk of interest rate rises later this year and of a housing market bubble, that economists at the ANZ see ongoing market strength.

"We expect housing market momentum to remain positive in 2014, underpinned by a significant underlying housing shortage and buoyed by improved household confidence and an extended period of low interest rates," researchers Paul Braddick and David Cannington said in a report on Monday.

This of course does not bode well for people hoping to buy an affordable place to live.

In the absence of any dramatic change of policy to lift supply, or a shift in the outlook for interest rates, the keenness of speculative investors will be the main driver of prices in the months ahead.

There may be some heed paid to fundamentals - notably how much rent can be earned from the investment - but at the moment that is being overwhelmed by exuberance.

Australian Property Monitors publishes estimates of the average asking rent for houses and units in the state and territory capitals.

For Sydney, housing rents were unchanged in December compared with December 2012, with fastest growth among the state capitals seen in Melbourne, with a four per cent gain, according to an APM report on Wednesday.

For units, the biggest rise was in Sydney, just over five per cent.

It's clear that, on a nationwide basis, rents are not keeping up with prices, implying investors are expecting ongoing price rises to justify their investment.

It's a sentiment that can be validated by experience some of the time, but not indefinitely.