A guide to the property market amid COVID-19

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Does the old saying ‘safe as houses’ still ring true as we endure the COVID-19 pandemic? We’ve spoken to the experts to find out.

According to chief economist at realestate.com.au, Nerida Conisbee, “we’re still very early on in this health crisis and the residential sector hasn’t been significantly affected just yet.”

As the situation unfolds, this is what the experts do know.

The property market is cautious

Conditions are changing daily in the property market and must be considered on this basis, explains Cameron Kusher, executive director, economic research at realestate.com.au.

“The challenge facing the housing market, at this stage, is confidence.

“If we look at the broader conditions, the cost of borrowing is lower than it has ever been, banks are continuing to lend, and demand is higher than it was a year ago.” 

Kusher adds, that while Coronavirus is a short-term health crisis, consumers are acting cautiously, concerned largely about job security and the rapid sell-off of the share market, which impacts household wealth. 

“There are practical steps that buyers can take – as well as sellers and agents – in this market to ensure that transactions continue to occur.”

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The COVID-19 crisis has had some far-reaching impacts. Picture: Kate Hunter

The economy will be buoyed by economic stimulus

“If we look forward to Spring, it’s likely the property market will surge ahead on the back of unprecedented stimulus being put into the economy, and a return to normalcy for buyers and sellers,” says Conisbee.

“Some commercial property segments have been hit hard, including tourism and hospitality, while some forms of retail, like supermarkets, have benefited in the short-term.” 

But remember to keep the risks in perspective, she says, and try to stay calm.

“Job losses may occur in the short-term, but companies will need to rehire once the pandemic abates and the economy comes back.”

Kusher explains, there will be a huge amount of stimulus in place for the housing market, and the broader economy, once the pandemic is over.

“It is reasonable to expect that there will be a surge in both demand and supply of properties on the back of these very accommodative monetary policy conditions.”

The sharemarket doesn’t reflect the housing market

Although finance markets are experiencing volatility, it’s not the economic indicator you might think.

“Sharemarket volatility isn’t a great gauge of the economy, it is more a reflection of the level of angst in the market right now,” explains Conisbee.

She expects this trend to continue post COVID-19 with specific segments receiving ongoing investment, while others may continue to struggle for some time.

“If we look overseas, China is back with retail and manufacturing starting up again, which is a really good sign.

“The US has cut rates to zero and quantitative easing has started, while in Italy, banks are holding off on mortgage payments. We may see these measures implemented in Australia,” she says.

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Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Picture: Getty

Don’t change your plans out of fear if you can avoid it

Suffering a loss during the lowest point in the market is every property owner’s nightmare. But for those who are feeling rattled by the Coronavirus headlines, they may well find themselves making this critical mistake if they aren’t focusing on accurate and timely sources, says Melbourne buyer’s advocate, Cate Bakos.

“For all of the sellers who lose in a down market, there is an inverse winner who capitalises on their situation.

“Those who sell at the bottom of the market may well do so because they were forced to by economic constraint – but for those who can hold out, they should consider the following:”

  • How long can they hold out
  • For owner-occupiers: where will they live if they sell? Will they save a significant amount if they rent? Will they look to repurchase when COVID-19 is over? If so, are they at risk of being priced out of their original home market when recovery arrives?
  • For investors: what else will they do with their capital in the meantime to maintain their position on the ladder?
  • What is the rationale for liquidating, (is it optimising the use of capital, fear that markets could significantly worsen and won’t bounce back, or other financial pressures?)
  • And for all owners who are contemplating a sale, they need to consider whether their reaction is a pragmatic one or an emotional one.

Investors could cash in

When it comes to investors, many property portfolios will switch to become cashflow positive, Bakos explains

“A cashflow-neutral property essentially means that the owner has a ‘set and forget’ scenario on their hands.

“The property is not costing them any net outgoings, and the owner is less likely to feel financial stress that forces them to consider liquidating the asset.

“For those investors who have held property long enough to reap the rewards of some consecutive rental increases over the years, there is a high chance that their asset(s) is cashflow-positive already.

“A cashflow-positive asset is one that delivers a net income after all costs have been considered. An investor in this position is very unlikely to trigger a sale, regardless of the news headlines,” says Bakos. 

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Investors could potentially turn the situation into a positive. Picture: Kate Hunter

Interest rates are at a record low

We’ve seen yet another interest rate cut, bringing the cash rate to a record low.

Buyers’ borrowing capacity in the current climate is set to be unprecedented, says Bakos.

“Heightened borrowing capacity as a result of the consecutive cuts is anticipated to be stronger than the post-election bounce back.

“Every 25-basis-point cut we enjoy is a growing percentage of heightened capacity.”

Supply is still low

While COVID-19 is making the market jittery, the underlying realities of supply and demand will still be with us, virus or no virus, explains Bakos.

“Compounded by potential vendor retraction, cancelled auctions, limited stock supply and a growing population from overseas migration, our supply and demand ratio could become quite problematic in the recovery of COVID-19. 

“Yes, we need to be concerned about our hospital capability, our health system, our casual workforce and our schooling, but we also need to give some thought to what happens after COVID-19.

“Our seller’s market of recent months could pale in comparison when we get past this pandemic.”

Many houses are currently selling for above their reserves

Amid this current climate, there have been numerous successful auctions across the country last Saturday.

This two-bedroom home at 37 Ellendale Road in Noble Park on the market at $750,000 and sold for $856,000 with multiple bidders.

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37 Ellendale Road, Noble Park. Picture: realestate.com.au

The bayside suburbs in Melbourne saw many positive results over the weekend including 329 Beach Road, Black Rock, which sold in the vicinity of $6m, 4 Park Street, Brighton sold for $3.5m. This four-bedroom townhouse at 60A Baird Street, Brighton East sold for $2m and nearby 9 Granter Street, Brighton East sold in the vicinity of $2.5m.

Sydney’s west also saw positive results, for example in the Penrith and Lower Mountains region where Scott Lister from Lister & Cole has put on nine new listings this week and three already have very healthy offers made on them.