Sydney House Market Surges, Units in Decline

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In the midst of the largest housing boom on record, capital growth in the Sydney market continues to surge.

Sydney houses recorded its highest annual growth rate (21.65%) in the current housing boom in August, bringing the median value up to $1,037,000. This is a dollar value increase of $184,500.

Meanwhile, the Sydney unit market has suffered its first decline in value since February last year in the month of August, recording a decline of 0.62%. However, despite this backward movement, annual growth in this market was 14.33% – which is by far the largest value increase across all major unit markets in Australia.

While the east coast property markets are performing counter-cyclically, the resource state capitals of Perth and Darwin continue to suffer further losses. This is a result of Australia’s main economic indicators trending unfavourably and confidence in the economy falling.

Annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth is down to 2%, unemployment is above its 10 year average and currently sitting at 6.2%, and wage growth is at a historically low rate of 2.3%.

Commodity prices are also down, with iron ore trading at an average of AUD$76 per unit over August. The price of crude oil fell in 14.5% in August, to AUD$64.43. Thermal coal fell marginally from July to August, to AUD$85.26.

Table 1 presents the statistical summary of the major markets for the period ending August.


Table 1: August Summary

OTH Table 1

Things to note from the table:

  • Perth and Darwin dwellings suffered further declines in the quarter to August, however value reductions were not as significant as that which occurred in the quarter to July.
  • Sydney houses increased by $76,000 (7.88%) in the last quarter alone.
  • The median Melbourne house also experienced a healthy increase in value in the August quarter, with 3.13% growth bringing the median value up to $700,000.
  • Brisbane houses and units experienced steady growth over the year to August. Houses did particularly well, recording annual growth of 6.78% – an expected outcome as cyclical movements in Brisbane historically follow movements in the Sydney and Melbourne markets.

The future of Australian real estate seems uncertain. Recent, weak economic performance is impacting confidence in the Australian economy.

Ivan Colhoun, Chief Economist for National Australia Bank, recently reported that international clients in Europe and the Middle East have turned bearish on Australia.

A lack of economic diversity puts the Australian economy at further risk. Since 2013, the media heralded the housing market as offsetting some unemployment and economic downturn from the decline of the mining boom (you may remember the mining boom as the sector we were dependent on before real estate).

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Professor Hans Hendrischke from the University of Sydney Business School estimated that the value of real estate transactions in the housing market Australia wide was $270 billion in 2014.

While Hendrischke himself admitted there were limitations to the accuracy of this figure (which was calculated using ABS price and sales data), if it is taken for granted, it represents approximately 14% of GDP. Fourteen per cent! Just from buying property. Higher economic diversification would mitigate some risk, should property in Sydney and Melbourne become less appealing. Meanwhile, Perth and Darwin dwellings are still dropping in value in the wake of the declining mining boom and slowed growth from China.


Is the East Coast Housing Boom Coming to an End?

This environment of economic uncertainty has had many wondering whether the east coast markets of Sydney and Melbourne can continue growing as they have since 2013. In light of historical data and academic insight, here are my thoughts:


It is too early to tell.

Sydney units suffered a slight decline in value in the month of August, from a median of $670,000 in July to $666,000 in August. This is the first time in 18 months that Sydney units saw a reduction in value[1].

The value of Melbourne units remained virtually unchanged in August.

This could be a sign that units in Sydney and Melbourne are finally (finally!!!) beginning to slow. However, everybody needs to calm down because monthly data can be volatile. This trend will be clearer if it continues over the next quarter, especially as we move into spring, which historically yields higher capital growth rates than winter[2].

In other words, it is too early to tell whether these markets have peaked. A few weeks of low clearance rates at auction, in the context of a 2.5 year housing boom, is not going to tell us much either.


Just because the economy is underperforming, does not always mean housing will.

While a lack of confidence in the Australian economy can soften capital inflows into real estate, this is not necessarily going to be the cause of a decline in dwelling values. Australia’s GDP, employment and wage growth have been trending down since 2012, but this is yet to dampen the Sydney and Melbourne housing boom.

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Economic performance does affect dwelling demand in the long term, but these signals are distorted by the system in which property transacts. Real estate operates in a unique framework of borrowing and taxation. This means that dwelling values can grow counter cyclically to the economy, even as wage growth and employment levels deteriorate.


Related Article: Bad News for the Australian Economy?

This is supported when plotting the median Sydney and Melbourne house value increases against GDP increases, as shown in Graph 1.


Graph 1

OTH Graph 1


Historically, downswings don’t matter.

It is impossible to know what is going to happen in the future. However, in the past, the east coast markets have been resilient.

To demonstrate this, I have put together the HPI[3]. for houses and units in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Unlike plotting growth rates, these graphs clearly show that sustained downturns in the value of houses and units over the last 35 years have been rare.


Graph 2: East Coast Houses – HPI

OTH Graph 2


Graph 3: East Coast Units – HPI

OTH Graph 3

What these graphs do highlight, however, is that houses and units perform well over a long period of time. The ironic thing about speculative investment in something ‘as safe as houses’ is that the investment ends up making returns more volatile. It is likely the underlying demand for residential dwellings from job growth and economic diversity that has contributed to long term growth in these east coast markets.


Download the latest Property Market Update Report.



Eliza Owen is the Market Analyst for

Eliza Owen

Disclaimer: This article contains general information. Before you make any financial or investment decision you should seek professional advice to take into account your individual objectives, financial situation and individual needs.

[1]In February 2014, the median unit reduced in value by 0.44%. This did not stop them increasing by 12.28% over the following 12 months.

[2]The 20 year average capital growth rate for houses sold in Sydney and Melbourne during the spring period is 2.42% and 2.76% respectively, as opposed to winter where growth rates are 1.57% and 1.52% respectively.

[3]The ‘House Price Index’ (HPI) is a number that represents, at any point in time, how much house prices have increased since the first data in 1985.

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