23 Mar 2023

Housing market sees biggest sales slump in 40 years

12:02 am on 23 March 2023
Christchurch based housing

House sales in February were the lowest they have been since 1981. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

The housing market has gone quiet, triggering the biggest sales slump in nearly 40 years.

CoreLogic NZ's new Housing Chart Pack indicated 60,859 properties were sold in the year to February, which was the lowest 12-month total since October 1983.

There were about 4100 sales in February, which was the lowest number for that month since 1981, with 16 percent more listings than the same time last year.

CoreLogic NZ chief property economist Kelvin Davidson said the figures reflected recent interest rate hikes and tighter lending rules.

"Few vendors are in a hurry to sell, given that unemployment remains low. And those buyers who have secured finance know that they can take their time too, with listings abundant and prices falling."

First time buyers pull back

"This is a recipe for low levels of sales," Davidson said, adding there were indications that first-home buyers were beginning to retreat from the market.

"There may now just be signs of their interest rate limits being reached. Of course, it may also be that they've actively pulled back while they wait for prices to fall further. Either way, their share of purchases edged lower in February so it's definitely something to watch."

First-home buyers accounted for 24 percent of the market, with relocating owner-occupiers accounting for 27 percent.

Interestingly about 15 percent of last month's purchases were made by cash buyers with multiple properties, which was a record share for this type of buyer.

Prices still falling

Property values fell 1 percent in February on the month earlier, 1.5 percent in the past three months, and 8.9 percent over the year before.

Davidson said the forecast recession suggested house prices could find a floor late in the year.

"If mortgage rates start to edge lower, net migration continues to rise, and investors start to see value again, the case would be building for this house price downturn to find a floor in 2023," he said.

"A key part of that will be the labour market. If employment can stay high with unemployment only rising because of a larger labour force, this should insulate property values to some degree. But outright job losses would be a fresh headwind for the housing market."

Wellington continued to be the weakest of the main centres, with values down nearly 20 percent from the peak, while Christchurch was down just 4.7 percent since its peak.

Rents were also down an annual 0.8 percent in Auckland to $583 a week, while Wellington was down 3.7 percent to $595 a week.

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