First home buyers making hay, investors MIA

A lift in interest amongst first home buyers (FHB) remains a feature of housing activity.

The share of new mortgage lending attributed to FHBs has been running at a historically elevated 24% of the total for almost a year.

Investors, by contrast, are less interested. New investor lending diverged noticeably from that of FHBs in 2022 and has tracked down to about 16% of the total. In absolute terms, it has yet to substantively recover from the lows struck around the start of 2023.

BNZ chief economist Mike Jones says any positive impact on investor demand from the new government’s change in investor tax policies, so far, seems to be being offset by the cash flow hit from high interest rates and soaring insurance, rates, and maintenance bills.

“The anecdote points to investors remaining on the sidelines in the short-term. It’s possible we see a lift in investor selling intentions once the brightline test shifts back to two years in July, but we’d expect this impact to be small.”

Excess supply

Jones says ordinarily, the shift upwards in sales activity would be a reliable indicator that house price appreciation is to follow.

“This may come through at some stage, but in the short-term we’re not convinced. That’s because new listings continue to rise even faster than sales. There’s excess supply, in other words. Unsold inventory increased again in April to a fresh seven year high.
On the supportive side, Jones says there is:

  • Booming population growth. In the year to March, the population grew by 131,000 (that’s two Napiers). Buoyant net migration inflows and rent inflation for new tenancies are now slowing, but they remain at levels indicative of heightened pressure on housing resources.
  • High build costs. It’s still much more expensive to build a new home than it is to buy an existing one, at least on the numbers.
  • Housing policies are more supportive. Interest deductibility is now back to 80% and will go to 100% next year, the Reserve Bank has flagged an easing in loan-to-value ratio requirements later this year, and proposed debt-to-income ratios won’t be immediately binding. The winding back of the brightline test to two years from 10 could support investor demand at the margin, but some investors may also be more willing to sell once it is shortened up.

On the negative side Jones says there is a cash flow crunch. Mortgage rates are going to stay high all year, and the process of adjustment to past increases continues; economic sentiment is in the doldrums and probably won’t improve substantively until next year; and labour market conditions are deteriorating. The unemployment rate has risen to 4.3% on its way to a 5.5% forecast next year, reducing job security.

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