Housing affordability – Matthew Bateman

One of the Property Mentors, Matthew Bateman, joins in the affordability debate by looking back and comparing the challenges other generations faced to  give current property investors some perspective
Kevin:  A very hotly debated issue all the time is housing affordability. Do we actually have a housing affordability crisis here? And if so, what can we do about it? Many, many people trying to make decisions about how to get more people into property, but I guess the bottom line here is sometimes, we have to realize that not everyone wants to be in property.
So, do we actually have a crisis? I’m going to talk about this with Matthew Bateman. Matthew is from ThePropertyMentors.com.au, giving great advice to people who want to get into the property market.
Matthew, thank you for your time.
Matthew:  Pleasure, mate.
Kevin:  Question: do we have a housing affordability crisis, and if so, what can we do about it?
Matthew:  To focus on things, we need some definitions around what a crisis is. “Crisis” is usually a word that the journalists and the media like to bandy around because it draws on really strong emotions, but as investors, we want to try to take emotion out of the equation. So, the best way to look at it, I guess, is to use some numbers and use some figures and work out where the market actually is right now.
The thing about housing affordability is nobody is going to deny that it is a difficult thing to get your foot onto that property ladder for the first time. But Kevin, I’m sure you’d agree, it’s always been difficult relative to the times.
This is a great exercise to do for anyone who wants to put some perspective around things. I remember speaking to my grandfather who was in the Air Force and he had three years overseas, and he came back with about £800 in those days. About £1 a day was what they got paid for basically putting their life on the line and serving our country.
He came back with £800 and decided “I’m back, I’m relatively young, I have a new wife, we’re starting a family. We need a house.” So, he did what a lot of people at that stage did, which was he went and found something that he could afford to buy. And at that stage, it was actually a brand new subdivision in a suburb in Sydney southern suburbs called Caringbah.
Obviously, Caringbah is now a well and truly established suburb, but when my grandfather was buying there, there was no water, no power, no sewer, and he actually built a house himself. It took him around two years to build because – Kevin, I’m sure you’re aware of this – early after the War, there was a shortage of materials.
So, while he had it all quoted up and he had enough to buy the land…. The land was basically £1 a foot of street frontage, so he bought himself a 50-foot street-front block, worked out to be just under a 1000-square meter block. Back then, the land was not the most expensive part given there was no water or sewage; it was the material cost.
He actually built the house himself on the weekends. After working a full 9-5 normal workweek, he’d go on the weekends, get some help from some mates, and they’d started knocking his house together. The house actually stalled for a long period of time because he saw his plaster costs triple, again, just because of the shortage of materials post-war.
Long story short, that property, he’s actually now in the process of subdividing and selling off half of the backyard, of which he’ll probably end up getting close to $1 million on around about 500 square meters out in Caringbah now.
I guess the moral of that story is housing has always been difficult to get into. Do we have a crisis now? I guess just putting that context aside, we have to come back to how do we measure housing affordability? I guess probably the most simplistic measure – and probably the one that gets the most media attention – is the Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey.
It’s a worldwide study. They look at a whole bunch of different cities around the world to say what’s affordable and what’s not affordable? Their metric or their measurement for affordability really comes down to the median or average wage for the country and the median dwelling price. What they do is they basically just say if a house is worth X and the average wage is worth Y, we divide X by Y and it gives us a number.
Now, using their metrics – it’s called a median multiplier or median multiple – they rate affordable housing as being a multiple of three and under, and severely unaffordable being a metric of 5.1 and over.
If you go to the ABS data – which I did recently, just so that the numbers are accurate – the full-time adult average weekly wage is about $1567 a week, or around about just under $82,000 a year. So that’s the average wage, if you like, here in Australia.
The median dwelling price… I’m careful here to use the word “dwelling” as opposed to “house,” because obviously dwellings encapsulate all forms of housing from apartments, units, villas, townhouses, houses, etc. The average dwelling price in Australia is about $687,000. This is ABS data.
That gives us a dwelling-to-income ratio of about 8.4, which puts housing affordability in Australia according to the Demographia study at severely unaffordable. In fact, all of the major capital cities in Australia are in “severely unaffordable” territory.
However, to put the flipside on that, to use their metric of being affordable as three and under for the average wage, that would mean that the average dwelling price in Australia, to be affordable, should be $245,000 or less.
Kevin:  So, if I understand you correctly here, Matthew, what you’re suggesting is that that price you talked about for the median dwelling price, about $600,000, dropping back to a third? That’s just not going to happen.
Matthew:  Yes, $245,000. It’s not going to happen, and I would ask, do we really even want that to happen?
Kevin:  Exactly.
Matthew:  If we look at where Australia holds their wealth, most Australians hold the majority of their wealth in real property. Therefore, if we saw our economy and the wealth of Australians basically reduced by two-thirds, that would have catastrophic outcomes on GDP growth, and we’d probably go into a full-blown depression. So, we have to be careful what we’re looking for or asking for when it comes to housing affordability.
I’d actually like to redefine this model as not being necessarily an issue about affordability, but probably being an issue more around accessibility. If I can just use another quick example to highlight what I mean by that, if we went out and took a typical property here… Let’s say we were in Sydney or Melbourne or Brisbane and we went and bought, let’s say, a two-bedroom apartment and we paid $500,000 for that, in those markets, we should be able to achieve somewhere around a 4% rental yield, or the actual rent to live in that property would be about $20,000 a year.
Now, to purchase that same property for $500,000 on an 80% loan-to-value ratio, I’d need to come up with a $100,000 deposit, but then my mortgage would be on $400,000. Now, if I could get interest rates at 5% – which is fairly achievable today for most buyers or most investors in the market – that’s equivalent of $20,000 a year in mortgage.
So, realistically, to own the home, as long as you have that accessibility factor, meaning you have the deposit, the actual mortgage cost is probably very similar to what a lot of people are paying in rent.
Kevin:  That’s fascinating, Matthew. So, what can we do about it?
Matthew:  Kevin, there are a number of different ways that people can go about getting their foot on the property ladder. Obviously, that deposit and that accessibility is the bigger issue, so again, a lot of people are choosing to go to the bank of mom and dad for deposits, people are teaming up and joining forces.
One of the things we’re working on behind the scenes with state government and local housing providers as well as community housing providers is we’re looking at some options to actually be able to get more affordable rents into the market, because not everyone wants to buy their own home. There are a lot of people who will choose to or by necessity, will be forced to rent, so we’re looking at solutions in that space.
And one of the things that I think is going to come out in the next year or two or three is probably going to be deposit bonds, and that is governments supporting young people who want to get into the market by basically stumping up that 20% or 25% initial deposit.
Kevin:  Fascinating stuff, Matt. I thank you for your time. We can talk a lot more about this.
Matthew:  I could talk all day on this.
Kevin:  I’m listening to you, and I’m going back on my history as well, my grandparents, my parents and even my own experience. I’m at that stage now where I’m going to become one of those people who talk about the experience.
Mate, it’s been great talking to you. Thank you so much for your time, Matt. Matthew is from ThePropertyMentors.com.au. Thanks, mate.
Matthew:  Pleasure, mate.

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