Auction rates signal boom at hand

The east coast of Australia is on the verge of a property boom - we just don't know it yet, according to analysts.

The east coast of Australia is on the verge of a property boom - we just don't know it yet, according to analysts.

Auction clearance rates in Sydney are near record highs, hovering around 80 per cent all year while Melbourne's last week hit 75 per cent. Clearance rates of 85 per cent signal an overheated market, property pundits say, and 70 to 80 per cent is strong.

There is disagreement in the industry about whether Australia is about to experience another run on property, similar to the peak of 2010, or not.

But Bell Potter Securities' Charlie Aitken - an influential analyst - believes the settings are in place for a "genuine residential property boom", assuming Australia's currently historically low interest rates remain at low levels for the next few years.

That means savers will begin to realise they are making negative returns on deposits, and will begin to rotate money back into property and shares in increasing numbers.

This "great rotation" could accelerate following a "decisive federal election result", which will deliver a much-needed boost to confidence.

"Australian savers will receive negative real returns on cash for an extended period," Mr Aitken wrote.

"Australian borrowers will be able to borrow, secured against residential property, at 2.5 to 3 per cent real. These are real interest rates, for deposits and borrowing, that no Australian has ever experienced."

The real estate industry has been debating for weeks about whether property markets in Sydney and Melbourne are showing signs of overheating.

"We could be in a bubble but we won't know for sure until the end of the year," Reece Theedam, from Sydney's Haus Real Estate, said.

But all the talk of overheating markets, bubbles and booms is starting to put people off, Mr Theedam said.

‘‘In the past two weeks because the media are saying the market’s too hot, people are saying ‘Let’s wait a bit’,’’ Mr Theedam said.

‘‘Are we in a boom? It’s very hard to say. We are definitely at the start of the incline. It’s been very hard to pick the market since the global financial crisis. I don’t think we’ve had a normal market since 2007.’’

Fletcher’s Tim Heavyside, who auctioned five Melbourne properties at the weekend, said ‘‘we are in a boom, definitely – in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, anyway’’.

But others are not so sure.

Buyer advocate Frank Valentic said he would need to see clearance rates consistently above 85 per cent before he’d call a boom.

‘‘But we are on the upside. We are just back where we were in 2010,’’ Mr Valentic said.

But economists say another property boom would cement differences in wealth because first home buyers face too many obstacles to enter the market, and those who might want to trade up are still trying to pay down debt.

That means the boom would be driven by investors who typically invest in existing dwellings, rather than new homes.

“An investor-driven recovery is much more likely to put upward pressure on prices and is less likely to induce new dwelling supply, which is the opposite of what the Reserve Bank wants, and what the country needs,” Saul Eslake, chief economist of Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said.

“If [this particular forecast] is right then I think that would be a very regrettable development from a social point of view.”

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