Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Those darned House Prices

This analysis (which, funnily enough, blames investors, and this rather better one, which blames the stoopid Gummint, are both about the same research, by Dominick Stephens, of Westpac. Apart from the headline bias, the reserach confirms my own view of the casuses of the growing house price-to-earnings ratio (currently sitting at the 'severely unaffordable' in major NZ cities: at or over 6).

The article nails changes in top personal tax rates, versus company rates, as a key driver. This was pure politics-of-envy stuff, back in 2000. Westpac's analysis thinks this alone accounts for 17% of observed house price increases since 2000.

I can think of five major contributors to increases, apart from this:

1 - the dopey Govt efforts to get first-home buyers into the market, by guaranteeing the first $100k of mortgage irrespective of the purchaser's ability to pay. This had the instant effect, right here in l'il ol' Christchurch, of making every house price start at $100K, practically overnight. Properties, just before this fabulously ill-considered action, could be had in the poorer 'burbs for under $50K. After that action, prices went rapidly north of $120K, for the very same house. So much for the poor buyer.

2 - the creeping effects of regulation in building itself.

- Having every electrical tool certified, every year
- Fencing of sites
- Scaffolding erection, certifying, take-down, where in the past a long ladder used to do.
- certification of all trades

The aggregate effect is around 5-10% of pure build costs.

3 - Greedy councils and their contributions to infrastructure and reserves. The apartment saga in Auckland is indicative: up from $3-6K to $40K. Go figure.

4 - The extended consenting and RMA processes, add pure time (and as we all should know, Time=Money) to a development. This 'carry' (as the jargon has it) is probably around 5-10% of outright total costs, and in a protracted case, could easily be triple that.

5 - Good ol' supply and demand. Section prices alone in many areas are what a house price would have been in 2000. Add the build cost, at a conservative $2000/sq m, and the total starts to resemble that 6+ times multiplier. A constrained supply of land may not be by itself a major factor. But it may be the straw that breaks the camel's bank.

So there we have it. And notice the common factor.

It's not greedy developers, banks, or investors.

It's Gummint being its normal, stoopid self.