Cameron Kusher is senior research analyst at RP Data.

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Cameron Kusher

19 February 2013

Record gap between median house and unit prices may not mean demand for units is rising: Cameron Kusher

Record gap between median house and unit prices may not mean demand for units is rising: Cameron Kusher

With the release of the RP Data-Rismark Home Value Index results earlier this month, we also received the updated information on median selling prices of homes over the three months to January 2013.  This data revealed that the gap between selling prices of houses and units reached a record high over the first month of year.

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At a national level, median selling prices of houses were 11.4% higher than median selling price of units and across the combined capital cities, the differential was a much larger 19.4%. Five years ago, the differential was 15.6% and 8.3% respectively and a decade ago capital city houses were 1.1% more affordable than units and nationally houses were 5.6% more affordable.

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Across most individual capital cities the difference between selling prices of houses and units is at a record high.  In fact, Adelaide and Hobart are the only cities where the difference is not currently at record highs and they are only 2.6% and 5.0% off the records respectively.  The above chart highlights the differential across the major capital cities over time.  The graph also shows that since the start of the 2000’s the gap between the median price of a house and that of a unit has increased significantly.

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The difference between median selling prices of houses and units is currently quite significant across individual capital cities. In particular, some of the most expensive housing markets nationally such as Sydney, Melbourne, Darwin and Canberra all have a price differential in excess of $100,000. Across the individual capital cities the current differences are:

  • Sydney $171,000
  • Melbourne $103,250
  • Brisbane $99,500
  • Adelaide $78,000
  • Perth $96,000
  • Hobart $85,750
  • Darwin $164,000
  • Canberra $165,000

The significant price difference is highlighted by the fact that houses remain a much more popular choice across the nation than units.  The 2011 Census showed that 75.6% of all occupied dwellings were houses.  Although houses remain more popular, for price sensitive purchasers, particularly in major capital cities, units may be the only option for these buyers to enter the market.  With the gap widening between house and unit prices you would expect that unit sales activity would be increasing but this has not been the case over recent years.

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Of those properties sold over the 12 months to November 2012, units accounted for just 29.2% of sales across the combined capital cities and 25.6% at a national level.  As the graph above shows, there has been a strong trend toward fewer unit sales since late 2009.  This trend was probably influenced to some extent by the boos t to the First Home Owners Grant and the subsequent surge in first time buyers, many of whom were looking to purchase detached homes.  It is important to note that this trend may be slightly overstated due to the fact that off-the-plan unit sales are not provided until the property is titled however, there remains a trend toward fewer unit sales over recent years.  This seems to contrast dwelling approvals data which was released earlier this week.

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The annual dwelling approvals data shows that the proportion of units approved for construction has reached an historic high with 40.4% of all approvals over 2012 for units.  Of course the data still shows that the majority of approvals are for houses but it is noteworthy that more than half of all New South Wales approvals and almost half of all Victorian approvals were for units.  Given that in Sydney and Melbourne there is such a large gap between median house and unit prices this may be indicative of developers offering the market a cheaper housing alternative in the form of units. However, given that the number of unit transactions has been falling since 2009, are more units what the marketplace wants?

I believe that most Australian’s still aspire to own their detached home however; the high cost of vacant land coupled with limited new land supply and the concentration of employment opportunities within a few major centres has made owning a detached home out of reach for some.  For others, the only locations in which they can afford to own a detached home is either in a regional market, where there are fewer job opportunities, or on the outskirts of the city where amenity and infrastructure is less abundant than in those areas closer to the city centre.

Higher density units within inner city areas remain popular with investors because of their strong rental demand and subsequent attractive rental returns.  As a result of the more affordable price point of units as opposed to houses and their appeal to investors, I believe we will continue to see more and more units being developed, in particular within inner city areas.  Whether or not it is necessarily the product type that the market aspires to own, is unlikely to matter, given the reality is that for a proportion of the population, units are the only product type that they can afford in the location that they desire (unless they choose to locate within the more affordable detached housing areas on the outskirts of the major cities).

What do you think, are more units what the market wants and are units a viable alternative to the high cost of detached houses?

Cameron Kusher is senior research analyst at RP Data.

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