Low interest rates encouraging home-buying, but lending could be restricted

Mortgage rates could drop even lower with the Reserve Bank making new moves to offer banks cheap cash.

That might sound like it's fuelling New Zealand's already hot housing market, but it's giving with one hand and taking away with another, with plans to restrict lending to those who can't afford it.

The Reserve Bank is looking to pull the handbrake up on some borrowers, saying it might reintroduce loan-to-value restrictions (LVR) on high-risk lending from March next year. 

The LVRs would likely mean most first home buyers will have to stump up a 20 percent deposit while investors would need 30 percent. 

The restrictions were removed in May because of COVID-19's economic hit.

But Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr said he's seen a "marked acceleration" in higher-risk loans, particularly to investors in the property market.

Auckland real estate salesperson Rick Mozessohn says open homes have been busier and auctions have been brought forward.

"In the last month I sold about nine properties. It's actually a personal best for me, so look I think it's probably reflective of the market."

What will help homeowners and buyers is the central bank's new funding for lending programme that starts next month. It'll lend banks money directly for very cheap rates.

"The idea is that the programme will reduce banks' funding costs which will then lower interest rates to the economy as a whole," Orr said.

In short, Kiwis are looking at cheaper mortgages but they might need bigger deposits to get them.

"There is a little bit of tension there at the moment in the sense that low interest rates are certainly encouraging households to borrow to buy homes and to spend, which is great for getting the economy going, but what the Reserve Bank is mindful of is that it doesn't want the housing market to overheat and then fall back in a heap," ASB chief economist Nick Tuffley said.

A balancing act - but we'll certainly see more of this before things settle down.