Household wealth falls staggering 9 percent this year - Westpac

If you reckon you were financially better off 18 months ago, chances are you're right.

Household wealth has fallen by 9 percent since the end of 2021 and Westpac economists say that's mostly due to the fall in house prices.

Many borrowers have also come off very low fixed mortgage rates but another 50 percent of mortgages are still due to be refixed in the coming year.

As an example, the economists say if you purchased an average-priced home with an 80 percent mortgage two years ago, you could face an increase of $900 a month. But if you bought that home in Auckland, the rise could be closer to $1600.

Property investor Kathryn Heard has a portfolio of four investment properties.

"I feel privileged that I am a property owner and I have investments because not everyone is in that position," Heard said. 

But the interest rate on each of her properties has been re-fixed at around double what it was.

"I have sold one of my properties down in Hastings just purely to free up the cash to be able to pay off mortgages on the other properties," Heard said.

Westpac's latest economic report says half of all mortgage holders will be re-fixing in the coming year at higher rates.

"If you had an average first home with an 80 percent mortgage, that increase in borrowing costs could add about $900 a month," Westpac senior economist Satish Ranchhod said.

That's because the Reserve Bank's hiked the official cash rate (OCR) 12 times in a row to ease inflation and slow household spending.

The problem is, the financial pressure isn't being shared around evenly because only about a third of households have a mortgage and data from the Reserve Bank shows households with mortgages are already spending around 15 percent of their income on interest payments.

That could rise to 20 percent by the end of the year.

"There's a lot of pressure coming on borrowers... a lot of people got big loans on cheap rates, who are now facing the prospect of having to come up with quite a lot of money extra from an already tight budget," My Money mortgage broker Stephen Robertson said.

Westpac said it's not all bad news.

Because household incomes have risen by about 6 percent in the past year, reflecting strength in the labour market, which has led to pay rises. That growth in disposable income has seen household spending rise about 9 percent but a big chunk of that is due to the 6.7 percent rise in household living costs - AKA inflation.

Inflation is what the Reserve Bank has tried to squash with its OCR increases.

But that trend could finally come to an end.

"We think the Reserve Bank is going to keep the cash rate at 5.5 percent this week," Ranchhod said.

So, finally some relief for homeowners?

"Relief's probably not the right word... certainty is more of it," Robertson said.

Well, at least certainty then, for mortgage holders searching for that sign of financial relief.