Analysis: High interest rates, job uncertainty keep buyers out of housing market

There has been a noticeable cooling in buyer interest.
There has been a noticeable cooling in buyer interest. Photo credit: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly.

By Kymberlee Gomes for RNZ

ANALYSIS: It is a buyer's market but high interest rates and job uncertainty are keeping them out. House prices and values have dropped, leaving sellers with reduced bargaining power. Here's what moved real estate this week.

The national house value dropped slightly in April, with an increase in listings favouring buyers.

CoreLogic's House Price Index edged down 0.1 percent, with values still 11 percent down from their peak.

The national average house value is $933,633.

Despite April's flat national result, the main centres continued to show some variability, which was expected to continue.

Dunedin values rose 0.7 percent in April, with Wellington and Hamilton seeing 0.4 percent growth.

But Christchurch and Tauranga each dropped 0.1 percent, while Auckland values dipped 0.6 percent.

CoreLogic NZ chief property economist Kelvin Davidson said the state of the market was not surprising given high mortgage interest rates of about 7 percent.

"In addition, with new jobs still being filled and the unemployment rate relatively low for now, there aren't many 'forced sellers' out there at the moment either."

At the same time, there has been a noticeable cooling in buyer interest.

The increasing cost-of-living crisis, high interest rates and recessionary pressures have been highlighted as contributing factors. chief executive Sarah Wood said there were many homes for sale and they were staying on the market for longer.

Nationally, there were 33,000 homes for sale - up "significantly" and back to 2015 levels.

Households struggling, unemployment up

Stats NZ said living expenses for an average household rose 1 percent in the three months ended March, with the annual rate easing to 6.2 percent.

Unemployment rose from 4 percent to 4.3 percent - the highest rate since mid-2021.

The Financial Services Council's (FSC) latest Financial Resilience Index tracker indicated 70 percent of New Zealanders were worrying about money.

Its research found 90 percent were concerned about inflation, and 76 percent about interest rates.

Personal debt was 6 percent on last year.

And nearly 60 percent of renters were finding it somewhat or very difficult to cover their living expenses.

Interest rates

A number of households are facing greater job uncertainty, while some are struggling to meet mortgage repayments due to higher interest rates, the Reserve Bank said.

In its half-yearly financial stability report, RBNZ most borrowers had moved to higher rates, and better wages were helping them.

But persistent inflation pressures could mean global interest rates could stay higher for longer, it warned.

Infometrics economist Brad Olsen was picking the next interest rate cut might not come until 2025.

Mortgage arrears eased slightly in March, with 1.48 percent of borrowers behind on repayments, down from 1.51 percent in February.

But home loan arrears were still up 13 percent from a year ago and remained at 2019 levels.

Rents up

Rents prices are at an all-time high.

The median weekly rent has risen to $650 nationwide, an increase of about $50 compared to March last year, Trade Me said.

The steepest increases were in Manawatū-Whanganui, up 10 percent to $550.

Rent prices in Wellington did not change at all, sticking to an average of $650 - the same as last year.

Auckland saw a 6 percent increase and remains the most expensive city, with an average rent of $690 per week.

Home insurance becoming unaffordable

The RBNZ expected owners of higher-risk properties to potentially find insurance "increasingly unaffordable" and some properties "may see a withdrawal of insurance availability".

Risk-based pricing was evident in certain areas, such as for earthquake risk in Wellington.

"We have also seen the insurance industry move towards greater use of risk-based pricing for residential dwelling insurance, meaning that the value of insurance premiums is more tailored to the specific risks a property faces (eg seismic or flood)," RBNZ director of financial stability assessment and strategy Kerry Watt said.

Emergency housing

The government's new priority category for emergency housing has kicked in this week.

From 30 May, families with dependent children who have been in emergency housing for longer than 12 weeks will move to the top of the waitlist.

Associate Housing Minister Tama Potaka said by clarifying the eligibility process, it returned emergency housing to its original intent - as a last resort, used for short periods.

One of the public service targets the government has set is to reduce the number of households in emergency housing by 75 percent by 2030.