COVID-19 could bring good news for first-home buyers

coronavirus 07/05/2020

First-home buyers may be among the few groups to benefit from the economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

House prices are set to drop in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, giving those hoping to get a foot on the property ladder a chance to get into the market.

Property commentator Ashley Church, former head of the Property Institute of New Zealand, says lower house prices, combined with less competition from foreign investors and a proposed change to loan-to-value restrictions will give many first-home buyers their first real chance to get ahead.

"There's some good stuff that can come out of this," Church told The AM Show on Wednesday.

He said though he believes banks may be a "little bit cautious" for a couple of months as they assess the impact of the pandemic on property values, they will start to lend again eventually.

"They're not going to want to rush into the market lending more money if they think that property values are going to decline. 

"Once they recognise that that's not going to happen, I think there'll be an appetite to actually start lending again, and that will be right across the market, but it will include first-home buyers who, for the first time in a long time in places like Auckland, are actually going to have an opportunity to get into the market."

Before the country went into lockdown in March, house prices had continued to climb to dizzying heights.

According to the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand (REINZ), median house prices across the country increased by 14.3 percent in February to a new record median price of $640,000 - up from $560,000 in February 2019.

It was the largest percentage increase in 53 months, according to REINZ.

Prices continued to rise in March, for the fourth month in a row, though the number of properties fell, likely a result of the lockdown.

Church said the current situation was likely to halt the "strong growth" seen in property values.

"What the COVID crisis would have done, it would have killed off all of that growth," he said.

"While I'm not in the camp that says 'well the market's going to crash and it's all going to be doom and gloom' I am certainly of the view that over the next few months the market will be much more tempered and moderate than it would otherwise have been."

Some experts have predicted that house prices could drop by as much as 11 percent by the end of 2021. 

Church said he believed that in most parts of the country people could "take some comfort in the fact they're not going to see massive decreases in the value of their homes" however in regions heavily dependent on tourism - such as Queenstown and Rotorua - the outlook was grim.

Earlier this week economist Cameron Bagrie predicted house prices in Queenstown could fall by as much as 30 percent.

With the alert level last week dropped from 4 to 3 and house sales allowed to resume, Church says we should soon start to see exactly what effect the lockdown has had on values.

"People will start looking at where they're at in regard to their own properties, what they need to do over the next two or three weeks and will start making decisions - and that will give us a much clearer idea of where the market's likely to go."