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Hoarding Without Consequence

Hoarding Without Consequence by Renegadeeconomists on Mixcloud

Renegade Economists Show 368

As broadcast on the 3CR airwaves 5.30 – 6pm Wednesdays.
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Show Notes

Catherine Cashmore discusses the 7th Speculative Vacancy report. Beyond the staggering 64, 386 empty properties the report quantifies, we discuss some of the finer points of inefficient land use and its effects.

We also delve into real estate theory and demand assessment – how developers adjudge as to when and by how many properties they will ‘free’ in the next ‘staged release’. One developer here is up to stage 128 and has barely started. Miraculously prices keep going …..up! Somehow this is not price manipulation according to the competition commission. Adding insult to injury, the MSM blames affordability on the Housing Supply Crisis.

Of course this hoarding has little consequence for property speculators. They pay barely $1600 on holding charges (Land Tax and Council Rates) vis $60,000 in capital gains.

The burden of such behaviour is instead placed on the community, where record high mortgages (spread over 30 to now even 50 years) reduce local expenditures, sending the domino of lower local employment, increased commuting time and greater survival imperatives on a world already drowning in insecurity.

It’s always a laugh on the Renegade Economists.

Related Links

Catherine Cashmore’s Specualtive Vacancies event presentation and audio

Press release
The related media can be seen on the report page linked above.

Williams Landing investor data
Williams Landing neighborhood analysis

Over 90,000 Empty Houses Amidst Housing Crisis

20 June 2012

There are 90,700 vacant houses in Melbourne – 5.9 per cent of the total – according to Earthsharing Australia’s 5th annual Speculative Vacancies Report.

“Our lazy land use makes a mockery of the drive for affordable housing,” researcher Philip Soos said today.

Vacancy hotspots include: Docklands 14.1%, Williams Landing 13.5% and Truganina 12.9% where construction has clearly outstripped demand; and a wide swathe of western suburbs with vacancies around 10%.

“The eye opener is that the latest REIV vacancy of 2.3% must be added to these findings. Politicians should be concerned that a 9.1% unemployment rate for our most precious resource exists in the CBD. Idle land leads to idle labour.

“The Earthsharing survey measures actual activity based on water consumption. It reveals widespread vacancies, despite the strenuous efforts of the real estate industry to convince us otherwise.

“The REIV rental vacancy statistics on which the media and public rely are fragmented, incomplete and contain a significant downward bias. They do not include properties held by speculators. They do not include properties being drip fed to the market in ‘staged releases’. They are misleading and should be condemned.

“Would it be ethical for your local pharmacist to drip feed life saving cancer drugs to the market at progressively higher prices? Would it be acceptable to do this against a fabricated background of drug shortages? The national outcry would end this immediately.

“First home buyers and renters are being deceived. In an affordability crisis, they deserve better information on which to make the biggest financial decision of their lives.

“Reporting artificially-lowered vacancy rates hoodwinks renters into accepting rent increases, prompts over-investment in property, and cows government into adopting policies agreeable to the real estate industry.

“Our survey tells a different story. Australia has one of the most generous residential property taxation regimes in the world. Capital appreciation has dwarfed rental income for years. Withholding properties from the market is a rational investor strategy.
The National Housing Supply Council claims a 228,000 housing shortage nationwide. We say, there is nearly half that locked up here in Melbourne.

“Given the towering value of the land market and its central role in all human activity, government is remarkably apathetic about investigating its workings, preferring to further expand the urban growth boundary and enrich land bankers.

“High quality statistics are possible in the information age at relatively little cost. If a little NGO like Earthsharing can do it, why not the Victorian and federal governments? The importance of accurate housing vacancy information is of heightened concern as we see California, Ireland and now Spain bulldozing houses in regions that were reported to have property shortages before their housing bubble burst.”

Download the Speculative Vacancies in Melbourne Report 2012

You are invited to attend this Thursday’s Speculative Vacancies Report release, 6.30pm, 1/27 Hardware Lane, Melbourne

Speculative Vacancies Report release

Thursday June 21st, 6.30pm
Presenter: Philip Soos
Prosper rooms, 1/27 Hardware Lane, Melbourne

RSVP – gold coin donations

Exciting young researcher Philip Soos is set to release our 5th Speculative Vacancies report. In the past, this report has been a lonely voice shining a light upon the lazy use of land in prime locations. Phil has surveyed over 1 million homes and has extensive findings on commercial vacancies. The figures are jaw dropping in light of the recent re-zoning windfalls handed out to developers.

Read the report

Epitomising the poor use of land is the associated picture. This location (corner of Barkly St and Commercial Rd, West Footscray) has been vacant for over 5 years and is not included in current vacancy calculations. This allows property speculators to create a media atmosphere that there is nowhere to live. ‘We need more land’ is the catchcry. Over time, sections of the site have been drip fed to the market to maximise profits.

Now that the land market is plummeting in Melbourne (with a 42% fall in land sales over 12 months to March 2012 ), the cheeky land baron has decided to put the location up for lease! This epitomises the real estate 4 ransom mentality and the importance of more accurate vacancy figures.

Philip is a highly rated writer with:

Read Earthsharing’s past Speculative Vacancy Reports and associated media.

Housing Glut Interest

Adam Schwab wrote up our fourth report on speculative vacancies in Crikey yesterday.

Shortage or glut? Feast or famine? The question of whether Australia is suffering a housing shortage continues to be hotly disputed, with the real estate and construction lobbies arguing a desperate shortage exists, while other independent bodies, such as Prosper Australia, disputing the notion of a shortage.

The housing glut argument is led by Earthsharing Australia, which last year produced a report suggesting that the vacancy rate in Melbourne (until recently, one of Australia’s hottest property markets) was about 5%. In fashionable suburbs, such as East Melbourne or the Docklands, vacancy rates exceeded 8%. Earthsharing’s report, which was based on water statistics provided by City West Water and Yarra Valley Water, suggested that more than 60,000 properties lay vacant in Melbourne — substantially more than the reported vacancy report suggested by the real estate lobby.

While not a perfect measure, there is a degree of commonsense to Earthsharing’s report. Rather than attempt to guess whether there is a housing shortage based on economic assumptions, the group simply checked whether to see water was being used in a property — it is not unreasonable to suggest that if no water is being used for a length of time, the property is unoccupied.

That view was contrasted by a report released by the National Housing Supply Council, which echoed the sentiments of construction groups and claimed Australia was in the midst of a housing shortage. In fact, according to the council, the shortage actually increased by 28,200 to 186,800 during 2011. Even worse, the alleged shortage is forecast to widen to 640,000 within 20 years.

The National Supply Council is a strange beast — formed by the federal government in 2008, the organisation is a strange mix of academia, property developers and the even respected Saul Eslake. Included in the council are Mark Hunter (CEO of Stockland Residential), Nigel Satterley (property developer and BRW Rich List member), Ruth Spielman (executive officer, National Growth Areas Alliance) and Simon Norris (Clarendon Homes Queensland).

The council’s rationale for deeming a housing shortage is worth considering further. That is because rather than look at actual demand for housing, the council uses “underlying” demand. This leads to strange results.

Last year, the population of Australia increased by 320,000 — this was through a combination of immigration and births (less deaths). This figure is sourced from the ABS, so we can assume it is about a correct a figure as we can locate. According to the council’s report, there were 131,000 dwellings added last year (this figure is lower than what other sources claim, but we’ll accept it).

The council’s own report noted that there are 8.7 million households in Australia — with a population of 22.4 million, that means there are 2.6 people per household. Using fairly simple arithmetic, that means with 2.6 people per dwelling, and 131,000 new dwellings, enough housing was built last year for 340,000 people.

But wait, the population only increased by 320,000 people — that means, despite the council’s claims, there is a surplus of housing being built (even with dwelling construction being less than forecast). This appears to contradict the council’s finding that the shortage increased in 2011.

The council claimed that “on the demand side, at any given point in time underlying demand may not feed through directly into effective (actual) demand” — basically, what that appears to mean is that while there isn’t really a shortage, it will make some assumptions that allow a shortage to appear.

Later, the council noted that “the level of underlying demand is driven mostly by migration and other demographic factors”. Essentially, it appears the council is claiming that demand may increase in coming years (even though immigration levels are falling, rather than increasing), and that is why a shortage exists. The fact that a surplus of housing was built last year is disregarded.

More mysteriously, the Supply Council also claimed that “there were about 8.7 million households in Australia in June 2010. The number of households is projected to be 12 million by 2030, representing a net increase of nearly 3.3 million households between 2010 and 2030″.

This alarming forecast again doesn’t appear matched by recent facts.

Based on household numbers, the council is predicting an Australian population of 31.2 million in 19 years. That’s an increase of 9 million from the current level. The problem? That would require Australia’s population to increase by 473,000 per year — 42% more than the population increased in 2011. In fact, that’s a higher population growth rate than Australia has ever recorded. The claim is more difficult to justify given that Australia’s population growth and migration is slowing after spiking in 2008 and 2009 (see table below).

Year Ending Net Overseas Migration
June 2008 277,400
June 2009 299,800
June 2010 198,300
June 2011 170,300

House prices haven’t increased because of increased demand from migrants outstripping dwelling construction — rather, prices have risen because bank lending has created false demand. Supply factors have played little, if any role in the recent house price growth. As soon as bank lending is restricted (and this is happening already), it is likely the illusion of a supply shortage will disappear. Just like what happened in Japan in the 1990s, or California and Ireland after the recent financial crises.

46,220 empty homes – the genuine housing supply issue

“With 46,220 properties vacant in Melbourne, the myth we have a housing shortage cannot go on much longer,” Earthsharing Australia spokesperson Karl Fitzgerald said today.

Earthsharing’s Speculative Vacancies report highlights that tightness in rental stock does not equate to a lack of housing. The much quoted REIV’s 1.7% vacancy rate (Nov 2010) only refers to dwellings for rent, a subgroup of Melbourne’s total housing stock.

“Victoria’s Minister for Planning Matthew Guy is relying on poor data in contemplating to sprawl Melbourne even further when 46,000 homes lie dormant.

“Capital gains for Melbourne properties averaged $120,000 in boom years like 2009. Why would all investors bother to rent out a property for $17,000 when they could hold some of their portfolio empty to enhance massive capital gains?” asked Fitzgerald.

“When iconic suburbs like Carlton South have Estimated Genuine Vacancy rates of 11.5 per cent, Melbourne East 18.5 per cent and Docklands a staggering 23.32 per cent, there is something wrong with the economic incentives society feeds off” Fitzgerald said.

The report analysed 64 per cent of Melbourne’s residential stock using water meter data supplied by City West Water and Yarra Valley Water. Dwellings using under 50 litres a day for 6 consecutive months were deemed vacant.

“Extrapolating this to all Melbourne real estate, there are over 61,000 empty homes and apartments lying empty.

“The Speculative Vacancy report is an urgent warning to potential buyers. This is not the time to make a life-long commitment to buy a home – the market is flooded with stock as investors bail out of the market. With supply overwhelming demand, prices must fall.

“First home buyers are being told it is a ‘buyer’s market’. “Transitioning from one of the world’s biggest property bubbles into a genuine buyers market is a process that takes years, not days.

“SQM Research’s figures on the volumes of Melbourne houses offered for sale shows a staggering increase. March volumes are up an enormous 48 per cent compared to last year; April is up by an even larger 68 per cent over 2010.

“Buyers are being deliberately misled by incomplete statistics further transformed by real estate ‘spin’. We urge the federal government to instruct the ABS to collect and publish a monthly statistical series on housing vacancy rates in the interest of a fully informed market”

“Experienced players in the land game know the bubble has peaked and have already sold out.” Fitzgerald concluded.

Read the report