Rising Mortgage Hardship and Quick Home Resales Signal Underlying Financial Strain in Australia - Property Inc

Rising Mortgage Hardship and Quick Home Resales Signal Underlying Financial Strain in Australia

As the Australian property market sees surging house prices, a worrying trend is emerging in the form of quick home resales and increasing mortgage hardship claims, shedding light on a hidden narrative of financial distress among homeowners. According to Michael Janda’s article, a record 16% of early-year property sales involved homes that had changed hands within the previous three years—a figure that typically suggests a booming market. However, the unusual frequency of these transactions hints at deeper issues, primarily mortgage stress compounded by high interest rates and over-lending practices.

Eliza Owen from CoreLogic indicates that the combination of significant capital gains and mortgage stress is driving these quick resales. “Where we’ve seen a rise in short-term resales, it’s probably a combo of mortgage stress and big capital gain windfalls,” Owen explains. This is supported by recent data from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), which highlights a 54% increase in mortgage hardship notices in the last quarter of 2023 compared to the previous year, revealing a distressing side of the market not fully captured by traditional metrics.

ASIC’s report illuminates the growing problem, with over 444,000 hardship notices recorded last year, around 40% of which were related to mortgages. This underscores the challenges faced by many Australians, particularly those who took advantage of low interest rates during the pandemic and are now struggling with repayment as rates climb.

The phenomenon, referred to as the “mortgage cliff,” describes borrowers transitioning from low fixed-rate loans to substantially higher variable rates. Despite some analysts dismissing the severity of this issue, the end-of-year data from ASIC suggests it is a real concern. “Ignoring the fact that hundreds of thousands of borrowers are still rolling off cheap fixed rates this year, the hardship data from the end of 2023 appear to confirm that the cliff exists—it’s just that many banks have thrown their struggling customers a rope to keep them from tumbling to the bottom, at least temporarily,” Janda notes in his analysis.

Moreover, ASIC’s survey indicated that “overcommitment” was the most common reason for seeking hardship assistance on mortgages. This suggests that many borrowers were perhaps extended more credit than they could manage, a situation exacerbated by a regulatory decision in 2019 to lower the interest rate floor for mortgage serviceability tests.

Despite the growing number of hardship cases, the overall market has not seen a corresponding rise in “distressed” property sales, likely due to still-rising property prices allowing many to exit their investments without facing foreclosure. However, with continued financial pressures and the potential for an increase in property listings, there could be a reversal in this trend later in the year.

As Australia grapples with these challenges, the real estate and financial sectors may need to brace for a potential increase in distressed sales and the personal hardships that accompany them. This evolving situation will require close monitoring and possibly more robust interventions to prevent a significant number of homeowners from falling into deeper financial distress.

References:

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2024-05-28/surging-mortgage-hardship-and-home-resales-sign-of-stress/103897912 

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