IT’S a funny thing about house prices in Australia: they always seem to be causing concern.
If they’re booming, as was the case in Sydney until only recently, the angst is about how newcomers to the property market will ever get a foot on the bottom rung of the ladder.
If they’re sliding, as is the case now in Sydney, the angst is about over-committed owners owing more on their property than the market says it is worth and the blow to consumer spending from people who no longer feel so wealthy.
So which is it, then? Are galloping prices good and retreating prices bad? Sliding prices good and booming prices bad?
The answer, of course, is that it’s good, bad and indifferent all at the same time, depending on which team you’re on: seller, buyer, agent, economist, curious onlooker on the sideline.
A house is more than a shelter in Australia, it’s also a nest egg, a status symbol, an investment, sometimes even a casino chip.
The federal Opposition’s proposed negative gearing and capital gains tax changes aim to reduce some of that casino chip effect, but there will always be people who buy a home simply in the hope that they will be able to sell it for a lot more some time after.
The government that enjoys the fruits of a property investment boom – as the NSW Coalition did with its stamp duty revenue in recent years, which was a river of gold for Macquarie Street – must also be prepared to put up with the consequences when the mood inevitably turns.
Bathurst, with its stable economy, diversified employment, robust population growth and enviable location close to Sydney, should generally be immune from the worst of the excesses of the real estate market – both the extremely high highs and the extremely low lows.
Investors from over the Blue Mountains have been attracted to our city, but the feverish, fear-of-missing-out mania that overtook the state capital during the height of its market boom didn’t seem to spread this far west.
Still, we must be prepared for the road to be a little bumpy at times – for continuous rises not to be a given in Bathurst and falls to be a possibility.
The real estate market will go up as well as down: that’s a prediction that’s as safe as houses.