Real Estate News - Analysis: The world's housing markets in 2007 and 2008

INTERNATIONAL. In 2007, the US housing market crashed, and Europe’s housing markets slowed. House prices in Asia Pacific and the Middle East gained momentum. But a report says the biggest concern for the Middle East is still oversupply. Dubai is swamped with new properties to be delivered in 2008 and 2009, according to Global Property Guide.

Bulgaria saw the world’s strongest house price growth at 30.6% (15.4% in real terms) up to the end of third quarter 2007, from a year earlier.

Shanghai’s red hot housing market continued to rebound, despite efforts by the government to cool the market. House prices rose by 27.85% to end-October 2007 from a year earlier; a significant turnaround from 0.6% drop in 2006.

Singapore registered an annual house price increase of 27.6% (24% in real terms) up to end of third quarter 2007, significantly higher than the 7.6% price increase over the same period in 2006. In real terms, Singapore was the world’s best-performing housing market, given inflation of only 2.66%.

House prices rose by more than 10% year on year in nominal terms in several developing countries: the Philippines, Colombia, South Africa, and Hong Kong. However, when adjusted for inflation, price increases were generally substantially lower.

In Europe most countries registered unimpressive year-on-year house price changes in 2007, aside from Norway and Estonia. Property prices in Ireland started falling in 2007, the first time in more than 15 years. The Irish housing market had the biggest and longest house price boom among developed countries in recent memory.

Urban land prices in Japan’s six largest cities rose by 7.75% during the first half of 2007. Although Japan’s national urban land price index fell by 1.48% during first half 2007, this is an improvement from the 2.8% price fall in 2006. The Japanese urban land price index is generally believed to lag reality, so significant recovery is taking place in the Japanese housing market.

Interest rates

The recent house price slowdown in Europe and the US is mainly due to higher interest rates. In Europe, the European Central Bank (ECB) raised its key interest eight times in 15 months. The repo rate was raised to its current level of 4% in June 2007 from its historic low of 2% in November 2006.

In the US, the Federal Reserve Bank raised its key lending rate 17 times in 24 months during 2004-2006. The US Federal Funds rate rose sharply from its historic low of 1% in May 2004 to 5.25% in June 2006.

As signs of strain on the housing market started to appear in mid-2006, the Fed kept its key rate at 5.25% for the 14 months to August 2007.

When the US housing market boom turning to a bust, the Fed slashed key rates in September by 50 basis points and in October and December by 25 basis points, bringing the rate down to 4.25%. The central banks of UK and Canada reduced key lending rates by 25 points in December 2007.

Some would say the Fed raised rates “too much, too soon,” and is now frantically reducing key rates to avoid recession. Others however suggest that weak oversight of US mortgage market lending is the primary cause of the present crisis, in combination with a structural shift toward off-balance sheet lending.

The ECB’s stubbornly slow rate adjustments, in contrast, have allowed the Eurozone’s diverse housing markets to adjust relatively smoothly. Only the most overpriced housing market, Ireland, has actually crashed, while the rest are mostly slowing.

Middle East and Africa in 2007

The depreciation of the US Dollar against major currencies could be beneficial for the Middle East’s property markets. As the currencies of GCC pegged to the US Dollar, their property markets are getting cheaper as the dollar depreciates. Meanwhile everyone expects their currencies eventually to be revalued against the US Dollar.

The biggest concern is oversupply. Dubai is swamped with new properties to be delivered in 2008 and 2009, according to Global Property Guide. A slump in demand from international buyers due to a global economic slowdown could exacerbate the problem. The speculative nature of its housing market makes Dubai highly susceptible.

In South Africa, the house price boom is coming to a halt. Annual house price growth peaked at 33% to year end-2004. Since then, house price growth started decelerating, and was down to 13.6% year-on-year to end-October 2007. Adjusted for inflation, the house price index rose by only 5.3%. The slowdown was due to higher interest rates, lower economic growth, and to the National Credit Act, implemented June 2007, which imposed stricter rules on lending.

US and Canada

US home prices dropped 5% year-on-year to October 2007, to an average of US$207,800, based on sales recorded by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) (or 8.46% in real terms).

The Office of the Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO), which produces an arguably more widely-based index, saw prices rising 1.8% to end of third quarter 2007 from a year earlier, which translates to a fall of 0.6% when adjusted for inflation. Some ten states in the OFHEO index experienced price falls, including Michigan (3.7%), California (3.6%), Nevada (2.4%), Massachusetts (2.3%), Rhode Island (2.2% and Florida (2.1%). Only two states registered house price growth of more than 10% year-on-year to end of third quarter 2007, Utah (12.9%) and Wyoming (11.8%).

Canada’s housing markets are also showing signs of slowing. The new housing price index rose 6.1% to end-Oct 2007 from a year earlier (3.7% in real terms), lower than the 11.4% (10.3% in real terms) year-on-year price rise to Oct 2006.


Most European housing markets slowed in 2007. Ireland’s house price plunge continued, with a 4.68% year-on-year drop to October 2007. When adjusted for inflation, the drop is more pronounced at 9.1%. The Irish housing market is vulnerable to interest rate changes, as 85% of mortgages are variable rate.

The Baltics performed quite well in terms of house price changes from a year earlier, but the latest quarterly data presents a picture of a region whose housing markets are in trouble.

In Latvia apartment prices have dropped by 7.7% to September 2007, over a quarter earlier. Lithuania’s apartment prices have stagnated at LTL 12,500 (US$5,213 or €3,620) per square metre in the last two quarters. In Estonia quarterly house prices increased by 23.4% year-on-year to third quarter 2007, lower than the 28.6% growth to end-2006.

Norway’s housing markets are showing signs of nervousness, despite a strong performance this year. The house price index for the entire country increased 11.6% year-on-year to third quarter 2007 (11.9% in real terms due to slight deflation). However, prices in the metropolitan area of Oslo-Baerum fell 0.5% from the second quarter to third quarter 2007. The housing market is facing more uncertainties as the Norges Bank raised its key policy rate by 25 basis points to 5.25% in December 2007.

Spain recorded 5.31% year-on-year house price growth to third quarter 2007, the lowest rate of increase in nine years. Higher interest rates have dampened demand, and banks have become very careful in granting housing loans.

A slow down was also evident in the UK, though less sharp than expected. British house prices increased 9.7% year-on-year to third quarter 2007, less than 2006’s year-on-year increase of 10.5%. When adjusted for inflation, the house price increase in third quarter 2007 was 7.5%, slightly higher than the 7.3% rise in 2006.

House prices in Italy and Greece have also cooled. Mortgages in these markets are predominantly based on variable interest rates.

Although mortgages in Denmark, France and Germany are mostly based on fixed interest rates, their housing markets have nevertheless cooled. Other European countries which experienced house price slow downs are Sweden, Poland, Finland, Netherlandsand Switzerland. France has increased tax deductions on mortgage-loan interest rates, a measure expected to hold housing demand firm.


Housing markets in several Asian countries gained momentum during the first three quarters of 2007, reflecting to some extent continued recovery from the 1997 Asian Crisis.

The strong house price increases in Singapore, South Korea, and Japan have been mainly due to strong economic growth. Mortgage markets in Asia are generally underdeveloped. Hence the effect of interest rate movements on the housing market is indirect, channeled through over-all economic performance. With electronic goods as the main export of these countries, economic growth is expected to drop if the global economic recession occurs in 2008.

In the Philippines, demand for houses and condominiums has come mainly from families of Overseas Filipinos.

Price increases in China are subject to strong government intervention. Left unhampered, property prices would be expected to rise due to continued economic expansion and rapid urbanisation. Adding fuel to the price boom are the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and World Expo in 2010 in Shanghai.

In Thailand, political problems have led to weak economic growth and falling property prices. Property price changes in Indonesia and Malaysia remain unimpressive. Although the national house price index in Indonesia was up 5.2% in nominal terms to end of third quarter 2007, the index actually dipped by 1.2% in when adjusted to inflation. In Malaysia, the house price index rose 3.2% (1.7% in real terms) to second quarter-2007 from a year earlier.


Property prices in Australia continue to recover from the housing market slowdown during 2004 to 2005. The house price index for eight capital cities rose by 10.6% to Sept 2007 from a year earlier, slightly higher than the 10.1% annual increase in Sept 2006. Except for Sydney and Perth, Australia’s other major cities all registered house price increases of more than 11% year-on-year to September 2007.

The availability of housing finance combined with lack of supply fueled house price increases in 2007, despite rising interest rates. Population growth from immigration and the skills shortage in the construction sector also contributed to higher prices.

Double-digit house price increases are expected to persist in 2008 in Australia. No drastic changes in immigration policy are expected, now that the Labor Party is in power, and new schemes to assist low income renters and house buyers are likely to increase demand for housing units.

Signs that New Zealand’s house price boom is coming to an end appeared in the second half of 2007. Although the national median house price rose 6.6% year-on-year to NZ$352,000 in Nov 2007, this was the lowest annual house price increase since Feb 2003.

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) has raised its benchmark interest rate four times between March and July 2007 to 8.25%. The market downturn is expected to continue in 2008, and is expected to last until 2009.

Middle East & Africa in 2008

Investors should be cautious about Dubai, according to Global Property Guide, because of the overhang of property due for delivery in 2008 and 2009, except possibly detached houses. The newly-opening Gulf countries such as Abu Dhabi and Oman could eventually produce good returns.

The report says that Egypt is attractive. The authors are much less interested in beach resorts (its very hot on the West coast of the Red Sea in Summer) than in Cairo, where prices are low by regional standards, gross rental yields are among the highest in the world, taxes are low, and transaction costs are reasonable. The downside? An increasingly repressive and unpopular regime.

Jordan also scored high marks. Despite strong price rises pushed by Iraqi refugees and Gulf money, rental yields in Amman are still spectacular, and taxes are low. Amman is not the most exciting place, but under the liberal economic regime of King Abdullah, GDP growth has been quite good at 4% a year over the past five years.

South Africa is rapidly cooling, after more than five years of double digit house price increases. The housing market is likely to be dampened by political uncertainty associated with the 2009 election, given the pro-redistribution rhetoric of front-runner Jacob Zuma.


Buying housing in much of Europe should be avoided in 2008, because housing is relatively highly valued, having seen a long period of price appreciation. The Baltics has been rising for a long time as a result of strong economic growth, but rental yields have fallen strongly (avoid).

Some areas of Eastern Europe are still good value, however. Just because Eastern European housing markets have been booming for a long time, does not necessarily mean that the boom is over.

In Bulgaria, Sofia has attractive yields despite the absurd over-hyping of areas such as the ski resorts. In Romania, Bucharest is still attractive, with good yields. In Slovakia, Bratislava remains attractive and undervalued, as are other areas of the country. Budapest’s housing market is recovering, and we think it is sustained by low price-rent ratios. Turkey, Greece and other coastal areas in Southern Europe are still undervalued.

Asia Pacific

Property prices in much of Asia are still undervalued compared to pre-Asian crisis levels, despite strong increases in 2007.

China is unfortunately not open to investment, and non-resident foreign buyers of dwellings are no longer welcome (though developers still are). While Beijing’s property prices will probably peak in 2008 after the Olympics, Shanghai is still preparing for the World Expo in 2010. With yields at 8% Shanghai’s prices have nowhere to go but up, unless the government intensifies its intervention.

Cambodia could be a proxy for China. Strongly tied to the Chinese economy, Cambodia is open, has high yields, relatively low transaction costs and low taxes, though investors must be prepared for only an indirect acquisition of land due to constitutional limitations on foreign purchases.

The resolution of Thailand’s political crisis in 2008 could open opportunities, after two dismal years. Gross rental yields are good at 7% to 8%, income taxes are relatively high but acceptable (compared to the Philippines), the market is pro-landlord. Under better management Thailand could do very well. Indonesia is attractive, but has problems as an investment destination - there are high yields in Jakarta, but very high transaction costs and high rental income taxes. The Philippines too has high yields, but similarly discouragingly high transaction costs and high rental income taxes.

Japan’s housing market is recovering strongly. While Tokyo’s gross rental yields are unattractive at around 4.7%, the price momentum is positive, the law is strongly pro-landlord, there are low-ish transaction costs, and low rental income tax. The recently announced tighter regulation of new dwellings could lead to faster property price appreciation.

In Singapore it is believed that gross rental yields are now too low, at 2% to 3%. Nevertheless, Singapore is attracting (and admitting) more foreign-born workers, which is positive for prices. Hong Kong’s yields are somewhat higher (around 3% to 5%), and the US Dollar peg will mean Hong Kong will follow lower US$ interest rates, which should boost the housing market.

In Australia, expect house price increases to persist in 2008. No drastic changes in immigration policy are expected, and new schemes to assist low income categories will likely increase housing demand. In New Zealand, the market pause is expected to continue.

Latin America and Caribbean

Much of the Caribbean seems overvalued and likely to be affected by any slowdown in leading US sectors, such as the banking industry.

Most likely to give good returns is the Bahamas, despite high transaction costs. Gross rental yields in the Bahamas are quite good, at around 5.5% to 7.0%. The law is pro-landlord. There are no taxes. Square metre prices are reasonable by Caribbean standards, at around US$4,000 per square metre: a snip for Pound Sterling or Euro buyers. The downside is very high transaction costs, consisting of stamp duty and estate agents’ fees.

The report's top picks for Latin America are Argentina (Buenos Aires still has excellent yields, and the economy is growing strongly), Uruguay (piggy-backing on Argentina as usual), and Colombia, which is recovering politically and will soon be attractive to US buyers. Countries in the ‘second home’ diaspora of the US will remain attractive, as they are significantly less expensive than the Caribbean.

For the full report from Global Property Guide log on to

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