Australia's house prices: 4 decades of changes

June 14, 2022

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There's a general feeling of panic in the property market right now as interest rates rise along with inflation and energy costs.

But it's important to keep things relative and explore the entire picture of Australia's house prices including recent fortunes - and misfortunes - rather than the last few dramatic years.

So, enter the Baby Boomer generation (for many of us, including this blog writer, this will be our parents).

1. You bought your house for how much....?

This writer's parents bought a place in Melbourne for $37,000 in 1978 (is your head spinning yet?).

With a tradie dad working irregular hours, a non-working mum and four kids, this Melbourne mortgage was nevertheless paid off about 10-15 years later and the house sold for $219,000 in 1999.

It's important to bear in mind that my folks' family house was in a once little-known suburb but it's now extraordinarily popular.

As a result, with Australia's house prices my old house now has an estimated value of $1.22 million, according to PropTrack, and further figures from Smart Property Investment (SPI) indicate the suburb has seen median price growth of 24% in the past year alone and 8% since 2012.

When my folks moved to NSW's mid-north coast after their Melbourne sale, they purchased another house for just $150,000.

Median house values in this same suburb have now soared to $795,000 in a head-spinning jump of 50% across just five years, says SPI.

2. Interest rates were that high?

We're hearing it from our parents more and more these days: "We paid far more interest when I was young."

And in one sense, that's a fair call with the current cash rate of 0.85% a mere drop in the ocean compared to the country's record-high figure of 17% in 1989.

Attending this figure was high unemployment, a global share market crash in 1987 and a national recession we "had to have" in 1990.

Yet even during the global financial crisis of the late 2000s, interest rates still hovered around 7%-9% and since this period, have stuck at around 5% or lower, remaining steady at around 1.5% throughout much of the late 2010s.

The recent RBA interest increase in May was in fact the first hike in a decade.

3. Your income was only how much?

Yes, ask your dad this question and he won't even blink an eye when he says he took home a weekly pay packet of around $310 in 1981.

But it sounds worse than it is as with inflation, this figure equates to about $1,200 today.

Saying that, in 2019, men were earning around $1,840 per week and with most households now having a double income - the female workforce has increased by around 50% since 1978, according to ABS statistics - it's hardly surprising that in FY2018, the average weekly household income was around $2,240 before tax.

This is up from $1,361 in FY1996.

Australia's house prices: 4 decades of changes
While Australia's house prices have fallen, interest rates, inflation and income have always played their part

4. That's some crazy inflation you had back then - and now

Talking inflation, why not try these figures on for size?

Inflation in 1985 was 6.52% - not wonderful when the RBA target figure was 2%-3%.

Start exploring your numbers further and it gets even more interesting.

The RBA's online inflation calculator shows that in the 36 years between 1985-2021, your average "basket of goods and services" tripled with a $5 basket in 1985 now costing you $15.

This is basically why that 25c bag of lollies you loved buying from the local milkbar as a kid (am I bringing back more memories, Gen X-ers?) is sadly, now a mere sweet dream.

5. Paying half of our income-to-house price ratios

Stay with us while we explore this one major issue a little further.

Let's pop back into our time machine again and look at house prices in Sydney in 1985.

With current inflation accounted for, you could pick up a property for around $260,000; in comparison, Sydney's current median house value is $3.04 million, says SPI.

But jump in your time machine and head back to 1985, and $3.04 million would buy you around four or five Sydney homes - rather than one - for the price of $260,000.

Heading back to Sydney again, today's homeowners can expect an income-to-house price ratio of about 12, or in other words, they'll pay 12 times their annual income on their mortgage.

In 1980, the income-to-house price ratio was only about six - and yes, these figures all account for today's inflation percentage.

We're here to help

We hope we haven't completely confused you with all these relative facts and figures around Australia's house prices.

Either way, many people will say the economic conditions of the 1980s-1990s are barely comparable to the 2020s, or even the 2010s or 2000s.

We don't disagree but we're also not saying our parents' generation and the adults of today have it easier or worse than the other.

Then again, the adults of today do have Listing Loop!

Our off-market and pre-market marketplace gives you VIP access to properties so you can get in first.

So, if you're not a member yet, sign up at Listing Loop or download our app.

Sellers, investors and refinancers, we've got your property back too so get in touch with us here.


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