Did city prices stagnate in the March quarter? Or did they show moderate growth? Or perhaps they rose strongly?
All three interpretations are possible, depending on which information source you choose to highlight.
The publication this week of the house price indexes from the ABS highlight how important it is for reporters to do more than simply parrot the figures from that single source, with their own inexpert interpretation.
Data released earlier from other sources contradict those interpretations.
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According to the ABS, seven of the eight capital cities now have house price levels higher than a year ago. The weighted average of the eight state and territory capitals was an annual rise of 2.6%.
Darwin (up 8%) and Perth (up 6%) once again were the leading cities for price performance. Sydney was up 3.6%, while Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Canberra all recorded an annual increase in the 1% to 1.5% range.
Hobart, down 2%, was the only capital city with pricing levels lower than a year earlier.
Most reporters chose not to focus on that. They recorded that the ABS indexes showed only moderate growth in the March quarter, with a weighted average rise of just 0.1%.
In most of the capital cities, the movement in their indexes amounted, essentially, to no change. Only Darwin (up 1.9%) and Perth (up 1.2%) recorded meaningful changes, according to these figures.
That has led to headlines which proclaim that “the Australian property market” has stagnated. Taken in isolation, the ABS March quarter figures give that impression.
But Australian Property Monitors reported a 1.7% rise in the March quarter, while RP Data recorded a quarterly rise of 2.8%. The APM data suggests a moderate rise and RP Data a strong increase, given that it suggests a double-digit annual growth rate if the March quarter performance continues.
The ABS says Melbourne prices barely moved in the March quarter (up 0.2%). APM said they rose a nation-leading 3.6%, RP Data reported a rise of 2.5%, while the ever-bullish Real Estate Institute of Victoria claimed a 5.1% quarterly rise in Melbourne’s median house price.
Who do we believe?
The result, once again, is confusion and misinformation for real estate consumers. Media is awash for conflicting figures, each treated in isolation and each given its own erroneous analysis, with economists who should know better weighing in with naive commentary.
It highlights, once again, how important it is for consumers to consult multiple information sources to get a true picture of what’s happening in real estate markets. They’re unlikely to find any quality analysis in the media.