Despite rising house prices buying a property is as affordable now as in previous decades.
Treasury officials told a parliamentary inquiry on Friday although house prices had increased across Australia, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne, low interest rates meant affordability had not significantly changed.
Jenny Wilkinson, the acting deputy secretary of Treasury’s macroeconomic group, was the first witness to address public hearings into the parliamentary inquiry into home ownership.
She said there was a perception that housing affordability had become worse in recent years but the figures showed it had remained fairly stable across Australia.
Australian Bureau of Statistics assistant statistician David Zago agreed housing costs as a percentage of income over time had pretty much balanced out.
“There is some ups and downs but in 2012 it was the same as 1995 in terms of a proportion of household income,’’ he said.
Ms Wilkinson said it was true that house prices had been growing very strongly, but there was a general sense that some of the pressure was coming off the market in both Sydney and Melbourne in terms of price growth.
The comments come as Reserve Bank of Australia figures reveal that interest payments on household debt have fallen to just 8.7 per cent — the lowest levels in more than 11 years.
CommSec chief economist Craig James said that meant household finances had strengthened even further.
Ms Wilkinson said with more housing supply expected to come on board in the next couple of years, there could also be an easing on price pressures.
“Our sense is that the strong activity that we can see in dwelling approvals and in dwelling investment should certainly be mitigating some of the pressures we are seeing in house prices over time,’’ she said.
Government forecasts tipped growth in building approvals of 6.5 per cent this year, 6.5 per cent next year and 4.5 per cent in 2016 and 2017.
“It is going to be a period of quite significant increase in supply in the Australian market,’’ Ms Wilkinson said.
“Despite the increase in house prices that we have seen over the last couple of years home loan affordability has remained broadly stable. And that is of course because interest rates have remained low,’’ she said.
The committee is tasked with examining current rates of home ownership, demand and supply drivers in the housing market, the proportion of investment and owner-occupied housing, the effects of the current tax regime on property.
Ms Wilkinson said they had not been asked by the Treasurer to investigate whether negative gearing was having an impact on housing affordability.
She said there was some pressure on the Sydney and Melbourne markets, but price growth levels were not as high as they had been in different cycles.
“Growth over the year to I think the middle of 2014 peaked at around about 12 per cent, that’s certainly a lower peak than a couple of the previous cycles, and it’s come down and is currently sitting at about 9 per cent.”
Committee member Dr Jim Chalmers questioned Treasury about whether any research had been done on whether negative gearing affected housing affordability.
Treasury principal adviser Greg Cox said it was not why investors decided to buy properties.
“Tax treatment is one face of a multifaceted decision marking,’’ he said.
He said negative gearing was not devised just for investment property it was something that could be applied across a variety of investments.
Ms Wilkinson confirmed the Treasurer had not asked the department to analyse the issue.