The volume of new loans to first home buyers in New South Wales and Victoria has climbed substantially over recent months as value growth has slowed and even begun to fall in Sydney and Melbourne.  First home buyers must be vigilant about purchasing homes and not just be lured into buying at the peak of the market because of attractive incentives.

In New South Wales, from 1 July 2017 first home buyers don’t have to pay stamp duty for both new and existing homes for properties up to $650,000. Stamp duty payable is reduced for buyers paying between $650,000 and $800,000.  In Victoria, if you buy a new or established home from July 1 2017 no stamp duty is payable on homes worth less than $600,000 and stamp duty is reduced for properties worth between $600,000 and $750,000.

The removal of stamp duty has resulted in a substantial increase in first home buyer housing finance commitments.  Over the six months from July to December 2017 there were 14,279 first home buyer finance commitments in New South Wales and 18,675 in Victoria.  To put this into some sort of perspective, over the six months prior to the new incentives going live there had been 7,891 first home buyer housing finance commitments in New South Wales and 12,683 commitments in Victoria.  This represents an increase in first home buyer volumes over the two six month periods before and after the changes to incentives of 81.0% in New South Wales and 47.2% in Victoria.

Since the stamp duty changes, average loan sizes have increased by 1.3% in New South Wales compared to an increase of 1.1% over the previous six months.  This seemingly suggests that the first home buyers entering the market are not using the removal of the stamp duty barrier to borrow more.  In Victoria, it is a bit of a different story with average first home buyer loan sizes increasing 7.0% over the past six months compared to a 2.7% increase over the previous six months.  This would seem to suggest in Victoria, the stamp duty concessions are leading to mortgagees borrowing more.

The most concerning thing for any potential first home buyer in the current New South Wales and Victoria markets should be the lure of entering a market which has been growing rapidly for many years.  In fact, recent data for Sydney and Melbourne indicates that values are now declining.  Across all of New South Wales, values have fallen -2.4% from their August 2017 peak to January 2018 with values -3.1% lower in Sydney and not yet declining in regional New South Wales.  In Victoria, values are -0.1% lower than their November 2017 peak with declines of -0.4% in Melbourne and no declines as yet in regional Victoria.  An important point to note is that the rate of value growth is slowing in regional areas of New South Wales and Victoria although the slowdown is greater in regional New South Wales to-date.

While those declines may sound quite minor, first home buyers are generally most sensitive to changes in interest rates.  Although rates are currently expected to be on hold until early 2019, the combination of already falling dwelling values and potentially higher mortgage rates in the medium-term, these factors should raise some alarm bells for potential buyers.  For first home buyers there may be a sense that the removal of stamp duty along with the falling share of investors in the market creates the opportunity for entry however, ideally you do not want to be buying into a market which has only recently entered a downturn.  

The best bet for potential first home buyers may not be to jump at the incentives which are currently available.  With values declining and investor demand continuing to trend lower a better option may be to remain on the sidelines somewhat longer as values potentially continue to slide.  By doing this you potentially avoid going into negative equity immediately, you potentially buy at a lower price and you have time to save an even larger deposit for your mortgage.  Furthermore, for well qualified borrowers with substantial deposits banks are competing heavily and offering substantial discounts for owner occupiers taking out principal and interest mortgages so if you take time and shop around you may be able to get a really good mortgage rate.