The Housing Honeymoon is Over

Mortgage rates are rising – but all is not lost for home buyers.

It’s often said that all good things must come to an end, and this certainly seems to be the case with the recent period of record low mortgage rates in New Zealand. With all four major Australian owned banks in NZ having raised their long term mortgage rates recently, prospective home buyers look set to suffer a setback in their spending power. At first glance, a third of a percentage point may not seem like a lot, but to many would be home owners, that tiny incremental difference over a period of a 30 year mortgage can make the difference between being able to afford the house of their dreams or not.

With recent mortgage rate comparisons indicating that the hike in mortgage rates looks to  be increasing over the next 5 years to between 6.3% and 7.1%, it is becoming imperative that new home buyers ask themselves just how much house they really can afford. When one takes into consideration the fact that a 1% increase in mortgage rates is equal to around a 10.75% drop in purchasing power, home buyers, including those who were pre-approved a few weeks ago, will now find that they are in fact eligible for a good deal less than their pre-approved amount.

A common error in evaluation those new to the housing market often make is to confuse a house’s ‘sticker’ price with its affordability. The true cost of home ownership lies in not only the ‘for sale’ price but also in the monthly carrying cost – of which tax, home insurance and of course the mortgage all comes into play.

Faced with the prospect of progressively rising mortgage rates (and therefore higher monthly home payments), existing home owners would be advised to hold off on refinancing their homes, and if they are on a floating home loan scheme to switch over to a fixed rate. Those in the market for a new home would be best off by securing a fixed home rate, as projections are all indicating that the mortgage rate only looks set to increase from here on out – thanks to raised international borrowing costs and the tightening of borrowing guidelines by lenders.

Of course, home owners and buyers alike need not suffer the inevitable rise of mortgage rates by simply reaching deeper into their pockets every month to shell out for higher monthly payments. Homebuyers can instead opt to raise their down payment amount in order to maintain an otherwise constant monthly payment in the face of rising rates. This may be difficult or even impossible for some first time home buyers and recent homeowners, but it is a smart move to make for those with the capability.

A second option is to lower their bid price on a home. Generally, higher mortgages lead to a declining demand from house buyers, so some home sellers may opt to accept the lower bid instead of sitting with a house to sell in a market where the mortgage rate looks set to increase for the next 3-5 years.

So, whilst the mortgage rates offered by all the major banks, including BNZ, look set to head north for the foreseeable future, home buyers are still left with some options to stay ahead of the inflationary curve. Provided they assess their home’s affordability accurately, maximize their equity and attempt to lower the bid price on the house, they should be able to afford the monthly repayments on their dream home. 

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