Finance has always been a key of the housing market, and as we have seen over the past few years, low interest rates have helped drive record demand and activity. While this is not the most glamorous or interesting topic, finance is still a dominant part of the market. Just a few years ago the suggestion that we might see 3+% for some of our home loan rates may have been unlikely, still today it’s a reality. (There are advertised rates of between 3.69% and 3.89% available for terms of 1-3 years.)

We are now seeing finance again in the main spotlight and there’s a lot going on that buyers need to be aware of and all the constant news about rates may be creating some confusion. As a result buyers entering the market could well be facing a dilemma, because on the one hand we still have record low interest rates, but we are also seeing the major banks move in one direction while smaller lenders move in exactly the opposite direction.

We also have APRA taking a hardline with the banks, while the RBA considers its next interest rate move and all of this commotion will possibly affect anyone looking for a loan, and that includes investors, SMSF and all owner-occupiers including first time buyers. Concerns being expressed by APRA might be unsettling or even seen as a negative, and so possibly causes buyers to be more cautious.

Against this background a number of Colliers International’s clients have recently introduced a special deposit offer based around a select number of projects with those clients accepting a 5% deposit, rather than the usual 10%.

The projects covered by this offer are Bay Pavillions – Lane Cove, Imperial – Hurstville, Atmosphere – Castle Hill, Altitude – Blacktown, The Chelsea – Kensington and 88 Alfred Street – Milsons Point. The offer has been well received in particular among buyers trading an existing property, where the costs of a move do mount up.

It’s not always possible to find $200,000- $250,000 as a cash deposit on a $2m plus apartment, and so the ability to exchange contracts on a 5% deposit has proved a popular idea, and similar offers are set to become more common.

Small Lenders Cut Rates

While the big four banks have recently increased their home-loan rates, ten smaller lenders last week cut some of their rates.

The cuts are for 1-3 year fixed mortgages rates, with cuts up to 74 basis points. This means that the gap between the highest standard variable rate and lowest 1-year fixed term is 260 basis points. It’s easy to appreciate why this is important when securing a $1 million mortgage.

It’s reasonable to expect that these cuts might spread as competition between lenders increases and institutions look to keep their customers and attract new ones. This competition usually involves a basket of products such as insurance, but is good news for buyers. Still it does cause some head scratching as buyers weigh up the loans on offer and if the market slows other non-lender incentives may start to emerge.

The cuts by the smaller lenders are also a bet that they expect the Reserve Bank of Australia will make more rate cuts, or at least hold steady. Still while the prospect of an official interest rise looks very remote for some time, further cuts are not assured, because we may well be at the low point of the rates cycle. It remains common sense however that anyone looking for finance should do a lot of research and shop around for the best rate and terms.

Big Banks In Step With Rate Increases

The big four banks have all increased mortgage rates while the Reserve Bank of Australia is still expected to cut the cash rate, although this may roll over until 2016. And so where do the different banks now stand with their home loan rates?

ANZ Banking Group has raised interest rates by 0.18% points, its standard variable rate for owner-occupiers is now 5.56%, and for property investors 5.83%.

Westpac has increased its variable rate by 0.2% points. Commonwealth Bank has made a 0.15% point increase and National Australia Bank a 0.17% point increase.

These increases, although very modest, appear to have had the immediate effect on borrowers making them think twice about locking-in interest rates. The reason is that with rates so low on a pro-rata basis a further cut or increase of say 25 base points would be either a blow or a bonus for anyone on a variable rate.

One side result of all this jumping about with rates is that all lenders are also promoting incentives aimed at getting customers to switch between lenders with various cash and rebate incentives on offer. Borrowers can of course have a bet each way and combine fixed and variable rate, and this does appear to be a trend.

SMSF and Investors Face Controls

Tied up in this interest rate mix APRA has instructed the banks to reduce their lending to investors and SMSFs. This move has had an immediate impact on demand from these two groups, and in part also introduced the requirement for bigger deposits. This tightening of lending restrictions has also seen some of the banks pulling out of this sector.

These changes come at a time when according to the ATO over the past two years there has been a more than five-fold increase in SMSF debt to about $15.6 billion.

The SMSF sector is larger and is estimated to have total assets of $562 billion currently under management and so changes among this group has the potential to impact demand for investment properties.

APRA Keeping Watch

All four banks have each blamed the recent home loan increases outlined on APRA’s requirement for them to hold more capital to cover each bank’s mortgage loan books, which now form a big chunk of their loans, with the extra funds earmarked as a potential buffer against any future financial shocks.

Still it’s the customer facing higher charges and in the housing market that always appears to be the case, as is demonstrated time and again with stamp duty.


APRA’s sharper surveillance of bank lending follows many years when the RBA had ascribed a positive view of the conservatism of Australia’s big banks, that view may have been relevant at the time, but now with so much exposure to the housing market possibly not now.

The tightening of bank lending standards since the global financial crisis has improved the underlying muscle of their loan books. This is an important result if adverse economic circumstances were to creep upon us again.

However a tighter rein on lending and a competitive interest rate outlook looks set to deflate any prospect of a housing bubble, which as demand softens now appears improbable, and that has to be seen as a positive.