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01 June 2017

Property Report – June 2017

Quarterly Market Report No. #43 – June 2017

By Terry Ryder, creator of

Introduction: As We Approach A New Financial Year, Where To From Here?

Property markets undergo change, waxing and waning depending on local economic and political conditions. The change is not rapid, but develops gradually over years.

As we approach the end of the 2016-17 financial year, it’s clear that major markets are evolving. Those that have been strongest are showing signs of moderating. Some that struggled in recent years appear to be through the worst of their down cycles, with hope for upswing. And others which have been moderate performers in recent years are starting to surge.

It all reinforces a key factor that real estate consumers need to keep in mind: that we do not have a single, homogenous real estate market in Australia.

We have many individual markets, which behave according to local (rather than national) conditions. Genuine nationwide property booms are quite rare in Australia – and, while economists would have us believe otherwise, we have not had a national boom in recent years.

While Sydney has been raging and Melbourne has recently joined in, both Perth and Darwin have been going backwards and most other capital cities have been lukewarm in their performance.

Now, as there are growing signs that Sydney and Melbourne will slow down, both Hobart and Canberra are rising, and Perth and Darwin appear to have touched bottom, with hope of recovery. There are similar evolutions happening in regional markets across the nation.

Read on to learn more.

For analysis of markets nationwide, click on the topics below…

National Overview

How To Avoid Being Misled By The Constant Media Misinformation

I fear for Australians trying to make their way in real estate. In any field of endeavour people can’t make good decisions unless they have quality information. And when it comes to residential real estate, that’s difficult to achieve.

In the real estate industry, most of what purports to be information is in fact misinformation. It’s difficult to imagine an industry where there’s more dodgy data and bad analysis than residential real estate.

In simple terms, this is caused by the state of journalism. Whenever major media organisations like News Ltd and Fairfax feel a need to cut costs, they sack journalists. They’ve been doing that for years, because they can’t figure out how to make money from news in an increasingly digital world.

The constant reduction in journalist numbers has meant a steady decrease in the quality of news. The content keeps getting worse.

The relatively few remaining journalists no longer have the resources to their jobs well – or even half well. When I was a real estate editor for publications like The Courier-Mail and the Australian Financial Review, publishing a press release (which is a piece of propaganda from someone) was a sacking offence. Now publishing press releases is the norm.

Most – and I do mean most – of the news content about real estate in major newspapers and other media outlets today comprises recycled press releases. The checking and challenging that used to be standard procedure in journalism no longer occurs.

Anyone seeking to achieve free publicity can exploit this by providing neatly-packaged material that makes the job of under-resourced journalists easy. If you can dress it up as “research” or as a “report”, no one in media will ask any difficult questions – they’ll just publish it as fact.

The result is the great seething mass of misinformation that dominates coverage of residential real estate. This is exacerbated by the reality that most of the people writing real estate articles (or, more correctly, recycling press release material as news) know little about the subject. Sometimes the material they’re recycling is nonsense, but they don’t realise because they lack expertise.

All of the truly successful property investors I know have this in common: they treat investment as a business.

As a further escalation of the misinformation process, the few journalists who seek comment on a real estate subject often seek the views of non-experts – e.g. economists, who collectively have a staggeringly bad record on understanding residential property.

Readers might imagine that material on real estate printed in major publications like The Australian or the Sydney Morning Herald has credibility, but the sad reality is that the big-name papers are among the worst disseminators of misinformation on real estate.

So, what can you do, given the circumstances? Here are some tips on how to access real information and avoid the misinformation channels.

All of the truly successful property investors I know have this in common: they treat investment as a business. They surround themselves with quality advisers, they pay for quality research information and they ignore the white noise in mainstream media.

Adelaide and South Australia

The Market That Not Even South Australians Want To Know About

It’s hard to get anyone interested in Adelaide. Even South Australians don’t want to invest there. At Hotspotting, we once published a South Australian Hotspots report but no one bought it, not even the locals.

You can’t blame them, I suppose, because the numbers are never flattering. We recently had official data published on unemployment which showed that, while the national jobless rate fell from 5.9% to 5.7%, the SA rate rose to 7.3% – the worst in the nation by a considerable margin.

South Australia seldom ranks well in economic analysis reports like CommSec’s State of the States quarterly report. In the latest edition, SA ranked seventh (second last) overall, with only the depressed Western Australian economy ranked lower.

But there are areas in which the state does well. It led the nation on monthly retail trade, up 3.8% ahead of Queensland and NSW. And CommSec chief economist Craig James says the SA economy has the potential to lift over the coming year.

Another quarterly report released recently by Deloitte Access Economics singled out retail, hospitality, wine and agriculture as standout industries in SA. Conversely, it found housing construction and population growth to be key areas of particular concern.

On the issue of energy, Deloitte described supply disruptions, measured in terms of the impact on the “average business”, as “annoying rather than substantial”.

So overall the prognosis for SA is lukewarm, but there is hope.

So overall the prognosis for SA is lukewarm, but there is hope. And, against that generally unflattering background, the Adelaide property market has been travelling quite well. There has been above-average sales activity over the past two years and some precincts have delivered good price growth (although the generalised figure that describes the whole city is usually just 3% or 4% growth in annual terms).

When median price changes are examined on a suburb–by-suburb basis, there are quite a number which have recorded double-digit rises in the past 12 months, although 7-8% is more common. There is growth to be found in the Adelaide market, if you know where to look.

There’s not much to talk about in SA real estate outside of Adelaide, but there is (potentially) an exception emerging with Port Augusta. Recently I wrote this about the regional town:

“Sometimes the locations we recommend surprise some people. Often this is because the suggested markets are currently in a slump and the statistics that chart prices or vacancies are poor. But at Hotspotting we seek to nominate the future growth areas ahead of the market upturn. And we don’t let the current situation deter us, if we see recovery and a stronger situation in a location’s future. The South Australian regional centre of Port Augusta is a good example. This town is currently in an economic slump and property prices have fallen. But the future looks much brighter, so we have included Port Augusta in the latest edition of our National Top 5 Boom Towns report. If just a third of the major energy projects targeted on this strategically-located town proceed to construction, Port Augusta will indeed become a boom town.”

Brisbane and Queensland

Vacancy Rates Are A Worry, But Brisbane Deserves Plenty of Investor Focus

The predominant story about Brisbane real estate is the high vacancy rate and general oversupply in the inner-city areas. And this is true, as I noted in the previous edition of this report three months ago, when I wrote: “Independent vacancy data from SQM Research shows that vacancies continue to be extremely high. The Brisbane CBD and all the near-city suburbs, including South Brisbane, Fortitude Valley, Kangaroo Point and Woolloongabba, have vacancies in the 5-6% range.

“They will inevitably worsen, with more high-rise projects coming out of the ground.”

And I also made this point: “Not only does central Brisbane have high vacancies but the disease has spread to some of the middle ring suburbs, with small and medium-sized developers building too many units and townhouses in locations such as Albion, Kevin Grove and Chermside. Investors are advised to check vacancy rates on the SQM website and also to check building approvals data, which can provide a clue to future oversupply.”

This situation means the overall vacancy rate for the Brisbane metropolitan area has risen from 2.8% a year ago to 3.3% now. This is not to say that people should stay out of the Brisbane market. Most precincts have moderate vacancies and Brisbane overall has good prospects for solid growth – it’s just that those key (mostly inner-city) areas have inflated the overall figure.

There is also a rising tide in some of the regional Queensland economies.

Indeed I believe Brisbane is one of the markets to consider most strongly, with Sydney and Melbourne beyond their peaks. I expect to see steady improvement.

This is based on emerging evidence of impending improvements in the Queensland economy and a growing list of major Brisbane infrastructure projects soon to start.

The more affordable areas in the outer ring suburbs are the ones with the greatest momentum, including the Moreton Region in the far south, Logan City in the far south, and Ipswich City in the south-west. There are also busy markets in the Redlands LGA in the east.

There is also a rising tide in some of the regional Queensland economies. The resources sector has renewed confidence and previously-mothballed projects have been revived. There is a growing number of alternative energy projects in the pipeline, including wind farms and solar power plants.

Regional centres that have struggled in recent years are on the way back, headed by Townsville and including also Rockhampton and Mackay. Boom-bust city Gladstone has some prospects of recovery, after 3-4 tough years.

Meanwhile, the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast continue to thrive, boosted by vibrant economies and major spending on infrastructure and other construction projects.

But if you’re attracted to the Gold Coast be very cautious. I’ve written this many times, but it’s worth repeating: the Gold Coast market is a tale of two cities – the coastal highrise market (to be avoided at all costs) and the inland housing market (the genuine residential market where real people live and work in the region, creating a market that often shows growth).

Canberra and the ACT

Canberra Market Scores Highly On Vacancies, Rents and Price Growth

Canberra’s housing market is travelling well at present, after bursting to life quite recently.

For most of the past four years Canberra has been oblivious to the boom in Sydney just up the road, with very moderate performance in sales activity and prices.

But recently there has been an uplift.

The city took time to deal with a couple of issues: downsizing of the public service by the Federal Government and an oversupply of apartments.

Those matters appear to be now out of the system and vacancies are low – indeed, among the capital cities, only Hobart has a lower vacancy rate. According to the latest report from SQM Research, the vacancy rate for Canberra is now around 1%, having been below 1.5% for the past year.

And SQM also accredits Canberra with the best growth in residential rentals. According to the Weekly Rents Index, rents in the past year have increased 9% for houses and 6% for apartments, which is the best overall performance by any capital city.

Generally, the Canberra market is one of the steadiest in the nation.

The city is also delivering a solid performance on prices. It’s taken a while for Canberra prices to respond to improved local conditions, but the latest figures for annual growth in house prices include 10.7% (SQM), 10.4% (Domain) and 8.7% (CoreLogic) – so there is general agreement among the major research sources that the Canberra market is chugging along quite nicely.

Generally, the Canberra market is one of the steadiest in the nation. It’s a government city so unemployment is usually very low and average incomes are high. And land supply is closely controlled by the ACT Government.

All those factors tend to keep property values high. The Government drip-feeds residential land to the market (demand for each meagre land release always exceeds supply), which means people are paying very high prices for tiny blocks of land. This maximises revenue for the Territory Government, which clearly doesn’t care too much about affordability issues.

Darwin and the Northern Territory

Still Waiting For A Catalyst To Re-ignite Growth In The Darwin Market

There’s not a lot to say about the Darwin market that’s new. The market has been in decline for the past four years, having previously been one of the strongest in the nation, boosted by the resources boom and especially the $30 billion Inpex project.

During the up period, developers built too many apartments and that helped to drag down the market, once the resources boom subsided and the Inpex effect had worked it way through the economy and the property market.

There’s been several years of high vacancies, falling rents and declining prices.

More recently there have been signs that the worst is over, giving rise to hope for recovery.

Vacancies have contracted to almost acceptable levels and some research sources are publishing numbers that suggest the decline in prices and rents has slowed down.

there have been signs that the worst is over, giving rise to hope for recovery

Meanwhile, there is hope that the new Territory Government will inspire revival, with incentives for first-home buyers leading the way. The grants and stamp duty concessions are among the most generous in Australia.

A recent report suggested that 90% of land sales in some residential estates are being made to first-time buyers. That will eventually ripple through the broader Darwin market.

But, as I commented in this report three months ago, ultimately it’s about the local economy. Something big needs to happen to re-generate economic activity, jobs and demand for real estate. Incentives to first-home buyers can’t do all the heavy lifting.

Hobart and Tasmania

Hobart Homes Selling Faster Than Anywhere Else And Prices Are Rising

Where in Australia are homes selling the fastest? It might surprise many people to learn that the answer is not Sydney or Melbourne, but Hobart.

According to one research source (and I stress this, as other sources often provide different results on all manner of statistics) various suburbs of Hobart are selling houses faster than anywhere else, although some of the Melbourne suburbs are close behind.

CoreLogic figures for days on market suggest than homes in some Hobart suburbs are selling within 10 days, on average, including inner-city suburbs like New Town and South Hobart as well as more distant, cheaper locations like Moonah and Warrane.

Increasing numbers of investors are realising the value proposition presented by Hobart

This does not surprise me because all my research indicates a very strong market in Hobart and my regular discussions with professionals in the Tasmanian capital confirm that property is turning over rapidly.

Increasing numbers of investors are realising the value proposition presented by Hobart: among the capital cities it has the lowest prices, tightest vacancies and highest rental yields. All you need to believe is that the market will deliver growth.

And, if there’s something that the various research sources generally agree on, it’s the level of house price growth in Hobart: SQM and Domain both suggest it’s around 12% in annual terms, while CoreLogic says 13%.

This is happening on the back of greatly improved economic performance. In CommSec’s first State of the States quarterly report for 2017, Tasmania – for so long the basket case economy among the states and territories – was elevated from 7th to the 4th-ranked economy in the nation – ahead of Queensland, WA, SA and the Northern Territory. It retained that ranking in the most recent report.

There’s more to Tasmania than just Hobart – and the Launceston market is even more affordable than Hobart.

Launceston’s solid local economy will be further boosted by the Launceston City Deal, signed by three levels of government in April 2017. The five-year plan of infrastructure spending includes a $260 million university campus project.

Melbourne and Victoria

Melbourne Currently Leads, But Its Days On Top May Be Numbered

Right now Melbourne is the hottest market in capital city Australia. I see it as more buoyant than Sydney and some research sources have its annual growth rate for house prices above Sydney’s (although other sources out there in dodgy data land have Sydney still leading).

Vacancies overall are low and it all looks strong. But, at Hotspotting, we’re more interested in the future than the present or the recent past (that’s what sets us apart from most other property research entities).

And a number of indicators suggest that Melbourne’s strong run of price rises may be nearing an end. Performance Property Advisory, a real estate company I respect because of their strong research-based approach to what they do, says in a new analysis that the key indicators suggest that Melbourne is now coming to the end of its growth cycle.

Indicators which point to a moderation in price growth include the firm’s affordability index, the level of rental yields, the high price growth in the past three years relative to longer-term trends and a decline in the influence of foreign investors.

Director David McMillan says: “From an investment point of view, Melbourne is showing all the signs of a market running out of steam.”

He says the firm’s Affordability Index (AI) is currently sitting at 43% and historically the Melbourne market has struggled to grow past this point.

“Properties become unaffordable in Melbourne when the market’s AI rises to around 45%,” he says. “Melbourne’s AI is hovering around the 43% mark, indicating that properties are approaching a natural ceiling. The most likely outcome is a low-growth environment over the next 2-3 years.”

From an investment point of view, Melbourne is showing all the signs of a market running out of steam.

McMillan says that from 2009 to 2016, incomes rose approximately 15% while house prices rose 79%.

“The out-performance of house prices against incomes is, in our view, unsustainable and this is a negative for future price growth in Melbourne,” he says.

“It is clear that the three-year price movement is well above trend at 12.96% per annum. On that basis it could be said that the Melbourne market is likely to slow down in the short term.”

McMillan also notes that Melbourne has the second lowest yields among the major cities, with only Sydney lower. “Due to an out-performing median house price, we have seen yields progressively deteriorating, which is a negative for both investors and first-home buyers,” he says.

But price decline is not expected, as there are counter-balancing positives for the Melbourne market. They include a high level of proposed infrastructure spending by the federal and state governments, the low rate of unemployment, relatively low levels of stock for sale, a low “Days On Market” indicator, and strong levels of population growth (both existing and projected future rises).

“Victoria has gone from being a loser from Net Interstate Migration in the 1990s, to a fairly neutral position during the 2000s, to being a winner since 2010, which has been a key factor of the price growth we have seen since 2009.”

Another factor observed by Hotspotting is that the strongest markets in the Melbourne metropolitan area are now all out on the fringes. Homes are selling fastest in the outer ring suburbs in local government areas like Casey in the far south-east and Melton in the far west.

When the cycle has moved to the point where the fringe areas are the strongest markets, you know the upturn is nearing its end.

So, with Melbourne expected to pass its peak soon and gradually wind down, where do investors turn for growth?

As it happens, they don’t have to travel very far from the city. Four local government areas worthy of mention are all within commuting distance of the capital city.

I often speak about Geelong but it warrants further mention as currently it’s the strongest market, boosted by a buoyant local economy which is un-fazed by the closure of the Ford motor plant.

I have previously noted the upturn in activity and prices in Macedon Ranges Shire a little north of the Melbourne metropolitan area. Towns like Gisborne, Kyneton, Woodend and Romsey have all caught the wave from Melbourne, as buyers seek affordable lifestyle alternatives linked by road and rail to the big city.

And I have also discussed Mitchell Shire, also on the northern fringes of Melbourne, where towns such as Kilmore, Wallan, Seymour and Broadford have become busy markets. Their median house prices range from $280,000 to $360,000 and rental yields above 5% are achievable, so they look attractive to city buyers.

More recently, a key area just beyond Melbourne’s urban area in the far south-east that has attracted my attention. Cardinia Shire now ranks in my National Top 10 Best Buys report, because most of its key towns have experienced a big upturn in sales activity, with prices starting to respond.

The biggest population centres are Pakenham and Officer – and both have busy markets with steadily increasing sales activity. Locations like Pakenham and Koo Wee Rup have had 7-8% rises in median prices, but Officer is up 23% in the past 12 months (although we urge caution because median price figures can be rubbery). Rental yields are generally in the 4.5% to 5% range.

Perth and Western Australia

The Land Of Opportunity, From A Long-term Perspective

Most investors are herd animals. They like to follow the pack, feeling safety in numbers, so they tend to buy in markets that have already risen a lot.

The more enlightened approach is to buy in markets before they rise. Easier said than done, of course, but those who understand market forces can achieve it. The clients of Performance Property Advisory (to whom I have referred a number of times in this report, because they are researched-based people who give sensible advice to investors) were buying in Sydney in 2012 and 2013, ahead of the price boom.

One possibility for investors is to buy in markets that have traditionally been strong performers but are currently on a downer. All markets have down phases, even the strongest. It’s worth remembering that Sydney had 10 years of under-achievement before beginning its current strong run four years ago – and only the smartest observers knew it was about to take off in 2013.

Equally worth remembering is that Perth was a national growth leader before lapsing into the current downturn. And that the Western Australian economy, currently ranked 8th and last by the CommSec State of the States report, has often in the past been No.1 in the nation. Perth has been a leader on population growth, though currently the statistics are weak.

Perth has been strong in the past and will be again.

In 2012 and early in 2013, Perth and Darwin were competing for the title of No.1 growth city on prices and rents.

It’s easy to forget all that, with Perth now four years into a market downturn, undercut by the sharp decline in the state economy since the resources investment boom waned.

The moral of this story? Perth has been strong in the past and will be again. And right now, after four years of declining prices, there are opportunities to buy well in this market, ahead of recovery.

Currently investors can buy at low prices without strong competition from other buyers. The optimum time to do that is near, I believe, as there is mounting evidence that the Perth market is at or near the bottom of this cycle.

I would concentrate on areas likely to benefit from new infrastructure spending, especially locations that offer affordability. The Forrestfield precinct near the airport will benefit if the proposed rail link to the airport goes ahead.

A key factor to observe is the decision-making of the newly-installed State Government. The status of some of the proposed infrastructure projects is uncertain and some proposed projects may be scrapped or deferred.

Investors should be aware that finding a tenant at a decent rental is not so easy at the moment, because vacancies are high right across the metro area. Vacancies in the 5% to 7% range are common.

Those seeking to buy well in Perth should avoid the inner-city apartment market, which has the highest vacancies – and they’ll get worse because of major new unit developments now under construction, with more in the pipeline.

Marketing people in some of the resources-related regional areas are starting to talk up their home markets – e.g. recovery is under way, buy now before prices rise, etc. While I see signs that the worst may be over for locations such as Port Hedland and Karratha, I would proceed with caution.

It continues to be ugly for these regional centres. The REIWA recently reported the Port Hedland median house price as $262,000, which is a distant whimper from the days of $1.2 million.

Karratha was given a median house price of $265,000, when it was around $800,000 in the glory days of the resources investment boom.

Unless you enjoy volatility and risk I would stay out of these markets permanently.

Sydney and New South Wales

Now Is The Time To Switch Focus To Strong Regional Markets

I can’t see any rationale for investing in Sydney now. Only the FOMO syndrome would compel investors to buy in a market that has shown strong price growth for four years.

Many of the statistics published in media about the Sydney market are highly misleading. Auction clearance rates are arguably the most dodgy data in real estate and the house price growth figures most often published – those of CoreLogic – have been discredited by the Reserve Bank as being inflated, with other reputable sources producing much lower growth figures.

The official data on sales volumes show that sales activity has been dropping steadily since 2014 and Sydney now has markets that I categorize as “danger” markets. These are mostly apartment markets where supply is rising at a time of diminishing sales activity.

There are also many markets where sales volumes have dropped markedly from the peak levels of 2014/2015. Most of the key trends are heading in the wrong direction.

However, I don’t expect any major price decline. Most of the factors that inspired Sydney’s boom – the strong state economy, the massive spending on infrastructure, strong population growth, the lack of ample supply in many markets, etc – are still in place.

It’s time now to turn your attention to regional New South Wales.

The negative factors – the affordability equation, the reduction in sales activity, the clampdown on foreign buyers and investors generally – are not powerful enough to overpower the strengths underpinning Sydney property markets and cause price decline.

The most likely scenario is a wind-down in the rate of price growth – similar to 2004/2005, following three years of strong price growth in 2001/2002/2003. Back then, we saw price growth come to a halt, but there was no decline in values (as a general statement).

It’s time now to turn your attention to regional New South Wales. It’s noteworthy that a recent list of the top 10 places in each state/territory for TOM (Time On Market – how fast houses are selling on average) showed that all 10 places in NSW that are turning over homes the fastest were in regional centres.

There are many noteworthy markets out there in the regions. And they have appeal that can’t be provided by Sydney, such as affordable prices and good rental yields.

Many have delivered good capital growth in recent years as well, including Wollongong, Newcastle, Dubbo and Port Macquarie.

Other regional markets with elevated activity likely to lead to price growth include Armidale, Coffs Harbour, Tweed Heads, Tamworth, the towns of the Hunter region, Goulburn, Orange and Wagga Wagga.

Newcastle looks particularly strong at the moment. It presents as an affordable alternate to Sydney, with a strong local economy and significant investment in infrastructure and other developments.

Wagga Wagga is another good possibility: a strong, growing regional centre with a diverse economy (including a strong military economy), big spending on infrastructure (including the RAAF Base, the Army base and the hospital) and attractively low prices.

In conclusion

The Same Misguided Economists Are Again Crying Wolf On House Prices

Among the misinformation that spews forth from mainstream media are the regular forecasts of catastrophe in “the Australian property market”.

We’re currently going through another phase of economists predicting big decline in what they call “Australian property prices”. As I commented in the National Overview, anyone who discusses Australian real estate as a single market is a charlatan and should be ignored.

In addition, the individuals forecasting price decline – such as AMP’s Shane Oliver – have terrible track records on calling real estate trends and are likely to be wrong again. It’s almost comforting when Oliver predicts negative outcomes, because you can be sure the opposite will occur.

Recently I did a research exercise for a client who wanted to compare media forecasts on property with actual outcomes. The exercise revealed that since the start of this century there has been a constant stream of commentators forecasting major decreases in property prices within specific time frames. All have been wrong.

Many have predicted drops as big of 40% or 50% in the following year – and one US spruiker was silly enough to forecast a 90% “bloodbath” with Australian property values. That was in 2012 and clearly he got it very wrong.

The reason all those forecasters have been proven wrong is that Australian does not have the conditions for major decline. After the GFC, a small number of countries did experience a big drop in property values (including the US) and they all had similar conditions: an economic recession, high unemployment, massive oversupply and bad lending practices. Australia doesn’t have any of those conditions in place, much less all of them. This is why our property values remain solid (except in isolated locations with specific local circumstances).

Stephen Halmarick, a senior executive at Colonial First State Global Asset Management (Australia’s biggest fund manager), says the risks of a property crash are being exaggerated. He says he has heard stories of impending doom in the property market for most of his 30-year career, but he does not see any more risk of a crash this time.

“I’ve seen so-called experts from overseas — usually Americans — saying that the housing market in Australia is a bubble that’s going to burst and take the banking system with it,” he says.

“They’ve been telling me that for 25 years and they’re still wrong.”

While he concedes that there are pockets of concern, Halmarick says the Australian housing market “isn’t as vulnerable as some of the headlines would lead you to believe”. And he does not see much risk to the financial system from the property market.

“People just look at gross debt to income, which is high, at 190%,” he says. “But if you look at net debt to income — taking account of the redraw facilities — household debt has been roughly flat since 2006 because people have used the lower interest rates to repay their mortgages faster.

“So the value of housing assets has gone up a lot, as have super funds and other investments of households. So their net wealth continues to rise and is actually close to record highs.”

My point exactly.

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