Housing affordability: Not just a problem for the young

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By Jeff Gebler, Wade Matterson | 02 June 2017

Sydney-based retirees who rent privately may have to save more than four times the amount of superannuation if they expect to live the same lifestyle as homeowners who own their homes outright, according to the latest Milliman Retirement Expectations and Spending Profiles report.

It raises a new aspect to the housing affordability debate as skyrocketing property prices squeeze a generation out of the home ownership market.

The median retired Sydney homeowner aged 65-69 spends $31,987 a year, with the Age Pension (which is not affected by the value of the family home) funding the bulk of expenditure.

Older Sydney residents stuck in the private rental market are not so fortunate. They must find a further $21,679 a year, based on CoreLogic median estimates net of Centrelink Rent Assistance.

This makes their annual cost of living two-thirds higher to fund the same quality of life enjoyed by homeowners. While Sydney has the highest rental costs, other capital cities show similar trends.

Figure 1: Median annual spend including rent payments

Source: Milliman Retirement Expectations and Spending Profiles Q1 2017

These differences in annual expenditure have even more significant repercussions for the level of super savings needed at retirement.

To fund the median Sydney homeowner’s annual expenditure through retirement with 75% certainty requires a balance of just $145,597 (largely because of Age Pension support). However, to fund non-homeowners’ much higher annual expenditure through retirement with the same certainty would require a super balance of $595,482.

These forecasts are based on Milliman’s sophisticated stochastic modelling assessing thousands of scenarios across a balanced investment option including variations in returns, inflation, spending drawdowns and the impact of the Age Pension.

Figure 2: Superannuation balance required to rent (75% certainty)

Source: Milliman Retirement Expectations and Spending Profiles Q1 2017

These issues currently only affect a small number of retirees although the problem is likely to flare up in coming years given that the level of home ownership is plunging across all other age groups.

Around three-quarters of older Australians are homeowners while 7.3% live in private rentals, according to a recent Productivity Commission report.

However, the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey shows home ownership levels for people aged 35–44 dropped from 63.2% to 52.4% between 2002 and 2014. Similarly, home ownership levels among people aged 45–54 declined from 75.6% to 67.4% over the same period.

Investor activity, partially driven by negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions, has risen from a little over 30% of all loan approvals in 2011 to almost 40% recently, according to a recent Reserve Bank of Australia submission to a government inquiry about home ownership.

Australian residential property, led by Sydney and Melbourne, now ranks among the most expensive in the world. Since June 2012, residential property prices across Australia’s capital cities have climbed by a cumulative 47.3% with Sydney prices up 74.9%, according to CoreLogic.

Meanwhile, many Australians, encouraged by historic low interest rates, have gone on a debt binge. The household debt-to-disposable-income ratio now stands near a record 190%.

Outright home ownership has traditionally been seen as key to avoiding poverty in old age. However, as housing affordability edges further out of reach, this could lead to a greater proportion of older Australians paying off their homes well into retirement, acting as another drag on retirement living standards.

In recent months, state and federal governments have floated a number of potential policy changes aimed at improving housing affordability, particularly for first-time homebuyers. This new data shows that rising property prices are a problem we’re not growing out of with age.

Read more about the Milliman Retirement ESP here.


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