Only way is up if you take the long-term view

Still wondering where home prices are going? Research and instinct come to one conclusion

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 November, 2012, 11:59pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2012, 9:01am

Two weeks after the government announced new stamp duties in a bid to hose down overheated home prices, the talk of the town is still where prices are headed.

To try to come up with an answer to the burning question, analysts have put their predictive science, such as it is, to work. They have fed their financial models with data such as demand and supply, affordability, inflow of capital and interest rate movements and then hit the "execute" command on their computers.

A friend of mine scoffed at all of these approaches and came up with a blindingly obvious answer, so long as you are not thinking just six months ahead. Home prices in "world class cities" always rose in the long run, she said.

Her remark reminded me of the popular television show The Little Paris Kitchen featuring the presenter Rachel Khoo. The show features the pretty British-born chef at work in her tiny Parisian kitchen, bringing imaginative flair to the job of preparing delicious food and serving it up in her 21-square-metre flat in which she could fit just two guests.

The show cuts from her tiny flat to shots of the overcrowded property market in Paris, troubled, like in Hong Kong, by rising home prices and shortage of supply.

Indeed, neither Hong Kong nor Paris is alone in this respect. Just in September, international property consultant Savills released its latest World Class Cities Survey that showed prices rising in almost all of the 10 premier global residential property locations it monitored. On the list were Hong Kong, London, Tokyo, Singapore, Paris, Shanghai, New York, Sydney, Moscow and Mumbai.

While New York's June prices were still a little below pre-financial crisis levels at the end of 2007, Savills says prices in the city are going upwards. It found that average home values as captured in its World Class Cities Index, launched in August last year, have risen by 77 per cent from December 2005 to June last year, despite the intervening financial crisis.

The index ranks cities on the relative cost of what Savills calls the Savills Executive Unit (SEU), which is a basket of properties required to house an executive group of people that may start up or expand a global business in any country where real estate costs become an important element of doing business.

All comparisons are based on the relative costs of the SEU in each city, thus overcoming some of the difficulties inherent in comparing real estate across continents.

The survey coincidently would seem to confirm the validity of my friend's lay conclusions about the property market.

Assuming you agree that the long-run trend in property is up (despite occasional wobbles), when is the best time to buy?

Well, there are some "events" that may interrupt the trend, and one could be a big injection of new supply into the market - in Hong Kong's case by 2014-15.

Another thing to consider is that when the government announced a 15 per cent buyer's stamp duty, that seemed to imply it did not expect home prices to fall by more than this level.

You be the judge of when to make a move, and as long as you have a long enough horizon, you surely can't be wrong. Or can you?