Saturday, June 9, 2012

Is Median House Price Data Useful?

There are many newspaper reports that discuss rising or falling house & apartment prices by reference to the median sales price for a particular period.  For example, see this recent report from REIQ.  The median price is the middle price of all the properties sold in the defined period.  (For example, if there were 5 sales in the period, for $1, $10, $1000, $1001 and $6409, then the median is $1,000.)

If you select a different length of time to measure the median, you get a different result of course.  For example, according to REIQ, the median sales price for Brisbane apartments (all of Brisbane local government area) for January 2012 to March 2012 was $387,750.  The median for April 2011 to March 2012 was $395,000.

The median is not the average price.  (The average for the example above is $1484.)  See also here and here.

The statistics only look at the properties that were sold in the period.  If the median changes, it does not necessarily mean that the value of any particular property has changed.  For example, if in one quarter, there are many two bedroom apartments that are sold, and in the next quarter, there are mostly one bedroom apartments that are sold, then the median price is likely to decrease.  If a new off-the-plan development settles in the period, then the median is likely to increase for that period and decrease for the next period.

So how reliable are the recent REIQ statistics?  I had a look at a number of the more larger, upmarket and top end apartment buildings, and there are no or few reported sales for the relevant period (January 2012 to March 2012).  For example:
  • Admiralty Towers Two - no recorded sales
  • The Grosvenor - no recorded sales
  • Quay West - only one sale, a 1 bedroom.
  • Admiralty Quays - only one sale, a 1 bedroom
  • Riparian - 1 reported sale, a 2 bedroom
  • Metro 21 - 2 reported sales (1 bedroom & 2 bedroom)
  • Admiralty Towers One - no sales on direct riverfront side of building
  • Fresh Taringa - no sales since October 2010
  • Riva Indooroopilly - no sales in more than 12 months
  • For the above, there were no 3 bedroom sales at all.
It seems that the larger and more expensive apartments are not being sold.  Thus, the median price will be less than periods where there are more of these apartments that are being sold.  That the larger or more expensive apartments are not being sold could be for a number of reasons:  (A)  They may be listed for sale, but not selling because the owner does not want to or need to decrease price. (B) These buildings have more owner-occupiers, who do not sell as often.  (C) If rented, the rents are good, and so selling for a lower price makes less sense than renting out the apartment.  (D) An owner who needs to sell may decide to rent the apartment for a short period, until prices rise.  (E)  There may be no buyers at the high end of the market.

So it is hard to determine if the apartment values have fallen for the kinds of apartments that are not often sold, and if so, by how much.  Also, the median price decease for Brisbane may be because of a change in mix of the apartments that are being sold.

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