Property values

House prices: the sleeper issue that threatens our economy now

PHOTO: In the new year, some households will be forced to confront the harsh reality that either by joblessness or reduced income they are unable to keep up with their old loan payments. CREDIT: GLENN HUNT

Property values are being held up artificially. What happens when the various safety nets disappear?

Who will be the first person to lose their home to COVID-19? It’s only a matter of time.

For all the optimism we muster heading into the federal budget on October 6, and for all the relief we feel as cases subside in Melbourne and disappear in Sydney, we still stand on the precipice as a nation.

Society, as we knew it, has radically reshaped over the past six months.

The end of international travel. The exodus of foreign students. Working from home. Life will surely regain some semblance of the old “normal” we took for granted, but make no mistake: livelihoods have been decimated.

Until now, people who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19 and related shutdowns have been cushioned by a combination of wage subsidies, one-off cash payments, boosted welfare payments and, crucially, leniency from banks and other lenders regarding over-due mortgage repayments. But for how much longer?

As Commonwealth Bank boss Matt Comyn said in a podcast for the Institute of Public Administration Australia this week, mortgage deferrals can’t last “indefinitely”.

At some point, our economy – suspended in mid-air, carefully frozen in time since March 2020 – must stand on its own two feet again.

At some point, “zombie” firms and jobs – kept alive only by regular transfusions of government support – must be shot in the head.

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