How to lose the mortgage millstone

How to lose the mortgage millstone

Here’s a challenge. How fast could you pay your mortgage off? The sad realisation hit me earlier in the year that I’m not likely to get rich anytime soon. I know – why did I even think that would happen?

The only path to financial freedom is going to be to make sacrifices – some pretty big ones – and slash the mortgage as soon as possible. Then compound interest and investing will be able to actually earn us money. The sooner the mortgage is gone, or at least significantly reduced (given the size of mortgages these days!), the more money we will have to enjoy life.

Yes, it can be a little boring trying to pay a slab off the mortgage. But once you owe a lot less you’ll be able to use that spare money to do things that you want, instead of feeding it to the bank all the time. If you’re in deposit saving mode, the tips below will also be helpful.

#1 Stop Spending. Sounds simple, but do you find yourself wondering where all your money went? Does it leak out of your wallet like a bucket with a hole in the bottom? We’ve tried budgeting before but it just seemed too complicated. After a couple of weeks we’d get bored and the whole thing would go out the window. So now we’ve just decided to stop spending on pretty much everything – except the essentials, and a couple of luxuries we just can’t live without.

#2 No new clothes. In fact no new anything. Terrifying for some, I know. But we’ve decided to put a ban on buying any new clothes for two years, and most other goods too. I already have enough threads to dress the people of a smallish nation so it really shouldn’t be too much of a challenge. It’s just the boredom factor, really. Second-hand op-shop bargains are allowed and it has become surprising to see what you can actually find, if you have the time to look. And given we’re not heading out to pubs and cafes anymore, we have to do something with our time.

We’ve got little kids so obviously they can’t wear the same clothes for two years, unless we put bricks on their heads. But we’ve made it known that we welcome all hand-me-downs, and have also made a habit of perusing the op shops and second kids’ clothing markets. It’s amazing how many near-new clothes you find for just a few dollars, or items that even have the tags still attached.

#3: Lose the pay TV. It’s a luxury that is costing you a pretty penny. With the growing number of channels on free to air, there’s a lot more choice for nix on the box these days. And if you do the sums, you’ll probably find that even hiring a few DVDs a month is a lot cheaper than pay-TV. If there is something you must watch – sport for example – try to arrange to see it at a friend’s house who has got pay TV. As a last resort head out to the pub to see it – but be careful your beer bill doesn’t cost you more than your monthly pay-TV would have!

#4: Join the library. Now that you’re not watching as much pay TV you might have more time to read books – and you can do it for free from your local library. Check out their DVDs and CDs too. If your library doesn’t have what you want you can ask them to bring it in from another public library. In many areas this is free. In others they’ll charge about $2 or $3 to do it. Recently my three-year-old wanted me to get him a Gruffalo audio book. Instead of buying it, we asked at the library, and they got it from another library for us. We had to wait about two weeks, but it provided some great anticipation for my son, and cost us nothing.

#5 Quit the gym. Go for a walk/run/ cycle/swim instead. Now we are coming into spring, there should be ample chance to get out and about and exercise without having to pay for it. If you need motivation, try to arrange with a friend to exercise with. Make a date for something active, such as tennis, swimming or walking.

#6: Ditch the car. Get a bike, or opt for two feet and a heartbeat. I don’t mean sell the car, I just mean avoid using it when possible. Of course if you have two cars and think you can survive with just one, it might be worth offloading your second. Otherwise keep your fuel costs down by jumping on a bike when you can or for very short trips, walk. We have a Christiana trike, which is great for carting the kids around and also for heading to the markets on a weekend. If you live in an area where there are organised car pooling groups, it might be worth checking them out as an alternative to owning your own car.

#7: Entertain at home. Going out can be pricey, especially if you are buying alcohol too.


Entertaining at home can be just as much fun, and stress-free (and cheap) if you ask everyone to bring a little something to contribute. If you do head out for a meal, look for cheaper restaurants where you can BYO alcohol for a low corkage fee.

#8: Home brew is a go-go. Since my hubby started home brewing a year ago, I reckon we’ve saved a small fortune in beer. If you’ve got a green bent, it’s potentially better for the environment too, because you’re reusing the bottles and not paying for all that heavy ready-made beer to be shipped about. If you are a wine drinker, try to save money by buying wine in bulk.

#9: Holiday close to home. Look for cheap options, such as camping, staying in caravan parks, or house-sitting for friends and family. Try to get something with kitchen facilities where you can make most of your meals – eating out can be a significant cost of holidays.

#10: Grow a few vegies. It can be pretty simple to grow some herbs in the garden (or pots) and a few basics such as spinach, lettuce and tomatoes. Pottering about watering and weeding them can also be relaxing after a stressful day at work.

#11: Babysitting circle. If you’ve got young kids, considering swapping babysitting services with friends. We have a magnet system where we use magnets as payment. Each family starts with four magnets. We often babysit the kids in their own home, in the evening. So one parent stays at home with their own children, while the other minds the second family’s children. It works a treat. You can arrange for the circle to work with several families or you could have your own arrangements with a couple of different families, as we do.

#12: Limit your mobile phone calls. If you’re bursting out of your mobile phone plan each month it might be time to examine your habits. Can you limit your conversations or cut down your texting to save money? Or could you email or skype someone instead?

#13:  Pre-made is pre-paid. Go for fresh with food where you can. Don’t get caught out buying pre-made things such as soup. It’s pretty easy to chuck a few vegies in a saucepan along with some stock powder and boil it up. Pre-made sauces (the add meat and vegies variety) can also be an expensive choice that could be replaced with a few basics such as stock powder, cornflour and garlic. It’s always good to make sure you’ve got a few basics in the fridge or cupboard so you’re not tempted to get take-away – even if it’s as simple as tinned fish, a cheap packet of pasta and sauce, or baked beans on toast as a stopgap.

#14: Buy a water bottle – and use it. Buying bottled water is crazy when you can refill from a tap. And resisting soft drinks, juice and flavoured milk will also save you plenty of money over time. Drink some water and eat an orange instead. It’s a lot cheaper, and better for your waistline too.

#15: Pack your own. Whether it’s work or an outing, there’s no doubt that food brought from home is going to be cheaper than lunch on-the run. It can get a bit tedious at times, so allow yourself to go really wild on occasion and buy takeaway. Otherwise bring your own and watch your mortgage start to be whittled away.

Original story by Carolyn Boyd, a property journalist and keen follower of Australia’s housing market.

Sunny house and yard

Spring will see investors warm to real estate

WARMER weather will combine with other favourable conditions to fuel the appetites of potential property investors, according to Australia’s largest independently owned mortgage broker.

The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics housing finance report saw the value of investment housing loans drop for the first time in four months in June 2010 by a seasonally-adjusted 3.6 per cent to $7.3 billion, the lowest value reached since February this year.

However, this compared favourably to $6.5 billion in June last year.

Many market commentators say this buyer group had been holding back until the election was over and the traditionally strong spring selling season begins. They won’t have to wait much longer.

Mortgage Choice senior corporate affairs manager, Kristy Sheppard says that according to RP Data, Australia typically sees higher than average property activity from September through to November.

“This year should be no exception, despite a possible lag effect from the hung parliament,” she said.

“There are already more properties on the market than usual at this time of year.

“That is good news for prospective investors, as is property prices plateauing in many areas and dropping in some; rental prices increasing; strong population growth continuing; consumer sentiment rising and the sharemarket continuing to be unpredictable.

“Housing undersupply is a serious issue in Australia and ABS building approval figures show a fall for a third consecutive month in June to reach the lowest level since August last year.

“Hence, many investors believe the long-term potential of property as a stable asset class is excellent.

“With fewer new properties there is bound to be a pick-up in rental price growth — we are seeing that happen already.

Spring will see investors warm to real estate

“Australian Property Monitors Rental Market Report for the June 2010 quarter shows that from April to June, rental prices for houses rose nationally by 0.7 per cent, bringing annual growth to a relatively small, but very encouraging, 3.1 per cent.

“The unit market was stronger, with rents increasing nationally during the last quarter by 3.5 per cent, bringing the annual growth rate to 4.2 per cent.

“This bodes well for people who research the property market thoroughly, have a long-term strategy in mind and investigate all their finance options so they make a sound investment decision.

“Prospective buyers must be aware that lenders have tightened loan assessment criteria for investors as well as owner occupiers.

“Many have limited their loan to value ratios to 90 per cent of the purchase price for both buyer groups, with some going even lower.

“Also, genuine savings are essential, whether in the form of a cash deposit or existing property equity.

“Both buyer groups will need to plan ahead to satisfy their chosen lender’s requirements.

“Preparing for rate movements is also vital to the planning process.

“The cash rate will probably remain stable for the next couple of months but many lenders are signalling that funding costs may force them to raise borrowing costs independently of the RBA’s rate cycle.

“It will be interesting to see how many Australian investors spring into the property market over the next quarter and what effect, if any, lender rate rises will have.”


Pedlars of House Price Doom off the Mark

Pedlars of House Price Doom off the Mark

The level of household debt in Australia has risen over the past three decades from less than 50 per cent of household disposable income to about 150 per cent.

Ric Battellino, the Reserve Bank of Australia deputy governor, has sought to allay concerns that this indebtedness means we face a risky unsustainable outlook. He said that 75 per cent of household debt was held by the upper 40 per cent of income-earners.

The bank’s governor, Glenn Stevens, had earlier given the RBA’s estimate of Australia’s dwelling price-to-income ratio, which found that dwelling prices in capital cities were typically 4.8 times disposable household incomes – about half the ratio put by the doomsaying international survey Demographia.

The Commonwealth Bank chief executive, Ralph Norris, was asked after the bank announced a $6 billion profit last week whether the housing doomsayers were nuts.

”I wouldn’t go as far as to say they’re nuts but I think that it’s very easy to make assertions based on averages,” he said. ”You come to a different view when you look at the fact that the incomes based around averages are not relevant to the average person that has a mortgage.

”So you know, we’re in a situation here where, in my view, the housing market in Australia is healthy.

”There will obviously be variations in price and we shouldn’t be surprised if there are, you know, drops of 5 per cent or 10 per cent, as there are obviously increases in value.

”But I think the range of value is not going to be anything that suggests a bubble and a collapse of the housing market in Australia.”

Deutsche Bank issued a research paper last week suggesting Australia’s house prices were not as vulnerable as doomsayers argue.

While acknowledging that on many comparisons Australia had a high house price-to-income ratio and high levels of household debt, the Deutsche Bank economists Phil O’Donaghoe and Adam Boyton argued the vulnerability of Australian housing was ”overblown”.



”The housing market is perhaps the most common vulnerability we are asked about in the Australian economy,” the said.

”Combined with the role played by the US housing market in the financial crisis, investor awareness and suspicion of this key asset class is perhaps understandable.

”But we have long held the view that a broader assessment of the Australian housing market offers a more sanguine conclusion.”

The Deutsche Bank report noted that mortgage debt obligations in Australia were fully recourse loans and borrowers’ mortgage obligations extend beyond the mortgaged property, therefore providing a greater incentive for repayment relative to the United States.

Battellino suggests the strongest evidence on the sustainability of household debt was the low level of arrears. This was evident again this week in housing repossession data.

Repossession actions lodged in the NSW Supreme Court for the first six months of 2010 totalled 1198.

There were 3800 last year and 4000 during 2008. The peak year was 5300 in 2006.

Foreclosures in the US rose 4 per cent from June to July, exceeding 300,000 for the 17th month in a row, according to RealtyTrac.

The number of foreclosure activities, which incorporates all phases of foreclosure including default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions, totalled 325,229 in July.

Lenders seized 92,858 properties last month, the second highest monthly total since RealtyTrac began tracking repossessions in 2005. Total foreclosure activities reached 1.65 million in the first six months of 2010.

Deutsche Bank noted that Australian house price concerns were ebbing. ”The pulse in housing finance has moderated in line with rises in the cash rate. The housing cycle points to a steady moderation in price pressures.

”Elements of the market which had been described by the RBA earlier this year as demonstrating elements of ‘considerable buoyancy’ have moderated. Auction clearance rates have also slowed.” From a peak of 72 per cent at the end of last year, auction clearance rates had fallen by last month to 61 per cent, Deutsche said.

Story by Jonathan Chancellor

Confidence returns for property investors

Confidence returns for property investors

 A new survey confirms high-income property investors have returned to the Australian property market with the intention to buy, a considerable shift from the same time last year. There has been a nine per cent increase in demand by investors looking to buy a property at the upper end of the market, according to the’s Consumer Insights Report (Buy).

Twenty-five per cent of investors were searching for properties to buy in the $500,000 or more price range, up from 16 per cent in April 2009.

General manager of sales and operations for Peter Wright says the research findings paint a promising picture of the property market.

“The report revealed one in two property seekers now believe the market is rising – a result not observed for two years,” he says. “Of those who believe the market is rising, the perceived reasons for growth include a seven per cent increase in investors returning to the market (35 per cent), a shortage of properties (54 per cent) and a growing economy (40 per cent).

Confidence returns for property investors

“Investors were also one of the top three homebuyer groups (39 per cent) that have sought pre-approval for finance with the intention to buy or build. First homebuyers and investors were also more likely to say they had thoroughly researched the market – up by 16 per cent and eight per cent from the last wave respectively,” Wright says.

The report also showed that investors were more likely to be male, aged 50 to 64 and living in high income households, while female investors were more likely to be younger, aged 25 to 34 years (30 per cent), compared to males (21 per cent). Both male and female investors were more inclined to come from double income households (54 and 50 per cent respectively).

The report is an in-depth survey that delves into the psyche of the Australian property buyer, covering topics such as buy, rent and share. The survey ran from May 31 to June 3 with 4082 Australians taking part.

Source: Australian Property Investor

Banks’ housing bias bad for economy

Banks’ housing bias bad for economy

Australian banks’ preference for writing home loans rather than lending to business may pose a risk to the banking system and the overall economy, according to a leading banker.

Joseph Healy, business banking head of National Australia Bank, said the bias of banks toward retail mortgage lending could hobble the economy’s long-term growth by skimping on loans to small businesses. The money flowing into housing may create other distortions such as fuelling excessive investment, he said.

”With the apparent bias towards to the household sector, we shouldn’t discard the possibility of asset bubbles being created there,” Mr Healy said.

”We’re not saying we believe there is an asset bubble but shouldn’t close our minds to the possibility of that happening.”

Since the emergence of the global financial crisis, small businesses have complained that they have borne the brunt of tighter lending requirements, with interest rates on their loans falling less than other borrowers. In addition, competition among banks has been reduced as several smaller lenders either exited the market or where swallowed up by bigger rivals.

Mr Healy said banks’ tilt towards home loans meant fewer loans are available for business, effectively crimping the economy’s growth engine.

”This is ultimately bad for growth, bad for competition, bad for jobs, bad for business and in the end bad for Australia,” he said.

In 2000, every $1000 of home lending was matched by roughly the same amount for business. That ratio has since shifted so that today, for every $1000 of home lending, only about $600 is available for business, according to NAB research.

Home lending comprised 43 per cent of the lending of the big four banks – Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, NAB and ANZ – in 2000, but rose to 57 per cent this year. In the same time, business lending has dropped from 46 per cent to 35 per cent, according to NAB’s figures.

”The lack of access of finance has been a problem but also the cost of finance,” said Peter Strong executive director of Council of Small Business of Australia.

Banks are currently charging as much as 2 percentage points more than the standard mortgage rate to many small businesses, Mr Strong said.

Banks’ housing bias bad for economy

Among the big four banks, NAB has the largest small-to-medium business loan book and the smallest residential mortgage book.

Most-overvalued market

In contrast to the trends in most rich nations, Australia’s house prices have continued to rise even during the global economic slowdown. Analysts have cited loan availability but also a relatively strong economy and a shortage of affordable stock for the divergence.

Some of that price fizz is coming off, though, with home price growth moderating in the past few months. Even so, the recent prices gains have pushed the national city median home price to $468,000, according to RP Data-Rismark.

The Economist magazine last week said a ”fair value” analysis of global property shows Australian property the most overvalued of any of the 20 countries the publication tracks, based on a comparison of the current ratio of rents to prices to a long-term average.

Mr Healy’s comments come as analysts speculate that Australia’s major banks may be squeezed in coming months by rising off-shore funding costs, with the banks’ exposure to the residential mortgage market drawing greater scrutiny on global markets.

Mr Healy delivered a speech on business lending to the American Chamber of Commerce in Sydney this afternoon.

Professor of Economics & Finance at the University of Western Sydney Steve Keen lauded Mr Healy’s comments.

”I’m delighted to see somebody in the banking sector come out and say this because it’s really about speculation being funded by the banks rather than investment.”

”To me the essential thing banks should be doing is providing working capital to firms.”

Story by Chris Zappone –

Home prices chipping away at fairness

Home prices chipping away at fairness: Ratings executive

S&P credit ratings expert confirms the strength of the housing sector but questions the benefit of high home prices for society

A managing director of a credit ratings agency responsible for scoring the quality of Australia’s mortgage debt has questioned the social impact of the nation’s soaring house prices, even while she confirms the strength of the sector.

Standard & Poor’s managing director of rating services Fabienne Michaux said the strength of Australia’s mortgage quality is a success on the capital markets but the high valuation of homes underlying the debt presents a long-term risk to the basic fairness in society.

“The social implication of house prices in the longer term is a key issue,” she said. “One of the things people were proud of was that (Australia) was fairly egalitarian and even and everybody had basic rights to housing and basic education and good healthcare.”
“Those are the sorts of things that start to chip away when you’ve got people who can’t afford to actually to find somewhere to put a roof over their head.”



The median national city median home price was $468,000 in May, according to RP Data-Rismark, following years of nearly uninterrupted increases in value, driven by a shortage of available new land, a cumbersome building approvals process and tax incentives that reward owners to purchase and hold second homes.

There is an estimated 200,000 home shortage in the nation, expected to worsen as a recovery in building stalls. Ratings agencies such as Standard & Poor’s grade the quality of the mortgage debt that is repackaged and on-sold by local lenders to institutional investors.

While confirming the strength of assets underlying Australia’s residential mortgage backed securities market, which has issued $352 billion since 2000, Ms Michaux noted home owners are unwise to take too much satisfaction in becoming property millionaires.

“Ultimately the utility of the house is still that you’re living in it,” she said. “When you pass it on, it’s still one house. If you’ve got two kids you’ve got half a house each.”

Story by Chris Zappone Fairfax Digital

The Next RBA Move will be Downwards

The Next RBA Move will be Downwards

When yours truly was on Seven’s Sunrise back in May it was acknowledged by both David Koch and myself that the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) would be unlikely to lift rates that day, with the knowledge that things were looking worse in Europe and there were already signs of a slowdown on housing here. We were wrong.

The RBA lifted rates that day by yet another quarter point to 4.5 per cent. At the time it was largely expected by economists.

However, I believe it was a serious mistake to lift cash rates; similar to the mistake made in 2008 when the RBA thought lifting rates was a prudent idea in the first half of that year.


Now, sure, the RBA board members do not have a crystal ball and can only go on present information at hand. So it was not to know of the events on Wall Street and in Europe later in the week (the so-called “flash crash”).

However, Europe had been simmering for some time before May and as each week had gone by in March, and then in April, the situation was becoming worse and worse.

Yet the RBA moved rates higher in May largely on the belief the housing market was still surging ahead. This belief was due to, among other factors, auction clearance rates.

But, as I have stated before, there has been an increasing number of passed-in auctions failing to make it into the official results and clearance rates.

The problem with this is that the RBA has been relying on auction clearance rates to get an indicator of the market. Naturally, to think that it may have lifted interest rates in May partly based on incorrect data is a disturbing thought.

Now, not much more than a month later, the banks are starting to cut their fixed rates. And banks only tend to do that when they are sure cash rates have peaked.



Even the real estate spruikers have been stating the housing market is slowing. You know the market is seriously slowing when they do that.

The positive news in all this is that the probability of further interest rate rises this year has all but been eliminated. And I believe the next move is actually going to be down.

That is because the RBA was lifting rates to stop a potential housing bubble. Now that risk has gone and, indeed, the risk has increased for house price falls, the RBA can accommodate a cut and will likely make a cut if Europe drags us down and/or house prices retreat.

The RBA will never admit it, but it made a mistake in May. And that’s why I believe the probabilities have risen that the next move will be down.

Louis Christopher is the managing director of SQM Research and the head of property at Adviser Edge.

Reserve Bank Interest Rate Announcement

Reserve Bank Interest Rate Announcement

The Reserve Bank has opted to keep interest rates steady at its board meeting today.
It was a widely expected move and will give mortgage holders another welcome breather from the six rate hikes they have endured since September last year.

“It looks as though the earlier interest rate hikes are already biting,” says blogger Carolyn Boyd. “Auction clearance rates are down and house price growth is cooling. Real estate agents are also reporting there are less people looking to buy.”

Reserve Bank Interest Rate Announcement

Each 0.25 per cent interest rate rise adds another $50 to the monthly cost of an average mortgage. Australian mortgage holders are already paying about $300 more per month in repayments than they were in September last year.
Mortgage holders on variable interest rates are currently being charged about 7.4 per cent by their lenders.

Investors fill the first home buyers' gap

Investors fill the first home buyers’ gap

When June-quarter property prices are released in the next two months, it’s likely we’ll see house price growth down markedly from the rates we saw in March and December.

The figures probably won’t show falling prices but growth will be a lot closer to zero than it has been for more than a year.

That in itself would be an unusual result. The fall in housing finance figures compiled by the ABS has been steep and would normally suggest falling prices, not just a fall in the rate of growth.

Overall, the number of housing loans for owner occupation, excluding those for refinancing, is down more than 30 per cent year on year for NSW.

One reason the downward effect on house prices hasn’t been as pronounced as we’ve seen historically is that it was accompanied by a rise in the proportion of housing purchases not involving mortgages.


Or another way to think about it, the lack of a significant fall is partly due to a fall in the proportion of first home buyers, who recently have had a much greater propensity to use mortgages for their purchases.

The other reason is the increased level of investor activity, reported separately to the owner-occupied numbers that are usually considered to have the biggest link to prices.

Nationally, the value of loans taken out by investors is up nearly 30 per cent year on year, according to the ABS, and brokers and financing groups are reporting strong upswings in investor activity as the competition from first home buyers and upgraders continues to dissipate.

This has helped cushion the effect of the withdrawal of first home buyers and upgraders from the market as interest rate concerns dominate.

Matthew Bell is the economist for the Fairfax-owned Australian Property Monitors.

Brokers turning back first home buyers

Brokers turning back first home buyers.

I’ve just heard that some brokers are turning back first home buyers due to the changing goal posts within the banking system. First home buyers are just to hard for some.

This is not surprising. Currently I have a first home buyer who has extended their finance four times. We are now at just over 30 days, when they were told by the banks that they were preapproved.  When they applied the goal posts were changed.  Frustrating.

Brokers turning back first home buyers

If you are a first home buyer my recommendation is for you to go straight to the bank.  Brokers have no loyalty to banks and hence, banks are not making life easy for their clients.

…ask Madeleine for more information bycommenting on this post.  Cheers