The telephone lines to the WA government’s housing department were jammed this morning after Premier Alan Carpenter announced a means-tested $300 million shared equity loan scheme for first home buyers. After all the talk and hand-wringing, one government is actually trying to do something about housing affordability.

WA needs to – there’s no political benefit in the average Perth mortgage now being only $14,000 less than Sydney. But it could yet be a brave decision, Minister.

The WA scheme means the government will buy up to 40% of a home, leaving a family with income of less than $60,000 to buy the remaining 60% with a low-interest Keystart loan. The family must be owner-occupiers, the home’s maximum value is $365,000. And they qualify for the first home buyer’s grant, but of course lose 40% of any up or down side when they eventually sell the property.

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The risk for the government is the red-hot-but-cooling Perth property market. There is no shortage of land in WA – just a shortage of builders and infrastructure facing a sudden bulge in demand. As that sorts itself out, it could be a brave soul who bets on housing prices continuing to rise.

WA Treasurer Eric Ripper has warned in the recent past about the WA housing bubble bursting painfully, Premier Carpenter is having none of that talk.

“The anticipation is that property prices are not going to go down in WA – it’s a theoretical possibility, but all the fundamentals suggest very strongly that the housing market is not going to sway,” Carpenter is quoted as saying in the AFR.

A very brave statement, Premier, but it’s a risk WA can afford. The $300 million for the First Start scheme is meant to help 1,000 sandgroper households a year for three years, spreading out the risk.

There’s also the matter of whether adding 1,000 home-buyers to the market this year will just further inflate prices by increasing demand when supply is limited, but somehow Carpenter just states he doesn’t believe it will drive up demand. Belief is a wonderful thing.

The shared equity scheme will be watched closely as it unfolds, particularly by a NSW housing industry that’s desperate for some sort, any sort, of assistance, but those with long memories might remember the disaster that unfolded the last time the NSW government tried to help home buyers – a fixed-rate loan scheme that ended in negative equity stories and a bail-out.

With the RBA warning yesterday that rents will indeed rise, it’s early days in the rental whinging but it could be much worse: the average UK house price has just passed the 200,000 quid mark.

That puts the average dreary UK house at about the same price as the average bright Sydney home. Suddenly we don’t seem so expensive.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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