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Interest Rates On The Rise And What It Means For House Prices

After an era of low interest rates that spanned more than 10 years, everything changed in May.

That is when the Reserve Bank raised the official interest rate to 0.35 per cent, up 0.25 per cent.

According to RBA Governor Philip Lowe the time was right - following two years of COVID - to make a change on interest rates.

"The Board judged that now was the right time to begin withdrawing some of the extraordinary monetary support that was put in place to help the Australian economy during the pandemic," Mr Lowe said.

"The economy has proven to be resilient, and inflation has picked up more quickly, and to a higher level, than was expected. There is also evidence that wages growth is picking up.

"Given this, and the very low level of interest rates, it is appropriate to start the process of normalising monetary conditions." 

And the banks were quick to pass on the hike to mortgage holders.

All of the “big four” banks - the Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, NAB and ANZ - raised their rates for home loans in line with the RBA’s rise of one quarter of a percentage point.

For those with a mortgage that increase will hit at various dates in May, depending on the bank.

In Melbourne, where the median dwelling value is $806,144 homeowners could pay $85 more on their monthly loan as a result of the rate rise taking their monthly repayments to $2442, according to a report by CoreLogic.

The calculation is based on an 80 per cent loan on the median dwelling value, assuming the person was previously on an average variable rate of 2.49 per cent that has now increased to 2.74 per cent.

The CoreLogic report also forecasts how future increases to the official interest rate would also impact homeowners.

The same homeowner in Melbourne would pay $2,892 per month on a 3.49 per cent variable interest rate or $3,264 on a 4.49 per cent variable interest rate.

And what will that mean for house prices? 

Higher interest rates are set to add the downwards pressure on housing growth rates which were already losing steam, comments CoreLogic research director Tim Lawless.

However, he notes that the extent of any downturn depends on how high and how fast interest rates rise including unemployment rates.

“Labour markets are currently showing the lowest unemployment rate since the mid-1970s, and conditions are set to tighten further,” says Lawless.

“Such a low unemployment rate, along with an expectation for higher income growth, should keep mortgage distress and forced sales at relatively low levels.”

A raise in fixed term mortgage lending may also provide some protection for mortgage holders.

"Through the middle of last year, 45 per cent of housing loans were funded on fixed rate terms, temporarily shielding those borrowers from rate hikes," he said.

"While they will need to refinance down the track, by that time labour markets are likely to have tightened further and income growth picked up."

Many have also paid off more than minimum rates on their mortgage, particularly in the last two years, providing a further buffer.

The average homeowner in Australia was 45 months ahead on their mortgage repayments by the end of 2021, according to data released by the Australian Prudential Regulations Authority this year.