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Are house prices peaking? They have certainly risen strongly, even in real terms – that is, when adjusted for inflation – since the mid-1990s in most OECD countries and, as the latest OECD Economic Outlook reports, their current upswing is the longest of its kind since the 1970s.

Various indicators suggest that house prices are not much out of line with fundamentals in most markets. However, the critical question is whether interest rates will remain close to their historical lows. If they rise steeply, real house prices would come under downward pressure, with a risk of sharp drops.

While real house prices have levelled off in Australia since 2003, and to a lesser extent in the UK, in most countries they have kept growing or even accelerated. What are the chances of peaks being reached in these countries? OECD economists have looked at this question and have identified two scenarios. Their work shows that, except for Denmark and New Zealand, most housing markets would withstand a 1 or 2 percentage point hike in long-term interest rates at 2005 real house price levels, with a limited risk of a sharp downturn.

Actually, long-term interest rates are already up by some 50 basis points since late 2005, the reference period for these calculations. If real prices continue to rise for another year at their 2005 pace, then interest rate increases of the magnitudes considered would raise the probability of nearing a peak to 50% or more in France, Ireland, Spain, Sweden and the US.

©OECD Observer No 256, July 2006

Economic data

GDP growth: -9.8% Q2/Q1 2020 2020
Consumer price inflation: 1.3% Sep 2020 annual
Trade (G20): -17.7% exp, -16.7% imp, Q2/Q1 2020
Unemployment: 7.3% Sep 2020
Last update: 10 Nov 2020

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