Get our way out with more houses

Building more homes may be one of the most practical ways to bring prices down

While flipping through a business magazine, I saw an interesting chart illustrating the average household size of various countries including Malaysia.

At one glance, our number of 4.4 people per household is among the highest in the world, even in the Asia Pacific region with many developing countries.

We are far behind compared to developed nations such as United Kingdom and Australia, which have 2.3 and 2.6 people per household respectively. Our number is also higher than two nations with high population in our region, China and Indonesia, which recorded 3 and 3.9 people for their average household size respectively.

What do these numbers tell us? Other than giving us information on our demographic structure, it also offers an important insight which could address the issue of home prices in our country.

The Governor of the Bank of England (BoE) Mark Carney once said, the only long-term way to effectively bring home prices down is to build more homes. This may be one of the most practical ways for us to address the issue too.

According to National Property Information Centre(NAPIC), we had 4.9 million homes in the fourth quarter of 2015. As NAPIC does not track rural homes, we assume that only urbanites were taken into account in the survey. This accounts for about 70% of our 31 million population or 21.7 million people. Therefore, on average, there is about 4.4 people per household in the urban areas of our country.

The above figure is a poorer ratio than Australia in 1927. If we are to match the same ratio as Australia today, we need 8.3 million houses instead of 4.9 million houses. It means we need additional 3.4 million houses to meet the standard in Australia.

With our current rate of housing production, which is about 70,000 new units launched a year according to NAPIC, we need 48 years to build 3.4 million homes, and it would still be a long distance for us to catch up with UK and Australia, given the rapid growth of population and urbanisation in our country.

Our Statistics Department estimates that our population will reach 38.5 million by year 2040. If we maintain the ratio of 70% urban population by then, we would need another 5.5 million houses to reach the ratio of 2.6 people per household in 2040. This literally means we need to build 230,000 houses per year for the coming 24 years!

Basic economic principle says, when demand is higher than supply, prices will go up. And when supply exceeds demand, prices will go down. Equilibrium is met when demand equals supply.

This is well reflected in the world oil market. From 2010 until early 2014, oil prices had been fairly stable at around US$110 per barrel. However, since mid-2014, prices have dropped by more than half due to a surge in production and a drop in demand in many countries.

United States production has nearly doubled over the last few years. Saudi, Nigerian and Algerian oil that once was sold in the United States have to compete for Asian markets, and the producers are forced to drop prices. Canadian and Iraqi oil production and exports are rising every year. Russians also manage to keep pumping at record levels. All these contribute to the oil prices which are hovering around $50 per barrel today.

It works the same in the real estate market. Imagine if we are having 8.3 million houses today instead of 4.9 million, our house prices would be much more affordable due to sufficient supply.

The key factor here is, we need more houses, especially affordable homes. The relevant authorities need to streamline the delivery system to encourage the number of homes built every year. Government and various local authorities should also pool resources together in filling the gap by speeding up approval process, and building more affordable homes.

Rick Jacobus, an expert in affordable homeownership in United States shares his view in his article “Why we must build?”– the answer for hot-market metro areas is simply to build. Build more. Build now. Build anywhere. Even when we build high-end housing for the rich it adds to the overall supply and pushes rents down.

I particularly like a quote in his article, “We can’t build our way out of the housing crisis but we won’t get out without building.”

It is an interesting point for us to ponder when it comes to the challenge of housing the nation in our country, especially the need for affordable homes.

Datuk Alan Tong has over 50 years of experience in property development. He was the World President of FIABCI International for 2005/2006 and awarded the Property Man of the Year 2010 at FIABCI Malaysia Property Award. He is also the group chairman of Bukit Kiara Properties. - The Star

No comments