House sales could grind to a halt as a recession from the coronavirus outbreak edges closer.

Economists and real estate agents are predicting a drop in prices and sales over the next six months as social distancing makes transactions harder and banks become more risk averse with lending.

ASB has predicted house prices will drop 0.5 percent in the next quarter and 1 percent the following.

Overall house price growth is forecast to be zero by March next year, instead of 5.3 percent as previously expected.

And banks have lowered floating interest rates, following the Reserve Bank’s move to drop the official cash rate.

It would be easy to think the notoriously over-heated housing market could tip in favour of buyers.

But the chief executive of Real Estate Institute New Zealand, Bindi Norwell, expects home-owners will hold off selling.

The most similar scenario to compare the current situation with is the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, she said, where house prices reduced by about 6 percent and bounced back within a year.

“The biggest impact it did have is on volume. People really did hold on tight for a little while, until they had some certainty around the market.”

While the outbreak will have an affect, she is optimistic that sales will go on, she said.

Economist and housing commentator Shamubeel Eaqub is also reluctant to predict that it will become a buyer’s market.

“Activity is not going to go to zero, but very high levels of activity that you might expect from falling house prices and falling interest rates, I don’t think that will happen in a period where there is so much uncertainty on the economy, the outlook for people’s jobs, and people’s health.”

The KiwiSaver kitty is also dwindling for first home buyers.

When there is a recession, people stop trading, and in this crisis there is the added issue of social isolation, Eaqub said.

“That’s really going to affect people’s ability to transact the normal way.”

In China, sales fell sharply while people were in social isolation.

Eaqub said buyers that don’t already have a mortgage, will struggle to secure one from the bank.

“Banks will become very risk averse in what is likely to be the deepest and longest recession in living memory.”

Eaqub said the cost of borrowing is not the issue, it’s the access to credit.

Tall Poppy Real Estate’s Joe Wilkes said while some people will wait to sell, others may be forced into it, especially in harder-hit regions like Queenstown.

During a recent stay in Queenstown, he noticed the hotel was only 20 percent full and most accommodation and Airbnbs were sitting empty.

“If people are leveraged up significantly, then they may well find the reduction in occupancy could have an impact and force people to sell.”

While it’s early days, he is already seeing some seller behaviour change, he said, especially an increase in tourism hotspots where property owners are looking to sell off surplus property.

For those still in the market, social isolation may become a barrier to sales but that open-home viewings could be swapped for one-on-one visits.

ASB said the market should start picking up again at the end of the year if the virus is contained.

This article was originally published on RNZ and re-published with permission.

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