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Australia house prices fall as shutdowns hit property market

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Australian home prices fell in May for the first time in almost a year as the impact of the coronavirus shutdown rumbles through the economy.

[SYDNEY] Australian home prices fell in May for the first time in almost a year as the impact of the coronavirus shutdown rumbles through the economy.

Property values across the state and territory capitals fell 0.5 per cent last month, the first decline since June 2019, according to CoreLogic Inc data released Monday. Amongst the biggest falls were Melbourne, where prices dropped 0.9 per cent, and Perth, which was down 0.6 per cent.

While the relatively mild declines during the height of the lockdown will raise hopes the hit to the housing market may be less than initially feared, the real test will come later this year when assistance packages are scaled back. Currently, almost 430,000 borrowers are on six-month payment holidays and around 2.9 million workers are receiving government wage subsidies.

"Eventually government stimulus will wind back and borrower repayment holidays will expire," said Tim Lawless, head of research at CoreLogic. "In the absence of these policies, housing values could come under some additional downwards pressure if economic conditions haven't picked up towards the end of the year."

Activity picked up in May after the property market came to a near standstill in April, when housing inspections and public auctions were banned as part of social-distancing measures. Even so, sales volumes and listings remain below historical averages.

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The government is planning to announce a fresh stimulus plan for the building industry, which employs about 10 per cent of the nation's workforce, according to newspaper reports. Buyers of newly-constructed homes could get grants of at least A$20,000 (S$18,290), the Australian Financial Review said. Direct cash grants for home renovations are also under consideration, the Australian newspaper said.

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