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How Much Do House Prices in South Africa Fall, or Crash, In a Recession: 50 Years of Data Analysed



  1. In the worst-case scenario, house prices may crash about 14%, in real terms, in a recession.

  2. The Impact of a recession on house prices, in real terms, can confidently be expected to be -1.211% ± 5.46%

  3. The report includes value at risk (VaR) analysis, and different scenarios and their impact on house prices in South Africa, for definitive answers


Keywords: impact of recession on house prices in South Africa, how much can property prices crash in recession in South Africa, how will recession impact prices of houses in South Africa, economic downturn impact on prices of houses in South Africa.


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Every new buyer and homeowner has this concern. . . how much can the house prices crash in a recession in South Africa? With the memories of the 2008 financial crisis still vivid in our minds, combined with the economic pessimism that has remained persistent in South Africa since 2012, now augmented with the lingering negativity of 2020 coupled with the pandemic, people have naturally developed 'anxiousness' regarding all aspects of their financial health


Alternatively, national and international investors with real estate holdings as part of their portfolio also have this concern. If the economy's recessionary condition persists, or if there is another lagging-conditional recession in the next 4-6 years (which, of course, is likely, considering the economic condition of the South African economy since 2012), how much can house prices crash in South Africa?

While observing prices of some of the posh areas of Cape Town, for example, one may not consider this risk as very concerning, data of the overall South African house prices and the Impact of recession on house prices, suggests otherwise. An accurate assessment can be a critical aid in devising hedging strategies and formulating remedial actions.

Many 'gurus' give predictions regarding what can happen; however, any 'assessment' that is not based on data and modeling is . . . well . . . worthless. This report utilizes 5 decades of data to understand this issue with precision, for definitive answers.

Data from the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) is used in this report for an in-depth examination. All data and calculations are available at the end of the report.

The final derived value of the analysis is also adjusted for the per-period inflation rate to derive the real value, i.e., the Impact of the recession, in real terms, in addition to the nominal Impact.

So, what does the data reveal?

Examination of the last 15 recessions (1970-2019) reveals that, on average, the recession impacts house prices by -1.21% (adjusted for the rate of inflation per recessionary period ((Link)), and the nominal price of homes appreciated by 7.2%. Furthermore, in real terms, 8 out of the 15 recessionary periods in the data set, negatively impacted housing prices.

What about future recessions? How much can we expect house prices to crash/decline in the next recession?

Confidence interval for the mean Impact of recessions has been calculated to examine how future recessions may impact house prices

(real Impact):

Mean confidence interval: [-6.67%, 4.24%].alternatively: -1.211% ± 5.46%

Since the population's σ is not known the formula uses the T distribution with n-1 degrees of freedom:

X ± T(1-α/2)(df)S/√n.

-1.2106467 ± T(1-0.020/2)(14)⋅8.0507138/√15 (nominal Impact): Mean confidence interval: [2.55% , 11.80%].alternatively: 7.2% ± 4.63%

Since the population's σ is not known the formula uses the T distribution with n-1 degrees of freedom:

X ± T(1-α/2)(df)S/√n.

7.1709533 ± T(1-0.020/2)(14)⋅6.8256914/√15

If you would calculate the confidence interval over an infinite number of samples with a sample size of 15, 98% of the calculated confidence intervals will contain the mean's true value.

Simplistically, this means that the risk, as per the data, is approximately -7% real decline; the best-case scenario is a 4.24% real appreciation or a 11.8% nominal appreciation; as per the data of the last 15 recessionary periods, from last 50 years.

We can state with 98% confidence that the next recession's actual Impact, as per the examination of previous 15 recessions, is likely to be between -6.67% to 4.24% in real terms, adjusted for the long-term inflation rate, or between 2.55%, 11.80% in nominal terms.

The real figure is more important to remember in this scenario; this, simplistically, means that in a recession, for every ZAR 1,000,000 in equity in a house, as per the data of the last 15 recessions, a homeowner or investor is at risk of losing a real value of ZAR 70,000.

So, how much money am I risking by buying a new home or holding property? How much can the price of a house decline in South Africa, after you buy, especially in a recession?

A value at risk (VaR) analysis that measures how an asset's value is likely to decrease in a specific period is implemented for definitive answers. Using a 95% confidence interval, the VaR is calculated as: z = (x-µ)/σ

X= (-1.65 × 8.1) + 100 = 86.6.

Simplistically, this means that for every ZAR 1,000,000 in equity in a house, we can state with 95% confidence, as per our assessment of the past 15 recessionary periods, that the losses should not exceed ZAR 130,400 or 13.4%; This is also the projected upper limit of losses, in the worst-case scenario. Thus, we can say confidently that, in South Africa, in a recession, the worst-case an investor, homeowner, or buyer should prepare for is maximum losses of about -15%, or ZAR 150,000 per every ZAR 1,000,000 of real estate value.

Nonetheless, it should be noted that these are the most likely values, and, of course, there is always a possibility of a one-off idiosyncratic event being much worse. It is also important to note that this analysis encompasses recessionary decline, and fluctuations of the property market, which are not related to recessionary periods are not included in this examination. It is also worth noting that specific areas may have figures that deviate from this overall national average.

However, in terms of recessionary decline, it is safe to say that losses greater than -15%, as per the analysis of the previous 15 recessions, are not highly probable.

We cannot, and should not, make decisions based on 'anomalous happenings,' as there are infinite strange, aberrant events that can happen for better or for worse. A hedging or risk-mitigating strategy that equips an investor or homeowner with an appropriate response to handle a worst-case scenario of -20% decline in property prices, in the absolute worst-case, should suffice.

How does a recession impact homeowners' wealth? Does a recession impact homeowners' wealth in South Africa?

Each recessionary period in South Africa, on average, can devalue a property by -1.2% in real terms, and this means about ZAR -12,000 decline per ZAR 1,000,000 of real estate value. In nominal terms, the decline, in the worst-case, can be around -13%; this means a - ZAR 130,000 reduction in value per ZAR 1,000,000. The more recessionary periods the economy suffers, the lower the long-term growth rate of price appreciation.

For an average house price, of about ZAR 850,000, for example, a recessionary period would decline its value to about ZAR 840,000 in real-term; in the worst-case, the real value can decrease to about ZAR 740,000; of course, a very substantial decline of about ZAR -110,000, per average house price of ZAR 850,000.

In other words, in a recession, an average house, in the worst-case scenario in South Africa, can cost an average income earning South African homeowner (average income of ZAR 31,000), about 3.5 years of salary in losses. In the base-case scenario, in a recession, the losses are likely to be about 1-year of average salary, per an average priced house.

These are very substantial figures that should alert all intelligent investors. For a portfolio of properties, this figure can amount to very damaging losses. Risk mitigation and strategizing are therefore of utmost importance.

As more recessionary periods are experienced, more value is eroded from long-term appreciation of a house, and the long-term growth, depending on the severity of the recession, can substantially decline an individual or investors wealth, as explained above (of course, proper hedging strategies would prevent the erosion of wealth).

For investment properties, it, therefore, makes more sense to explore hedging strategies, or the possibility of liquidating the property portfolio as leading economic indicators signal a cyclical turn in the business cycle; this is especially important in the late stages of the business cycle.

Analysis of the US housing market, for example, reveals that during a 50 year holding period, constant severe recessions can deteriorate the value of the property by 75% in the long run, compared to no recessions during a holding period (see report for further understanding: How much do house prices fall, or crash, in a recession: 40 years of data analyzed.)

Every homeowner or investor should carefully understand and examine the risks before buying a new property or holding the existing property portfolio. It should also be noted that as concerns regarding a property bubble build, especially in the most in-demand areas, there is also a possibility of an idiosyncratic crash in the property prices. Nonetheless, those that have a solid risk-mitigation strategy for a possible -20% decline in property prices should weather the storm better than those that do not.

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