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Property prices, investor decline tipped for regional Victoria as interest rates rise

When Emily and Jimmy Black bought their first home in September 2020, their mortgage repayments were tough but manageable.

The couple felt confident enough to decide to renovate, but it meant they had to switch from a fixed to a variable interest rate.

Fast forward little more than two years and their payments have doubled to about $2,000 a month.

It has resulted in significant life changes for the Blacks.

"I cut my maternity leave short by two months and went back to work part-time in January," Ms Black, 34, said.

"We've noticed the last fortnight with mortgage repayments, bills and Christmas expenses, we've run out of our week-to-week funds.

"It's been a shock for us."

Things are not likely to get any easier after the Reserve Bank increased interest rates by 0.25 per cent today.

The ninth straight rise puts the cash rate at 3.35 per cent as the RBA tries to curb inflation.

Mortgage pain

Central Victoria mortgage broker Peter Machell said his phone had "run hot" after the past eight rate rises.

"It's unfortunate some people have taken out such high loans," he said.

"They're kind of locked in with the same lender … because other lenders see them as too high-risk."

But he said the mortgage market was getting more competitive as banks began to focus on customer retention. 

When it came to investors, however, Mr Machell was seeing a decline.

"Investor activity has almost halved for us," he said.

"The ones who are investing, they are looking for lower-cost houses.

"There's been a bit more interest in small towns, such as Ouyen, where you can buy property for $200,000 and the rental return is between six to 10 per cent."

It is a similar story along the Great Ocean Road, where Port Fairy mortgage broker Sam Arthurs has noticed a drop in local investors.

"There's a lull in investor activity, but there's a lot of outside investment because it's still in that affordability zone," he said.

"You can get a house in Warrnambool for $600,000 that will rent for $450-500 a week — it's still appealing to the Melbourne or Adelaide buyer."

Mr Arthurs is finding it tough every time there is a rate hike.

"Quite often we do loans for local people and friends, and often when people call up it's one of the hardest things hearing that they're struggling," he said.

"It has a lot of impact — mental health in the mortgage broking industry is probably not the best right now."

Prices stagnating

Bendigo Bank's chief economist David Robertson has been watching the rising interest rates closely.

As home owners continue to feel the pinch, Mr Robertson is forecasting a levelling effect on the regional property market.

"Regional property prices actually went up more than the capitals — they went 35 per cent during the pandemic, but have fallen since the peak," he said.

"So this hike will extend that correction lower for property prices."

Real Estate Institute of Victoria president Andrew Meehan confirmed that regional price rises were slowing.

In 2022, regional property prices rose by eight per cent, compared to a 27 per cent increase the year before.

The average price of a property in regional Victoria is $610,000, while in metropolitan Melbourne it is $1.04 million.

Mr Meehan said country areas just outside Melbourne were likely to see strong demand.

"Places like Woodend and the Macedon Ranges, within commuting distance of Melbourne — that's a hangover from COVID," he said. 

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