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Two years ago I researched media predictions about residential property and compared the forecasts with subsequent outcomes.

It showed the remarkably bad track record of spruikers, economists and attention-seekers in forecasting what will occur in our markets nationwide. 

Over the past 15 years or so, it’s become trendy to make doomsday forecasts about real estate. A popular number is 40 percent – i.e. the standard scary prediction is a 40 percent drop in our property values, usually tipped to take place in the next 12 months.

Every single one of these forecasts has been proven spectacularly wrong – not surprisingly, because most of them have been fanciful in the extreme and I’m quite certain that the forecasters themselves did not believe what they were saying. The goal has been to achieve some quick and easy publicity. 

Out of this research exercise I compiled a list entitled “Top 20 worst predictions about Australian property markets”.

No.1 on this list was a US spruiker called Jordan Wirsz (don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of him) who visited Australia in 2012 and forecast a 60 percent fall in home values in a “bloodbath” to take place in the next year. He also tipped that land values would decline 90 percent.

Can you imagine that? He was claiming that our residential land would be virtually worthless. 

Nothing remotely like that has ever occurred in the history of planet Earth and it’s difficult to comprehend why anyone would think it could happen in Australia.

The most amazing thing was that Australian media gave these predictions credibility and gave the touring spruiker exactly what he wanted – lots of free publicity.

What followed this prediction was five years of major price increases in our two biggest cities and mostly steady markets in the rest of Australia.

Another US pontificator, Harry S Dent, has visited Australia several times in the past seven years and each time – including in 2011 and 2014 – has warned that our property prices would crash in the next 12 months.

Each time Australian media has treated him as a credible commentator, with oodles of free profile, notwithstanding his growing track record of getting his forecasts about our real estate markets utterly wrong. I’m sure that next time he visits the same will happen again.

My Top 20 list also includes local economists who have made similar predictions within specific time frames, with the same success rate.

Some have claimed that our homes are over-valued according to their favoured economic model and therefore prices must fall. Others have stated that, back in the days of rising interest rates, that the higher cost of money would cause a collapse of property values.

The head of one of our major banks said in 2011 that the sovereign debt crisis in Europe would force down our property values, only to be followed by several years of strong price rises.

One high-profile and much-quoted Australian economist declared in 2005 that there would be no growth in our home values for the next 10 years. Ouch.

Also on the Top 20 list are commentators who rushed – in 2013 and 2014 – to be the first to declare the end of the price boom in Sydney and Melbourne. 

One of them was a senior official at the Reserve Bank, while another was a Morgan Stanley analyst who famously said, about three years too early: “If you’re an investor, you’ve missed the boat.”

So now we have the notorious 60 Minutes debacle, with yet another forecast of property values falling 40 percent, based on nothing but a pre-conceived notion to boost ratings.

I note that virtually every independent commentator who has reacted on the 60 Minutes program has said that the forecast scenario was highly unlikely or plain silly. Even the key analysts featured on the Channel 9 program have claimed that their views were misrepresented through selective editing. I spoke to one of those who was featured on the program and he was horrified at the outcome.

I was approached by 60 Minutes in mid-August to take part in the program. But they dropped the planned interview when I told them I disagreed with their basic premise of collapsing property markets.

This is not how journalism is meant to work. In true journalism, you do your research and conduct your interviews – and then you come to some conclusions and decide your headline. 60 Minutes did it backwards by deciding the headline and then seeking comment that supported it.

I complained to the ABC television program Media Watch and last week they did a segment pointing out the many flaws in the 60 Minutes segment.

I’m sure the 60 Minutes program will feature prominently next time I update my Top 20 Worst Predictions list, with the same level of success as the many doomsday forecasters who have preceded them.

~ Terry Ryder

 

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