AHURI Conference examines the digital disruption of housing

A recap of the AHURI one-day conference in Hobart

12 December 2018

With the latest Rental Affordability Index showing that Hobart is the least affordable Australian capital city in which to rent, it was very timely that the AHURI National one day Conference, Disrupting the housing market, was held in Hobart on 4 December to explore the ways in which disruptive technologies are presenting both new challenges and opportunities in the Australian housing market.

Over 110 delegates from around Australia heard about the disruptive impacts of new technologies on the housing sector, and the ways in which governments, businesses and consumers are responding.

Hon Roger Jaensch MP

The Hon Roger Jaensch MP, Tasmanian Minister for Housing, opened the Conference presentations, outlining how Tasmania is legislating that short term letting platforms (such as Airbnb) are required to share letting data with the state government so as to ensure compliance with local laws, and that the data, when stripped of commercially confidential and identifying information, will be available to researchers to study. As a result the information will help the Tasmanian Government with future planning for their cities and towns.

The lead author of new AHURI research launched at the Conference, Professor Chris Pettit from the University of New South Wales, identified four main disruptive technologies—matching markets; big data; GIS mapping software; and blockchain—emerging in the Australian housing sector. Professor Pettit acknowledged that governments have been on the back foot when it comes to regulating these new technologies as they continually challenge the regulatory environment.

L-R:  Prof Chris Pettit (UNSW), Dr Andrea Sharam (RMIT) and Luke Bo’sher (Summer Foundation), Dr Laura Crommelin (UNSW)

Ms Nerida Conisbee, Chief Economist at REA Group, explored the trends in disruption that REA Group is most focussed on. Platforms like realestate.com.au are evolving from simply being a search site (i.e. where the user looks in particular suburbs for a property to buy or rent) to becoming a matching site where extra information and services are pushed to the user to assist them making a decision. Ms Conisbee also outlined how analysis of the searches made on REA sites can predict suburbs and regions where housing is becoming very popular, and also shows the main keywords that appeal to buyers (e.g. close to retail, good schools and public transport) and renters (e.g. pets, NRAS and entertainment etc.). The search data also suggests that home buyers are most interested in properties priced around $650,000 to $700,000.

A panel discussion facilitated by AHURI researcher Dr. Andrea Sharam featured digital pioneers in the social and affordable housing sector. Luke Bo’sher, CEO Summer Foundation, spoke about the Housing Hub — an online matching market platform that empowers people with disability to find suitable housing. The conversation engaged many in the audience, and the panel took questions from the floor about the opportunities arising in the social housing and non-for-profit sector.

See more case example videos from the AHURI research on Matching markets in housing and housing assistance

The next panel discussion focused on the ethical and regulatory implications arising from technological disruption in housing. There was agreement in the room that the sheer rate of technological change made it difficult for government and industry to keep pace with regulation. While Leo Patterson Ross, Senior Policy Officer for Tenants NSW, debated that disruption was occurring in the Australian market but the status quo between landlords and tenants had ultimately been maintained and more had to be done to re-balance that relationship and to consider housing as an essential service to those in need.

In the last session of the day Dr Laura Crommelin from the University of New South Wales facilitated an insightful panel discussion on the impacts of short term letting on Australia’s housing markets.

Dr Crommelin’s research identified that Airbnb has strong local housing impacts, accounting for around one in seven (15%) of rental properties in areas popular with tourists, being close to public transport and amenities. In Sydney commercial Airbnb listings—that is whole dwellings that are available for more than 90 days each year—are concentrated in the eastern suburbs (e.g. Bondi, Bronte and Coogee), Darlinghurst and Manly, while in Melbourne commercial Airbnb listings focus on Central Melbourne, Docklands, Southbank, Fitzroy and St Kilda.

L-R: Dr Cynthia Townley (Shelter Tasmania), Prof Richard Eccleston (University of Tasmania), Laura Schmahmann (SGS Economics & Planning), Dr Laura Crommelin (UNSW)

These research findings were complemented with insights from Laura Schmahmann of SGS Economics & Planning, who revealed that in Sydney around 60 per cent of Airbnb hosts only rent out their property for between 1 and 30 nights a year, while 10 per cent have guests for more than 180 nights. In Melbourne 35 per cent host guests for between 1 and 30 nights a year, while 27 per cent have guests for more than 180 nights.

Professor Richard Eccleston, from University of Tasmania, clarified the housing situation in Hobart. He described the situation where about 5,000 people migrate to Hobart each year, there are around 7,000 properties in the private rental market in inner Hobart and around 1,200 properties listed on Airbnb of which perhaps 450 are properties that have ceased to be fully available to the private rental market. The end result is that rents have increased by 30 per cent for low income households and the current 0.3 per cent vacancy rate is the lowest ever measured in an Australian city.

Video, audio and presentation slides from Disrupting the housing market Conference are available to download on the AHURI website.