Expectations that house prices will rise have eased in ASB's quarterly survey of housing market sentiment, though they remain high by historical standards.
The survey found 54 per cent of respondents expect house prices to rise while only 7 per cent expect to see a fall. The net 47 per cent expecting an increase is down on the net 56 per cent recorded in the previous two quarterly surveys but compares with a net 27 per cent a year ago.
ASB economist Chris Tennent-Brown sees the survey as "a small sign of realism creeping in, as some start to think the strong price rises recorded over the last year or so cannot carry on forever".
ASB's own view is that the peak period of house-price gains is behind us. "We still expect house prices to increase this year, but the rate of house price appreciation is likely to be lower in 2014 than it was in 2013," he said.
While it was still early days, the Reserve Bank's restrictions on high loan-to-value mortgage lending might have started to have an effect on demand for housing.
"However, we do not expect a meaningful reduction in housing market pressures until interest rates and new housing construction increase."
The housing market remained tight, Tennent-Brown said, with the level of house listings remaining well below demand. "The resulting imbalance will continue to place upward pressure on house prices over the year ahead."
The Real Estate Institute yesterday reported a dip in house prices last month. Its housing price index fell 2.4 per cent nationwide (but just 0.3 per cent when ASB seasonally adjusts the numbers) to be 7.7 per cent up on a year ago. In Auckland it declined 2.5 per cent but is still 14 per cent up on a year ago.
Meanwhile interest rate expectations have continued to increase. Some fixed-term mortgage rates have already lifted in anticipation of rises the Reserve Bank has signalled in the official cash rate in coming years.
Reflecting expectations of rising prices and rising mortgage rates ASB's survey found a continuing decline in overall confidence, that is, responses when people were asked if it is a good or bad time to buy a house.
A net 9 per cent consider it a bad time to buy compared with a net 5 per cent negative three months ago and a net 20 per cent positive this time last year.
Among Aucklanders a net 21 per cent think it a bad time to buy, but Tennent-Brown noted that when their responses were broken down month by month there was an improving trend over the course of the quarter so that by the month of January a net 14 per cent rated it a bad time to buy.
"It could be that the Reserve Bank's high LVR restrictions that were introduced in October had a temporary impact on sentiment which is fading.
"But buyers could also be seeing a tentative sign that the market is not quite as tight as it was in October," Tennent-Brown said.
ASB also points to a lengthening in the median number of days it takes to sell a property in Auckland from 30 in December to 34, the longest since April 2012. "If sustained, that points to a further slowing in price growth over coming months."