Housing prices in Australia are amongst the highest in the world, triggering calls for regulators to reign in property inflation.

The latest figures from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) indicate that Australia could have the third most expensive housing market in the world behind Belgium and Canada.

According to IMF data, Australia suffers from the third biggest gap between the ratio of housing prices to incomes out of 24 countries monitored, as well as the fifth biggest spread in terms of price-to-rent ratios.

These two indicators are considered key measures of housing affordability, and in Australia’s case indicate that prices have hit unsustainable heights.

Dr. Min Zhu

Dr. Min Zhu

IMF’s Global Housing Watch further observes that global house prices have increased consistently over nearly the past two years, with levels now “well above the historical averages” in developed economies such as Australia, Belgium, Canada, Norway and Sweden.

Price increases in 33 out of 51 national housing markets monitored by the IMF have triggered concerns amongst its analysts that the property inflation is similar to that which led to the Global Financial Crisis six years ago.

“House prices are inching up, but is this cause for much cheer – or are we watching the same movie again,” said IMF deputy managing director Dr. Min Zhu in a blog post. “Our research indicates that boom-bust patterns in house prices preceded more than two-thirds of the recent 50 systematic banking crises.”

The IMF has urged regulators such as the Reserve Bank and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority to refrain from indulging in “benign neglect” of home prices, and to adopt safeguards to ensure that their domestic housing markets do not succumb to another reckless boom rush.

“Housing is an essential sector of every country’s economy and has systemic implications, which is why we at the IMF are focusing on it not only in individual countries but on a cross-country basis,” Zhu wrote. “What is clear…is that monetary policy will need to be more concerned than it was before with financial stability and hence with housing markets.”