Research Discussion Paper – RDP 2003-09 Housing Leverage in Australia Abstract

A home is the single largest purchase that most households make, and it is one that usually requires some debt financing. Because housing debt is such a large component of households' balance sheets, it is important to understand the financing decision. In this paper, we use household level data from the HILDA survey to relate households' leverage to their observed characteristics using both graphical and econometric techniques. We also model the decisions to own a home and to have debt against it. We correct for any possible selection bias arising from these decisions before drawing conclusions about population behaviour.

Much of the variation in leverage is attributable to the passage of time, as borrowers pay down their loans on schedule and the value of their homes rise. On top of these largely exogenous effects, we find evidence that some households make conscious decisions that strongly affect leverage. For example, Australian homeowners generally plan to pay off their mortgage before its contracted end date, and many are therefore ahead of schedule in paying off their housing debt. On the other hand, a minority of households have higher leverage than similar households because they have engaged in leveraged investment in both owner-occupied and rental housing.

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