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Buying a house in the 80s versus today

In almost every way, Australian home buyers in 1984 were living on easy street compared to buyers in 2023.

"Boomers had it better", young Australians often say. Homes were much cheaper in the past. It didn't take half your life to save a deposit. And they're right. The numbers don't lie:

The average Australian in 1984 could buy a home that cost 3.3 times their annual income. In 2023, it's 10 times what the average person earns in a year.

While home buyers in the 80s and early 90s were hit with punishingly high interest rates, house prices were much lower. Buyers back then had to borrow less, save smaller deposits and spend less of their income on housing.

Let's take a trip back to the housing market of 1984 to see just how different buying a house was in the 80s versus today.

A cartoon illustration of a house.
In 1984...
  • The average home cost was $64,039.
  • The average annual income was $19,188.
  • The average mortgage was $42,277.

Now contrast that to the situation today.

A modern-looking house.
In 2023...
  • The average home costs $920,100.
  • The average annual income is $90,896.
  • The average mortgage is $576,985.

Australian home buyers today must save bigger deposits, borrow much more and face much larger repayments. This means more of their weekly income goes into housing costs today than in 1984.

Let's break down the differences further.

Australian home buyers now borrow 10 times their annual income

With the average house price today sitting at $920,100, the average Australian needs to borrow 10 times what they earn in a year to buy a house.

In 1984, they only needed to borrow 3.3 times their annual income to afford the average property.

This has 2 major implications for buyers in 2023:

  • You need to save a bigger deposit.
  • You need a much bigger home loan.

The amount you need for a deposit today is much higher.

Australian buyers in 2023 now have to save much bigger deposits

Saving a deposit is one of the big challenges for home buyers in 2023. As prices have risen so much, the amount you have to save for a 20% deposit just keeps jumping up.

Deposits then and now

1984

  • If the average home cost $64,039...
  • A 20% deposit equals $12,807.

2022

  • If the average home cost $920,100...
  • A 20% deposit equals $184,020.

This is a stark contrast. In 1984, a 20% deposit was 66% of a year's income. Today, it's 202%.

It would take you just over 2 whole years' of income to save the same deposit.

Home loans in 2023 are also much, much bigger

The average loan size for a borrower in 1984 was just a little over twice their annual income.

Today, the average home loan size is 6.4 times the average annual income.

Wages and property prices have both grown since the 1980s. But property prices have grown much faster than income.

So do buyers today have it better in any way than people in the 80s? There is one: interest rates.

Interest rates are much lower today

In November 1984, variable interest rates were at 11.5%, according to RBA statistics. This is very high, and rates only continued to rise throughout the decade. Rates eventually peaked at 17.00% in 1990.

Today, interest rates are rising after being at their lowest point in history in 2020 and 2021. Today, you can get a home loan rate for around 6%.

Mortgage repayments then and now

1984

  • You borrow $42,277 to buy a house.
  • Your loan term is 30 years.
  • Your interest rate is 11.5%.

Your monthly repayments = $418.

2022

  • You borrow $618,722 to buy a house.
  • Your loan term is 30 years.
  • Your interest rate is 2.00%.

Your monthly repayments = $2,286.

It's an eye-watering difference. Use our home loan repayment calculator and see for yourself.

Is there no hope for first home buyers?

The situation for home buyers today is much worse than it was in 1984. There's no way around it. But that doesn't mean it's impossible; it just requires more work, more creativity and more luck.

Here are some tips and strategies to help you enter the market. Some of these are basic, commonsense tips like "spend less, save more". But others are specific property strategies that might not work for every buyer but could work for you.

  • Consider a low deposit home loan. If a 20% deposit is too big of an ask (which, given the numbers, it probably is), you can get a home loan with a deposit as low as 5%. Just keep in mind that low deposit home loans come with other costs, such as lenders mortgage insurance (LMI) premiums.
  • Can you get a mortgage guarantor? If you have a parent that owns a home, they could support your application as a home loan guarantor. This has risks (if you can't repay your loan, your guarantor has to pay up or even sell their property), but it is an option for some first home buyers.
  • Take advantage of government schemes. If you're eligible, a first home owners grant can help build your deposit. The First Home Loan Deposit Scheme helps you buy with a 5% deposit and avoid LMI costs.
  • Consider rentvesting. If you can't buy your dream home, keep renting. Instead, buy a rental property in a more affordable area. This strategy is called rentvesting. This way you enter the market as an investor and build wealth. Your dream home can come later.

A note on sources for this article

For statistics on income, property prices and average mortgage sizes in 2022, we've relied on several ABS reports (some of which come from late 2021, the most recent figures available).

Data from 1984 is harder to come by. To be consistent, we've tried to use comparable data sets and tried to find sources from the same month in 1984 (November). For income and mortgage figures in 1984, we used ABS reports from the time.

Historic property prices were trickier. Here we relied on academic research that looked at multiple bank and government reports to get annual median prices for each of Australia's capital cities. The 1984 figures did not include any information about Darwin, however.

For interest rate data, we relied on the Reserve Bank's historic statistics and Finder's own mortgage database, which is one of the largest mortgage rate databases in the country.

Sources are listed below.

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