Real Estate

The world's most unaffordable housing markets

The most unaffordable housing markets in the world

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Forever a hot topic at many a dinner party, house prices have received much attention over recent years. Seen as the spark for the global financial crash of 2008, the issue is now back on the agenda with property prices hitting pre-crisis peaks.

The Basel-based Bank of International Settlements (BIS)—known as the central bank of central banks—is one organization that is keeping an eye on the situation.

In its latest quarterly report, it produced comparable cross-country data on residential property prices for 55 countries, measured using price-to-income ratios and how they differ from their historical norm.

Read More Investors leaving housing high and dry

CNBC counts down the 10 most unaffordable housing markets in the world. Spoiler alert: the U.S. doesn't make the list.

By CNBC's Matt Clinch

Posted 29 October 2014

10. Spain

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House prices in Spain saw their first annual increase in the second quarter of 2014 for the first time in nearly six years, according to official statistics. This marks a turnaround for the country which has been caught up in the euro zone sovereign debt crisis.

Despite the recent dip in prices, housing in Spain remains elevated compared to wages in the country, BIS said. Coming in at 10th in its survey, Spain is traditionally a haven for foreign buyers from the United Kingdom.

Joining the Brits recently has been hedge fund billionaires George Soros and John Paulson, who have both made moves into the market. They have snapped up major stakes in Spanish property firms. Bill Gates has also bought a slice of Spanish infrastructure group FCC.

Read More Soros and co help China surge in Spanish property

9. Sweden

Stockholm, Sweden
Ellen Rooney | Robert Harding World Imagery | Getty Images

Michael Wolf, the CEO of Swedbank, says it's a lack of supply combined with urbanization that is driving house prices up in Sweden, which comes in at number nine on the list.

He stops short of calling the market a bubble, however.

"What we lack is new housing of the biggest political challenges is to enable housing starts in the major cities and that should have a dampening effect on house prices," Wolf told CNBC.

Read More Swedbank CEO on house price inflation in Sweden

8. Netherlands

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After two years of weakness, during which time some economists were predicting a correction for the Dutch housing sector, prices are back on the move. Statistics Netherlands said last month that prices were on average 1.7 percent higher in August 2014 than in the same period last year.

Analysts say the Netherlands differs from housing markets in Ireland and Spain, where booms were caused by excessively low interest rates. Instead, generous tax relief on mortgages has fueled a prolonged period of strong demand that has pushed house prices higher. Mortgages in the country have included products which require the house buyer to cover interest-only repayments.

Read More Debt-crippled Dutch wake up to housing crash

7. Norway

Nidelva river and Solsiden area in Trondheim, Norway
Visions of Our Land | Getty Images

Similar to the Swedish market, Norway has seen prices zoom ahead in recent years despite the global financial crash of 2008. Speaking broadly about both markets, Christian Clausen, the CEO of Nordic-based financial services group Nordea, told CNBC that he saw it as a "healthy development," rather than a bubble. Nonetheless, he added that his company needed to make sure that it doesn't run out of control.

"It's not really relevant to talk about housing bubbles, we're talking about two economies—the Swedish and the Norwegian—that have handled the crisis extremely well. The economies have grown, consumption has grown and the housing market has grown," Clausen said.

Read More Europe's 'economic momentum lagging': Nordea CEO

6. United Kingdom

Properties stand on a cul-de-sac in a development of New England-style residential homes known as The Hamptons in the Worcester Park district of London, U.K.
Simon Dawson | Bloomberg | Getty Images

One of the U.K.'s favorite past times—apart from talking about the weather—is dissecting the housing market and how it is becoming harder for first-time buyers to find a home.

The topic is now reaching boiling point with recent surges, especially in London, due to government stimulus and low interest rates. The market may have plateaued in recent months, but there are more steep inclines on the horizon, according to one report.

Economic forecaster Oxford Economics and online real estate website Rightmove said in early October that U.K. house prices will soar by 30 percent in the next five years.

Read More UK house prices to rise 30% by 2019: Study

5. France

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As with many of these "unaffordable" housing sectors, the latest debate seems to be about how some of these markets are now cooling off.

Figures from INSEE this month revealed that French real estate prices dropped 1.1 percent on a yearly basis in the second quarter. This comes after a 1.6 percent fall in the first quarter of the year.

Read MoreHas France's property market turned a corner?

4. New Zealand

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The Reserve Bank of New Zealand was so concerned about the housing market that it introduced loan-to-value ratio restrictions which have cooled house price inflation.

The central bank has since noted that housing pressures are "easing gradually" and supply conditions are starting to improve. In a speech this summer, Deputy Governor Grant Spencer said that the outlook for net immigration was the major risk for the market going forward, mainly due to reduced departures of New Zealand citizens.

Read More New Zealand FinMin: Property prices a 'concern' but under control

3. Canada

Condo's under construction in Toronto, Ontario as Canada's housing market begins to slow.
Brent Lewin | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Canada has become a major target for short sellers in the last year or two. In May 2013, Steve Eisman, the hedge fund manager who famously bet against mortgages in the United States, told an audience of investors that he recommended shorting Canada's mortgage lenders and banks.

Read More Canada's red hot housing market teeters on the brink

Since then, however, Canada's housing market has actually remained surprisingly buoyant. "The low interest-rate environment after the financial crisis has allowed households to refinance their mortgages at lower rates and repay their loans. Despite this, net mortgage lending has been expanding," according to Michelle Lam, an analyst at Lombard Street Research.

In a recent research note, Lam said the Bank of Canada might soon start to worry about household vulnerabilities.

2. Australia

George Clerk | E+ | Getty Images

A quarterly residential property survey by the National Australia Bank (NAB) this month said housing affordability was the biggest constraint on new housing developments in the country.

It also said that employment security continued to be the biggest impediment to buying an established home. "This was not surprising given recent strong house price growth and rising trend unemployment," NAB Group Chief Economist Alan Oster said in the report.

Read MoreAustralia central bank warns about housing prices

Australian house prices are the second-most expensive in the world when measured against incomes and rents, according to the BIS.

Oster told CNBC it was important to remember that the organization was measuring housing against their long term averages, not against other countries. He predicts average house price growth of around 4 percent through the year to September 2015 and 2 percent through the year to September 2016.

1. Belgium

Michael Luhrenberg | Getty Images

Top of the heap is Belgium's housing market—the most unaffordable out of the 55 countries surveyed by the Bank of International Settlements.

Julien Manceaux, a senior Economist at ING Belgique, said this has been a problem in Belgium for the last decade with household wages failing to match the house price increases which have been fueled by government tax incentives.

Read MoreAre these countries the 'new periphery' in Europe?

"This growth surplus comes mainly from savings in Belgium," Manceauxtold CNBC via telephone. This might seem more sustainable that then debt-fueled boom in places like Spain, however, Manceaux is not ruling out a drop in prices in the near term, with tighter tax incentives set to cool down the market.

"Price growth should slow down quite significantly," he said. "The main question is what will happen when interest rates rise and how households will be able to cushion this."