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Australians have no problem repaying mortgages despite high property prices: Mortgage Choice

Australia's housing market may be frothy, but it doesn't appear likely to be a bursting bubble anytime soon, if the comments of a big mortgage broker are anything to go by.

Home prices have spiked higher in recent years amid record low interest rates, but John Flavell, CEO of Mortgage Choice, said that wasn't impinging much on his customers' ability to keep up with their payments.

"As the cash rate has come down, our customers have maintained their repayments and amortized their debts at an accelerated rate. The arrears rate on the portfolio was also diminishing in line with that," he told CNBC's "Rundown."

Flavell noted that Mortgage Choice represented around 5 percent of Australia's mortgage market, while the 24 lenders on its panel likely made up at least 85 percent of the market.

If anything, persistently low interest rates appeared to be spurring pre-payments,UNLOCK he noted.

"The proportion of our customers that are in advance by one month or more on their mortgage has grown in recent times from 24 percent to over 27 percent," he said. "Typically, they're in advance by nine months or so."

That was despite continued rises in Australia's home prices.

CoreLogic data showed the home price index for Australia's capital cities rose 0.8 percent in July from June, when it rose 0.5 percent on-month, and was up 6.1 percent on-year, Reuters reported.

The median housing price in Sydney was 12.2 times more than the median annual household income in the third quarter of 2015, up from 9.8 in all of 2014, according to data from the most recent Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey. In Melbourne, the median home price was 9.7 times median income in 2015's third quarter, up from 8.2 across 2014, the data show.

Some data have, however, indicated mortgage arrears might be rising. Standard & Poor's said in mid-July that the number of mortgages in arrears rose in May for the seventh straight month, based on data for residential mortgage-backed securities, according to media reports.

In the fiscal first half of 2016, ended March 31, the percentage of big lender Westpac's mortgage book that was 90 days past due and impaired rose to 0.46 percent, from 0.38 percent in the previous half, data compiled by Deutsche Bank showed.

The Australian housing market may get another financing fillip soon. The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) was due to release its monetary policy decision later Tuesday, with a rate-cut widely forecast.

Flavell expected that the central bank would cut interest rates from the existing record low of 1.75 percent.

"After the growth figures from the U.S. the other week and the inflation figures here domestically, the expectation is the RBA is more likely to cut than not," he said. "We've got a stubbornly high Australian dollar against a backdrop of easing across the globe and you would think then that the RBA would be rather pretty keen to address that."

In the June quarter, Australia's consumer price index growth slowed to 1 percent on-year, compared with the 1.3 percent in the March quarter, and an RBA target of of 2-3 percent. Last week, data showed that U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) grew just 1.2 percent on year in the second quarter, well below a Reuters forecast for 2.6 percent growth.

The RBA may have concerns about mortgage lending. In October, the RBA warned that loose lending standards were adding to the risk of an eventual downturn in the housing market, while in July 2015 the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, which regulates the banking sector, toughened the rules on lending to property investors.

Flavell said said that while those rules had prevented some deals from settling, he expected motivated buyers would still be able to find financing.

"There is a significant appetite across the market from all lenders in terms of growing their mortgage books," he said. "Not all lenders have got the same sorts of restrictions or the same sorts of appetites so there are lots of choices."

In the six months ended December 31, 2015, Mortgage Choice said its total loan book was at 50.7 billion Australian dollars ($38.17 billion). It settled A$6.2 billion of home loans in the period, up 8.5 percent from the year-earlier period.

Houses stand by the waterfront as commercial buildings stand in the distance in Sydney, Australia, on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016.
Brendon Thorne | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Houses stand by the waterfront as commercial buildings stand in the distance in Sydney, Australia, on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016.


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—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter @LeslieShaffer1