property - to buy or sell?

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    That is the million dollar question facing many Australians at the moment.

    From Today Tonight.

    Hot property

    REPORTER: Nicolas Boot
    BROADCAST DATE: September 22, 2003

    It's a real-life game of Monopoly being played out in every capital city, every weekend, across the country. But when will the property-market madness end? We bring you the experts' predictions in our 2004 hot property guide.

    Real estate is changing hands at incomprehensible prices, with a dilapidated dump in Sydney's inner west selling recently for $2 million, a sum most Australians wouldn't see in a lifetime.

    Chris Caton, chief economist of BT Financial, is one of Australia's most respected financial analysts.

    He warns Australia's real estate boom is on the verge of a spectacular bust.

    "Economists know one thing about bubbles: they always burst. There's one thing we don't know, and that's when it's going to happen," he said.

    Phil Ruthven, from Ibisworld, is another high-profile analyst who's turned into a prophet of doom.

    He says our love affair with property will evaporate over the next six years.

    But it may be too late for Joanne and Ben McGrath.

    Like many others, the newlyweds were caught up in the property frenzy but now they're typical of many Australian households: over their heads in debt, living in fear of interest-rate rises and suffering from mortgage stress.

    John Edwards, an analyst with property sales monitors Residex, is concerned that people are overstretching themselves and will be squeezed if rates increase.

    With that in mind, we asked Mr Edwards, Mr Ruthven and Mr Caton to give us their property forecasts for the next three years.

    Only Mr Edwards isn't predicting the bubble will burst, saying a shortage of land means the housing market will continue to grow.

    In fact, he's tipping modest rises for Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.

    Mr Ruthven's advice is to steer clear of property because when the bust comes, prices could plummet as much as 20 per cent.

    Meanwhile, Mr Caton says it's investors who will feel most of the pain.

    "Those affected most will be those who benefited most the investment-unit market ... I suspect three years from now house prices may not be very different," he said.

    In the meantime, couples such as Glenn Jackson and Sally Huang can do little more than continue their seemingly never-ending weekend odyssey for an affordable home.

    And as for the over-stretched McGraths, their future plans will remain on ice.

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