The global financial crisis has hurt property markets more deeply than might have initially been apparent. Besides the shocking declines in property prices seen in many major countries, the crisis has actually set back the structural progress of making property markets more transparent, says a new study.
There has been a "notable slowdown" in the progress of property transparency over the past two years, according to the Global Real Estate Transparency Index. The index, put out biennially by brokerage Jones Lang LaSalle, has been tracking the progress of property markets around the world since 1999 and now covers 81 nations.
There was half the amount of progress over the last two years compared to that seen in both the 2006-08 and 2004-06 reports. "It suggests that the recent turmoil in global financial, economic and real-estate markets has impacted on market behaviour, with real-estate players focusing on survival rather than market advancement," the study says.
Overall, Europe has the most transparent markets, but the Asia-Pacific region has shown the most improvement over the last two years.
Australia claimed top spot as the most transparent property market in the world, pushing Canada into second place. New Zealand is fourth in a tie with Sweden, with the UK in third spot and the US sixth.
The other nations in the top "high" transparency grouping are all in Europe. In Asia, Singapore (16), Hong Kong (18), Malaysia (25) and Japan (26) are the next most highly rated, though they fall in the second-tier "transparent" category.
China and India have made the fastest advances in the region, with changes adopted in the first-tier cities of those nations then filtering down to second- and third-tier cities. For instance, second-tier Chengdu and Tianjin and third-tier Zhengzhou and Wuxi all shifted from a rating of "low transparency" to "semi-transparent".
There was a push towards improving the availability of market fundamentals in China, though regulation is still a work in progress and professional standards are not consistent, the study says.
Asia also has some of the greatest anomalies in real estate -- Japan and South Korea are both mature property markets that still show startlingly low levels of transparency.
Given the fallout from the financial crisis, this year's study took a deeper look at transparency in commercial real-estate debt markets, since commercial property debt both contributed to and was heavily hit by the credit crunch. In general, the brokerage found that there are better regulations on the books to govern real-estate debt than there are policies to require data on commercial debt to be collected and made available.
The link between the quality of information on debt markets and their performance isn't clear -- both the US and the UK have plentiful information on real-estate debt, but were still at the centre of the crisis.
So, although many investors, especially at the institutional level, stress property transparency as a vital criteria when deciding where to invest, it proved to be of little protection in this downturn.
"Free flows of information and consistent enforcement of local property laws did not prevent values from falling, or produce better access to credit at a time when liquidity dried up," the study states.
Still, says Jones Lang LaSalle, the benefit of consistent regulation and easy access to data is likely to become clear in the recovery process.
The real value of transparency "should become evident when comparing how quickly markets are able to open up again after a financial crisis," the study concludes. "The recapitalisation of real estate in many countries is being helped by the free flow of information and the protection of property rights."