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Property market's half-hearted comeback

There are signs of life in the Australian housing market - though the strength of those signs depends on where you look.

All the indicators are pointing towards a lift - albeit a tiny one - in Australian house prices in 2013.

Research released on Friday by property monitor RP Data shows capital city housing prices have risen modestly in the past few months.

By October, capital city property prices had risen by 2.1 per cent since the combined market hit its lowest point in May.

RP Data research analyst Cameron Kusher says most of the improvement has happened in the bottom end of the market - the traditional hunting ground for first home buyers and investors.

"The current data is a telling sign that, although there have been ongoing weaknesses in housing markets, there are signs of improving market conditions," Mr Kusher said.

"With current low interest rates coupled with recent value declines and subsequent improving housing affordability, there are signs of life returning to the market."

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show the number of owner-occupied home loans approved in September rose 0.9 per cent to 46,395 - the highest level since January.

Investors were particularly active: the value of loans to property investors rose a seasonally adjusted 8.6 per cent between August and September.

In a cautiously upbeat property market assessment at an Australian Business Economists lunch in Sydney in November, Ray White real estate group deputy chairman Sam White said October had been the strongest month for sales since the GFC.

Mr White said sales activity was rising in "pretty much most of the markets in which we operate".

Unfortunately for Aussies, though perhaps of interest for investors, the star performer in 2013 by Mr White's reckoning will be Auckland, New Zealand but there are still promising patches at home.

NSW, which according to RP Data is up 2.9 per cent in home values from the post-GFC low point, remains the strongest market nationally.

"One of the really enduring trends (of the national property market) is the resilience of NSW," Mr White said.

Queensland was the hardest-hit market for the Ray White group but showed improvement with a small but significant increase in the number of registered bidders at Gold Coast auctions.

Mr White said Victoria had been hit hard by a combination of factors including the end of post-GFC Asian investment and recent redundancies in the manufacturing sector.

"Probably out of all the markets we see it's least energetic in terms of inquiry," he said.

South Australia and the Northern Territory have been relatively unscathed, while in Western Australia the mining boom impact has ended but some signs of buyer confidence are starting to emerge.

Recently Deloitte, in its Australian Mortgage Report, tipped that investors, weary of poor equity returns, would start to return to the market next year.

Eureka Financial Group managing director Greg Cook is cautious about rushing into the market.

"If you talk to stockbrokers it's always a good time to buy shares and if you talk to real estate agents it's always a good time to buy property," Mr Cook said.

"My observations are that there is a rosier outlook but I seem to meet some clients that think `the Gold Coast property market is 40 per cent off its peak, it's got to be a good time to go in'.

"If a $1 million property has dropped to $600,000, my suspicion is that $600,000 is closer to the long-term value."