When interest rates were slashed in the past, Australians responded by piling on more debt and bidding up house prices.

Whether that happens again after this month’s rate cut will be of keen interest to many first-home buyers, investors and many homeowners.

This time, however, economists are playing down the odds of a big resurgence in property prices, even though the Reserve Bank this month cut official interest rates to just 1.75 per cent, with the possibility of further rate cuts in months ahead.

Heavy-hitters including Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens and National Australia Bank boss Andrew Thorburn have both also argued the market won’t return to its boom-time conditions of last year (when Sydney prices jumped 13.9 per cent and Melbourne’s rose 9.6 per cent).

Consumers aren’t predicting much of a bounce in house prices, either. The Westpac Melbourne Institute index of house price expectations has fallen 15.9 per cent in the last year, and dipped this month, as this week’s graph shows.

But if low rates have pushed up house prices in the past, why would this time be any different?

Well, the RBA and banks such as NAB certainly have a vested interest hosing down concerns of another house price bonanza. Neither the commercial banks nor the RBA wants prices to skyrocket as they did last year, triggering fears of a dangerous bubble.

Even so, there are good reasons to think they might be right, and house prices probably won’t come roaring back this time around.

First, remember that banks increased their mortgage rates late last year by about 0.2 percentage points. So the latest 0.25 percentage point move from the RBA, which most of the banks passed on in full, only takes home loan interest rates a tad lower than they were late last year.

More importantly, customers can no longer respond to lower interest rates by taking out an even bigger mortgage, as they did in the past. Indeed, banks last year slashed the maximum amount they’ll lend many homebuyers by tens of thousands of dollars, by tightening loan criteria.

Even for those customers who can still get ample credit from their bank, some analysts question whether homebuyers will want to take on yet more debt.

Australians are already among the most highly indebted in the world, with debts worth 186 per cent of their income, a record high. In what is still an uncertain time in the economy, borrowing even more may not seem like such a great idea.

Finally, homebuyers might be reluctant to pay even more for houses which are already very expensive, by just about any measure.

People buying a home in Sydney spent an average of 35.6 per cent of their pay on mortgage payments, the most in the country, and higher than its average over the last 10 years, Moody’s reported last week. Melbourne was close behind – households there spend 30 per cent of their income paying off their mortgages.

When it’s that expensive to buy a property, and the banks are being tighter with lending, lower interest rates might give house prices less of a kick-along than they have in the past.

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Posted by Clancy Yeates – The Age on 17th May, 2016