Nila Sweeney

Once you’re clear on your long-term financial goals and the strategy you’re going to undertake, then you can start looking at properties. But what precisely should you be looking for?

Exactly which type of property you go for depends on your goals, strategy and level of involvement. However, there are a few decisions that you can make which will maximise your chosen route.

Some investors swear by brand-new properties; others prefer established dwellings. Each has its pros and cons.

New Vs Old Property

Buying New Property
New properties are typically attractive to passive investors who are time-poor and would like to have a property that requires little effort on their behalf. There is usually lower maintenance, and if there happens to be any defects after completion, the builder or builder’s insurance should cover any cost involved. New properties are also appealing to tenants, as they usually have lots of light and space.

Tenants with good incomes are often prepared to pay higher rent for new properties, particularly if they are situated close to their work. From a tax point of view, new properties usually offer higher or longer depreciation benefits, not only from the fixtures and fittings but also from capital works. It is possible for investors to use these tax benefits to assist with monthly cash flow.

However, the cost to purchase new properties may be higher than an old property in the same area, as developers have to cover their costs and profit margins. This can mean it takes longer to realise capital growth.

Growth may also be affected by the fact that there are a few very similar properties being sold at the same time, such as in a brand-new development – as a few hasty resales can affect the values of all the properties in the immediate area. Brand-new properties also don’t allow much room to add value by renovating, as all the work has already been done by the developer.

Buying Old Property
One of the biggest advantages of old properties is the fact that there is less price fluctuation than new properties in the same area. You also gain the ability to add instant value through renovations, subdivision and development. Some investors have even managed to get their property for ‘free’ by subdividing a large block and selling off a portion of the land.

Older properties generally have a bigger land component which usually drives property value upwards. Investors can also be more certain that the property they are purchasing has a ‘true’ market value, with no profit margin set by the seller. They are usually found in wellestablished suburbs which can demonstrate consistent growth.

High maintenance costs are probably the biggest disadvantage of old properties, and there may be a loss of rental income if renovations need to be done. It may be also harder to attract good-quality tenants to an old property, unless it has had some renovations done to modernise it. Rental may not be as high if the property is very rundown, which could impact on your monthly cash flow. Finally, tax benefits may not be as significant, due to lower depreciation values.

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Buying Off-the-plan
Off-the-plan purchases have a lot of the advantages already touched on with new properties. The stamp duty payable on the purchase is also often reduced because the property is not yet completed, with NSW currently waiving stamp duty entirely for off-the-plan purchases under $600,000. The Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) will also allow an overseas investor to purchase an off-theplan property, where they can’t purchase an established property.

Perhaps one of the biggest advantages is that there is the potential to secure the property without putting any money down. Some developers accept deposit bonds to cover the deposit instead of you having to use your own cash. If the property is not completed for a couple of years, this is a much cheaper option and allows you the flexibility of using your cash for something else.

Be warned, though: there have been occasions where properties purchased off- the-plan may have dropped in value by the time the property is completed and ready to settle. Investors may find themselves out of pocket. Paying the upfront deposit prior to any valuations being completed also commits you to the property before you have a true ‘value’ on it.

Remember, you haven’t actually ‘seen’ the property you are purchasing. If there are a number of large developments going on in the same area, it can reduce the value of the property you have purchased even before it is completed, due to oversupply. Finally, with large developments, if a certain percentage of the properties are not sold before construction, there is no guarantee the project will start, which means you may have lost valuable time and missed out on other opportunities.

The arguments over whether houses or units are a better bet is a thorny one, and one that is often tied to demographic changes, particularly in Australian cities.

While the traditional view has been that Australians prefer houses with a big enough backyard to play cricket in, apartments, townhouses and units are becoming increasingly popular due to rising prices and changing needs.

Houses or Units?

Houses have typically shown more consistent growth over the long term in established areas. Most property experts also agree that purchasing properties with more land is one way to increase your chances of securing better future growth, if it is in an established area. You also usually own the land, so you also have greater control. This means there are more options open to you to modify the property and add value. On the flip side, sometimes houses do lower rental returns as a percentage of their value. There can also be higher maintenance costs.

One of the main advantages with units is that they tend to provide a higher rental return as a percentage of their price. Moreover, apartments frequently achieve just as good return as houses, in areas that are fully built up with height limit restrictions on further development. It’s quite often the case that prestige city locations will be largely populated with units. Investors may have little choice but to opt for units if they want to access the consistent capital growth in these locations – both in terms of property availability and entry costs.

Units are also increasingly popular with the younger generation and emptynesters.They meet the needs of those demographics as they are less labour intensive in terms of maintenance. They also have potential benefits over houses, because of the shared benefits of many apartment complexes from community/ group services such as pool, tennis court, gym, activities, and so on.

The main disadvantage is that apartments typically show less consistent growth in areas that are not fully built up. Owners of apartments also typically have less control over their asset, as any changes they want to make to their property usually require approval from the body corporate. Owners also have to contribute to the running of the body corporate, so compulsory fees can be quite high. Finally, it can be difficult to get good finance for some types of apartments, such as company title properties and very small units.

Where to buy your property is equally important. Historically, investors have tended towards city properties, particularly in the eastern capitals of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. However, the resources boom has energised some regional markets, particularly in Western Australia and Queensland. So you need to carefully consider which one is right for you.

City vs Regional Property

Urban properties have historically been favoured by investors seeking capital growth returns. Around 70% of Australians live in cities, and population inflows – interstate and overseas – are typically concentrated in urban areas. Thus, demand is high from both property purchaser and renters.

Capital growth is typically more consistent in urban areas, particularly in ’blue-chip’ suburbs within easy reach of the CBD. In several capitals – such as Darwin and increasingly Sydney – this is exacerbated by supply issues, which drives capital growth higher but presents affordability issues. This has been mitigated by the appearance of more high-density housing, although some investors are sceptical about the capital growth potential of large tower developments, due to their extremely low land component.

Due to their higher capital growth, city properties are usually negatively geared – indeed, positively-geared city properties are something of a rarity. On the flip side, vacancy rates are usually extremely low due to high demand for properties, and there is usually little trouble letting well-positioned properties.

Regional areas have been seen as the poor cousin to cities. However, the resourcesboom has seen investors take more interest in regional areas, as population inflows energise formerly sleepy rural towns.

Areas that have experienced significant capital growth are typically located near mining and energy projects, such as the Pilbara region in Western Australia, Roxby Downs in South Australia, and the Surat and Bowen Basins in Queensland.

However, these are not without risk: often, these areas are dependent on industry, and if there is a slowdown in demand – such as during the GFC – the local markets can suffer. Coastal areas are also the other regional markets that prove most popular, due to holiday letting and sea-changers. Again, these can be volatile depending on economic circumstances.

Regional housing is usually much more affordable than urban property, and is often cash-flow positive. Capital growth is often much lower, however, and vacancy rates can be higher.

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