National Property Report – September 2014

New South Wales

Sydney’s fevered frenzy calms

After a whirlwind of a year, Sydney’s market seems to be calming. But predictions for its future remain bright – and there are still some good investment prospects to be found.

The frenzied winds that have surrounded Sydney’s property market in recent times look to be abating, at least a little. However, it would be a mistake to think the heat is disappearing from the market.

While both sales and prices continue to be strong, the market has slowed somewhat. For example, the latest RP Data-Rismark Hedonic Home Value Index results show that Sydney’s dwelling values grew by just 1% over the June quarter.

That was still enough to make the NSW capital the best performing capital market over the quarter. It also leaves the city’s median dwelling price at $690,000 – which makes it the most expensive of the capital cities.

RP Data’s Tim Lawless says that, from a total returns perspective, Sydney stood out as providing the most outstanding performance. “If you combine the capital gain with the gross rental yield over the financial year, Sydney home owners have got a total return of 20.2%.”

These results are stellar, but the seasonal lull in June has left interested parties wondering just how long Sydney’s market can keep up the pace.  As optimistic and pessimistic assessments fly backwards and forwards, a number of commentators say the market’s immediate future remains bright.

Growth to continue According to the BIS Shrapnel Residential Property Prospects 2014 to 2017 report, Sydney’s market is likely to continue to show strong growth – although it does forecast a fall-off in growth by 2016/17.

Angie Zigomanis, from BIS Shrapnel, says the market has surged due to a sizeable undersupply of dwellings and improved affordability from low interest rates. These factors should continue to drive the Sydney market over 2014/15 and 2015/16, with 14% price growth forecast over that time.

As affordability becomes increasingly strained, healthy sentiment in the market and strong investor demand should continue to underpin further price rises, he continues.

“Although new dwelling construction is rising, it takes time for the high level of apartment projects to work their way through to completion and impact on vacancy rates. Consequently, demand from investors should remain strong until new supply comes on stream in sufficient numbers to impact on the market.”

Increased supply is likely to hit the market around the same time that a tightening in interest rate policy is forecast. Much of the pent up demand pressures will have dissipated, so prices are predicted to decline over 2016/17.

The peak level of capital growth has passed by and can’t be sustained in the longer term, Metropole Property Strategists’ Sydney office director George Raptis agrees.

“Due to the low interest rate environment, investors are still feeling confidence and there continues to be a lot of activity on the ground. But I think the sting has come out of the tail a bit, as compared to the fever pitch frenzy late last year and early this year.”

There has been much comment on affordability problems and the fact that rental yields have flat lined in comparison to price growth. However, Raptis does not see these as huge issues for investors.

Once the pace of capital growth slows a bit rent is likely to pick up, he says. “As for affordability… 10 years ago, people weren’t earning as much and interest rates were much higher. There are higher salaries now and interest rates are at a historic low, so I think it is probably just as affordable.”

Identifying investment prospects Taking advantage of the current low interest rate environment to invest in the strong Sydney market is still a good bet, Raptis says. But, given the whirlwind surrounding the market,  it is crucial to marry that with buying the right properties in the right sort  of locations.

He recommends looking at the inner, middle ring suburbs which are close to infrastructure and amenities, as well as work and lifestyle/recreation hubs. Alternatively, investors should look at suburbs which are piggybacking on a ripple effect from a “flavour of the month” suburb.

Find a suburb that is attracting favourable interest and then analyse the surrounding suburbs, Raptis says. “Look at things like whether there is the same sort of infrastructure and amenities, access to transport, atmosphere and feel, and so on. Because, if they do, history shows they can be sleepers and become sought after too.”

Suburbs in the inner west, like Croydon and Belmore, would be his pick for potential sleeper success stories. This is because they are near the currently popular Marrickville and Dulwich Hill, but comparatively affordable and also in the midst of change.

Victoria

Melbourne defies low expectations

Melbourne continues to confound its critics, but could there be some truth amongst their cautions?

Whispers of concern continue to escape from the heat surrounding Melbourne’s property market. As it continues to defy expectations with an ongoing strong performance, it is perhaps not surprising that naysayers can be found. But can any truth be found among those niggling whispers?

When looking to the latest RP Data-Rismark Hedonic Home Value Index results, it is hard to tell. While Melbourne recorded a 1.8% growth in dwelling values over June, it recorded a decline of 2.4% over the quarter. The quarterly result makes it the weakest performing capital city for that quarter.

However, the results show that, over the 2013/14 financial year,  after Sydney, Melbourne was the  top performing city for capital gains.  Its dwelling values were up 9.4% over that period.

The results also show that, once again, Melbourne recorded the lowest rental yields for both houses (3.6%) and units (4.1%) of any capital city. But, if the capital gain is combined with the gross rental yield over the year, Melbourne had a total return in excess of 12%.

According to RP Data’s Tim Lawless, the rate of capital gain is starting to trend towards a more sustainable level, hence there has been a slowdown in dwelling value appreciation.

Housing values were unlikely to slide, Lawless says. “What is more likely is that natural affordability constraints will start to dent buyer demand, as will the low rental yield scenarios that are very much evident across the largest capital cities of Melbourne and Sydney.”

Strong drivers fuelling market Over the last 10 years, the Melbourne house market has averaged about 6% to 10% growth and it has a long-term average of 6.8% growth.

WBP Property Group CEO Greville Pabst says that, when these figures are taken into account, it is clear the market has enjoyed a particularly strong year to date. They also set the scene for the next six to 12 months, indicating strong growth will continue.

“It is not likely to slow down much over the next six months and it should finish up a good year if the market maintains momentum. Even if it drops back it will be a solid year.”

The reason for this is the number of drivers that are fuelling the market. These drivers include ongoing low interest rates, the return of confidence to the market, and its high inflow of migrants from both interstate and overseas.

“Further ahead, what could stall it?” Pabst says. “Unemployment is the big unknown. Also, if interest rates go up again… those factors could spoil the party.”

The perils of inner city apartments Within the market, a sector which has long caused concern is inner city apartments. The existence of an oversupply is well-known, but less well known is the issue of quality.

A recent Melbourne City Council report estimated that 55% of the city’s tallest apartment buildings over 15 storeys are of “poor” quality. Common design flaws included cramped layouts, a lack of natural light, lack of ventilation, excessive energy use and poor storage.

The Future Living report’s authors claimed that, as long as it was possible to find tenants, the investors who buy 85% of the apartments in the municipality were not bothered by the quality issues.

Pabst said that investors should be concerned by the quality of the apartments that they buy. “The increasing trend to buy off-the-plan type properties is a minefield. People often can’t visualise what a property will be like from an artist’s impression. So they end up with properties that are not of the quality that they expected.”

Such properties don’t tend to perform as an investment class, and yet too many people were paying too much money for them, he continues. “Good property investment is about buying for scarcity. If you are buying into a tower of 100 apartments, at any given time there will be five or six for sale. So if you need to sell, it is just a race to the bottom to get a result.”

However, investors might want to consider buying in an older-style, lower density block of six to eight apartments. Given the major trend towards inner city living as a lifestyle choice, Pabst says such an investment could pay off, particularly in comparison to buying in a higher density block.

“People are prepared to live in smaller spaces in order to live in a desirable inner city area. So location is key to a good investment… and people want to live close to the heart of Melbourne in one of the great inner city villages like St Kilda or Carlton.”

Queensland

Investors eye Brisbane’s growth corridor

The Brisbane property market is rewarding investors for their loyalty, with annual growth inching towards double figures. But it’s the opportunities on offer just south of the big smoke that have piqued interest in investing circles

Brisbane’s property market has surged ahead in the 12 months to June, with BIS Shrapnel reporting an increase in median values of 8%. That said, the market is still well below its June 2010 peak in real dollar terms – so while the market is on the move, it remains affordable to the average investor.

“The pieces are falling into place for the Brisbane residential market to continue to strengthen,” says Angie Zigomanis, senior manager with forecasters BIS Shrapnel.

From a fundamental perspective, he notes, the Queensland capital is gearing up for long-term prosperity. New dwelling construction has fallen below underlying demand and as a result, in recent years and an underlying deficiency of dwellings has emerged, with vacancy rates in Brisbane of 2.3% in March quarter 2014.

Even with rebounding values, the low interest rate environment has resulted in “affordability being at early-2000s levels”, Zigomanis adds.

“This is all beginning to have an impact on purchaser sentiment, with upgrader and investor demand increasing and encouraging price rises,” he says.

“However, the pace of price growth is likely to be moderate, with economic conditions still relatively subdued and net interstate migration inflows are at low levels.”

All eyes on the BNE-GC growth corridor Even with recent growth, Brisbane remains a popular investment destination with landlords who are leveraging low interest rates to generate both strong cash flow and strong growth in a capital city market.

“Brisbane’s definitely moved, but it has the underpinning of strong infrastructure and being a capital city to maintain that upward momentum moving forward. Even though it’s already going up in value, it still offers a good entry point compared to Sydney,” explains Paul Wilson, property specialist with We Find Houses.

“What I find really interesting, however, is that the level of development and infrastructure going between Brisbane and the Gold Coast is really closing the corridor between those two areas. This means that the Gold Coast is becoming a good location for investors, as there is enough demand and growth drivers to entice landlords into the market.”

Indeed, house prices on the Gold Coast have “generally moved in tandem with Brisbane”, confirms Zigomanis, who says the Gold Coast is benefiting from the same drivers of population growth as the capital: primarily net interstate migration inflows and, to a lesser extent, overseas migration.

Large construction projects including the $670m redevelopment of Pacific Fair and the staging of the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast are expected to contribute to local employment, as is the beginning of a recovery in residential construction.

“Consequently, further price growth is expected, totalling 13% over the three years to June 2017,” Zigomanis says.

Regional markets enter recovery phase The great state of Queensland is comprised of hundreds of different markets and when we review regional performance, it’s clear that each market is being impacted by its own set of influences.

While Townsville’s property market has been weak over the last 12 to 18 months, prompted largely by falling resource sector investment and resulting lower housing demand, the downturn in Cairns appears to be stabilising. In Cairns, BIS Shrapnel reports that the post-GFC collapse in construction is finally turning around and had resulted in “a dwelling deficiency”.

REIQ figures show that in the 12 months to March 2014, sales volumes in Cairns increased by a healthy 15%, and median property values have “begun trending upwards, following two consecutive quarters of positive results”.

The Townsville market is forecast to remain relatively weak over the next 12 months, according to Zigomanis, who expects vacancy rates to tighten from mid-next year as a result of weak dwelling construction.

Local economic conditions in both markets are expected to strengthen on the back of rising residential construction, boosted by low interest rates and improved tourism growth contributing to employment.

“Sharp rises in insurance costs after recent cyclones in Queensland’s north will impact on the financial equation for investors, and may have a dampening effect on investor demand until further rental growth comes through to compensate,” Zigomanis says.

Western Australia

Moderating market

Perth’s market is easing off from its position at the front of the pack. However, commentators feel it is just a quiet period – rather than cause for concern

After putting in a solid stint as a leader of the pack in Australian capital city housing market improvement, the growth profile of Perth’s market has now flattened out.

The latest RP Data Rismark Hedonic Home Value Index results show that Perth experienced just 0.6% growth in dwelling values over the June quarter. Further, the latest data from REIWA records a downturn in sales and an increase in properties on the market in June.

REIWA president David Airey says these results were not unexpected and that a seasonal dip in sales activity is always experienced in the winter months. “We expect the market to remain largely unchanged until spring as sales activity ‘generally picks up in finer weather’.”

Airey points out that the median house price remains steady at $550,000 and that early figures indicate Perth enjoyed 6% growth over the financial year. It’s a stable market with a steady median house price, steady rental price, steady vacancy rate and sales listings trending back to normal levels, he says.

“There is enough confidence in this environment, along with a regime of low interest rates, to keep the market ticking over comfortably and with no great surprises.”

However, according to the latest Herron Todd White report, buyer confidence has left the Perth market. It notes a drop in the level of activity, a slight fall in the median house price, and a below-equilibrium number of listings.

More significantly, the report notes that the iron ore price had dipped below $90 per tonne for the first time in two years, and that some commentators think the major iron ore players will begin to cut back on headcount. Cutbacks in such personnel could have a significant impact on the market.

Market quieter but well-balanced On a more positive note, APM senior economist Andrew Wilson says that, while the market may have flattened out in recent months, that’s after a very consistent 18 months of price rises.

“The median dwelling price is now about 8% to 10% higher than its previous peaks in 2010. So I think we are seeing a bit of moderation in price growth there. That reflects the fact that prices had probably moved ahead of income, so there’s a slow adjustment going on there.”

While there has been some moderation of economic activity and an increase in unemployment in Western Australia, Wilson believes this reflects the end of the construction phase of the mining boom. A further contributing factor is the need for the economy to absorb the high numbers of workers who have moved to the state looking for work.

“This is all just a mini adjustment phase. I would expect that, given the strong mining investment in, and exports out of, Western Australia continuing, the rebalancing will move back into positive territory in terms of prices growth.”

In reality, prices in the Perth market are still growing – just a bit more slowly. The market is going through a quieter period right now, but it should move forward moderately in line with the local economic performance, Wilson says.

“Perth is an interesting market. It hasn’t had a dramatic boom phase, rather it has seen an orderly recovery process. It has basically been tracking at the inflation rate since the GFC. I think it is a well-balanced market.”

Once the market starts to move forward again, Wilson expects price growth of 4–5% per annum as long as interest rates remain around their current level and the economy remains healthy.

Potential for oversupply? Some commentators have raised concerns that Perth could be heading towards an oversupply of apartments and units. If this is the case, it could cause headaches for landlords.

According to the REIWA data, there has been a big jump in the number of rental properties on the market. On top of this, Perth’s vacancy rate is at 4% and typical rents have come down by around $25 since the same time last year.

Yet a large number of apartments and units are currently under construction in Perth, particularly in the inner city.

Wilson says there is no real underlying demand for closer proximity to the Perth CBD as a result of congestion and commuting issues, so there could be a risk of oversupply. But he believes that risk is on the margins.

“There is probably enough demand going forward and the level of supply is not yet such that it will move significantly beyond the demand. It is necessary to keep an eye on the situation though.”

South Australia

Can affordable Adelaide entice investors?

With a median house price around 50% lower than the national average, Adelaide is an affordable option for investors. But is the state’s oppressive tax regime scaring off would-be landlords?

It certainly creates a challenge for the South Australian property market, according to Ted Piteo, CEO of Professionals SA Head Office, who says the state’s “inequitable and punitive property taxes” impede their competitive edge as a desirable place to buy property.

“Imagine the possibilities that would result from abolishing stamp duty and land tax and once again getting people excited about buying, moving, downsizing and investing in South Australia. Just imagine the consequent flow on effects to all the other industries surrounding real estate,” says Piteo, who also serves as president of the Real Estate Institute of South Australia (REISA).

“It’s really a no-brainer.”

Property values in Adelaide particularly have shown strong growth in recent months, which is why Prue Muirhead, 2010 YIP Property Investor of the Year and director of Muirhead Property Management, suggests that investors can find solid opportunities when exploring metropolitan listings.

“Adelaide is a fantastic place to invest in,” Muirhead says.

“The affordability allows you to buy at a lower national average, manufacture capital growth and then have great returns on your investment properties. My personal South Australian portfolio is returning between 7% and 12% and is positively geared, which would be much harder to achieve in most capital cities of Australia.”

Chasing yields in the City of Churches Interest rates are at record lows, which is gifting landlords across the country a stronger yield. But in Adelaide, Muirhead says it’s possible to achieve the triple-win of high returns, low vacancy periods and quality tenants.

Vacancy rates for South Australia are still officially above the balanced band of 2-3%: according to the REISA, the state-wide vacancy rate as at April 2014 was 3.3%, down slightly from 3.4% at the same time last year. Certain areas are tighter, with Adelaide City recording a rate of 2.2%, down from 3% in 2013.

Muirhead says investors who are willing to list their property at a fair market price are experiencing minimal vacancy periods between tenancies.

“Generally speaking, if a property is advertised at market rent, we would have approximately six groups through the first open and receive two to three applications immediately,” she says.

“Our properties have all been renting within two open inspections.”

With such a robust level of activity and interest from potential tenants, some landlords are taking it as a sign that they can increase their asking rents, which Muirhead cautions against. When a landlord does insist on hiking the asking rent, the listing generally attracts low levels of interest and the market “naturally forces the owner to drop the rent immediately”.

If you’re worried that you’re selling yourself short and missing out on potentially higher returns, you needn’t be concerned, Muirhead adds.

“When we have open inspections at the market rate, with many groups in the property at the same time, there have been numerous occasions where a tenant has offered a higher rental rate than advertised, as they don’t want to miss out on the property,” she says.

Tasmania

Why Hobart trumps Launceston

Investors looking to buy in Tasmania must be diligent with their research, particularly if they are looking to buy outside of Hobart. There are a few reasons why

With cheap dwelling prices and reasonably high yields, Launceston might look like an appealing option for investors not looking to spend a great deal. But for those hoping to add a Tasmanian property or two to their portfolio there may be better options available, says Rob Zubin, the principal of My Property Hunter.

“The economic drivers are not as evident when you get away from Hobart,” he adds.

Just recently, car parts maker ACL Bearing shut down its Launceston factory, resulting in the loss of 136 jobs.

“Another flow-on effect from the diminishing car industry in Australia,” says Zubin.

Even though Hobart has its own challenges, there seems to be more bright spots there than anywhere else in the state.

“Over the next year or so I think property prices will stabilise in Hobart and in some selected areas you would expect to see some growth,” he says.

“Elsewhere I would be a little bit concerned at this stage for the next year or so. I would be careful about the process of assessing property – just make sure you do your due diligence in areas outside Hobart.”

Nevertheless, Zubin argues that Tasmania is a good option for any investor looking for a balanced portfolio.

“A good time to buy is when prices are depressed, and property prices at the moment are depressed.

“With the economic activity happening and projected to happen in Hobart, it will definitely have a flow-on to more confidence and more property activity.”

Zubin cites two major redevelopments as evidence of this:

  • The $100m Myer redevelopment which is expected to employ 500 people during the three years of construction.
  • The $465m redevelopment of the Royal Hobart Hospital. This has been under construction since late 2010 and is expected to be completed in 2016.

Zubin says that if you’re not looking to spend more than $250,000 and understand that investing is about holding for the medium-long term, then perhaps Launceston could be somewhere to consider. However, it is important that the specific suburb that you’re looking at has several promising factors, such as low vacancy rates, high rental yields (preferably 6% or more) and a high demand for rental properties.

But at the end of the day, Zubin says it’s Hobart that has the stability and diversity in its economy, plus a larger population size (220,000) than Launceston (106,000).

“As you get further away from Hobart you have too much dependence on one or two industries,” he adds.

And no matter where you choose to buy in Tasmania, it helps if there is a bus stop within walking distance.

“That’s a key requirement for many people living in Tasmania; because we don’t have trains it would be best to be close to bus lines,” says Zubin.

What Hobart can offer which Sydney cannot Despite all the well-known positives of investing in places like Sydney and Melbourne, Hobart offers investors benefits which other capital cities can’t.

“When you compare it to other capital cities, it is exceptionally cheap and there are also generally healthier returns than you would expect from the other capital cities.”

Indeed, according to the latest RP Data-Rismark Home Value Index Results, Hobart has a median dwelling price of $328,250. The next highest is Adelaide at $400,000 and Brisbane at $455,000. It’s a far-cry from Melbourne ($560,000) and Sydney ($690,000).

Additionally, the latest Deloitte Access Economics Investment Monitor Report claims there has been rising agricultural demand and tourism flows from Asia, which could be a further boost to the Tasmanian economy.

However, according to the latest State of the Regions report, Tasmania had two regions in the top 10 for highest unemployment; the north-west is fourth in the country on 14.5%, while Southern Tasmania is eighth on 12.2%.

It also found that Tasmania was spending less on infrastructure than any other state. It spends just $700m, compared to the Northern Territory ($1.8bn).

Northern Territory

Why Darwin shouldn’t be written-off

Investing in the Northern Territory’s capital city may be tough, but there are many reasons why it’s worth it – especially right now

It’s a no-brainer why investors might be spooked about Darwin at the moment.

For one, mining investment seems to be slowing, particularly since the $34bn Ichthys LNG project is due to be completed in 2016. According to the latest Deloitte Access Economics Investment Monitor report, this will place significant pressure on pipeline projects such as the $13bn Greater Sunrise Gas Development and the $4.6bn Bonaparte floating LNG project to fill the void.

And arguably Darwin has already had its growth spurt, as it’s been one of the most rapidly developing markets in Australia over the past decade.

But according to the most recent Herron Todd White report, the market seems to have stabilised, and with its proximity to Asia and persisting opportunities from the resources sector, it should still be considered a good investment option.

“If you need an investment property to help lower your taxable income, then any new unit in the greater Darwin area will do the job nicely,” says the report.

Further good news is that a recent confidence survey by the Australian Property Council and ANZ Bank shows that the Northern Territory was one of only two states or territories to have seen an increase in overall positive sentiment. This is linked to its high employment levels, growth in wages and strong gains in household spending.

And it’s also getting a helping hand from the influx of temporary workers looking for short-term housing. This is just one reason for its strong rental yields compared to other capital cities.

Australia’s gateway to Asia? The Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Warren Truss, recently released the Green Paper on Developing Northern Australia, and it’s very clear that Darwin is set to play a larger role in boosting Australia’s economy in coming years.

“Darwin is shaping up as Australia’s gateway to Asia – one of the fastest growing regions in the world, which will soon be home to half of the world’s middle-class by 2020,” says Truss.

“The Northern Territory has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country and investment activity is set to increase by 7% in 2014-15.”

In particular, 55% (or $121bn) of Australia’s exports are shipped from the northern ports. And according to the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, the value of exports through Darwin’s port has increased with an average annual growth rate of more than 12% a year over the five years to 2012-13.

“And there is potential for increased exports from current and new mines in the Northern Territory, LNG from the Browse Basin and growing live cattle and beef exports. A new abattoir able to process up to 200,000 head annually is under construction south of Darwin,” adds Truss.

Australian Capital Territory

Injection of confidence required

Uncertain times mean Canberra’s market continues to display the effects of a lack of confidence, but all is not lost for the nation’s capital

Uncertain times tend to breed nerves and an unpredictable atmosphere. Following the federal government cost-cutting budget, and the ongoing spectre of public sector job losses, such is currently the case for the under-performing Canberra property market.

APM senior economist Andrew Wilson describes Canberra as the problem child of Australia’s markets at the moment. “Both prices and sales have been bouncing round, up and down, from quarter to quarter. There is no clear trend emerging. We have seen a fall in prices in the March quarter and then a bit of a recovery in the June quarter but, overall, it’s two steps forward, two steps back.”

The latest RP Data Rismark Hedonic Home Value Index results back up this view. While there was a small growth (of 0.5%) in dwelling values over June itself, there was a drop of -0.5% over the quarter.

Further, APM’s tracking shows that rental demand has declined, which means that rents are also going backwards.

Regardless of what the locals say, these indicators result from the issue of job loss in the public sector, Wilson says. “The economy is improving slowly and Canberra has low unemployment and high incomes anyway. So it really is issues to do with job security which are influencing market activity and keeping the market subdued.”

Low interest rates and improved affordability have not lifted Canberra’s market, as they have in other capital cities. Wilson says that this means any significant improvement is a question of confidence returning to the market.

“Unfortunately, that will depend on the outlook for improvement to the public sector. And that will probably not come until we get closer to the end of the current political cycle.”

All is not lost for the nation’s capital, however. Wilson believes Canberra offers good value for those buying because it has not recorded the same sort of price growth that cities, like Sydney, have.

According to the RP Data Rismark results, Canberra’s current median dwelling price is $525,000. This compares favourably to Sydney which has a current median dwelling price of $690,000.

Australia’s wellbeing capital Meanwhile, Property Council ACT executive director Catherine Carter says the OECD recently named Canberra as the city with the highest level of wellbeing in Australia.

The results underscore the need for the successful delivery of the ACT government’s ambitious $2.5bn investment in infrastructure projects like Capital Metro and City to the Lake, Carter adds. “These high-quality infrastructure projects will generate jobs and further enhance our city’s liveability.”

For investors, it is worth considering Canberra’s liveability, relative affordability and planned infrastructure investment as these elements could well trump the market’s case of the jitter.

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