Treasurer Joe’s Villa del Nightmare: Robert Simeon

Treasurer Joe’s Villa del Nightmare: Robert Simeon
Treasurer Joe’s Villa del Nightmare: Robert Simeon

Well, the property is actually named Villa del Mare and I don’t really see the current owners having too much trouble as they correct their divestiture order.

The nightmare is actually faced by treasurer Joe Hockey given he now has to investigate millions and millions of property transactions – which we all know by now that such a task is impossible. First of all they don’t have the manpower nor the most important criteria – the data.

Let’s be honest here, the Abbott government decided to announce their ‘ferocious’ crackdown on foreign buyers simply to distract attention from its decision to back-flip on the Medicare co-payments, and what a smoke screen this proved to be.

Naturally, this was all tied into Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) statistics where it was revealed to The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics that in the first nine months of 2014 foreign investment had surged 44%. One would seriously have to ask the question is there a hotter real estate market in the world at the moment than Sydney?

For the federal government to forensically investigate all the property transactions and we are talking about millions and millions of transactions the answer is simple – no chance. In 2013-14 alone NSW recorded 860,000 property transactions.

So front and centre we have a $39 million Point Piper mansion that must now find a new buyer within the next 90 days. Well didn’t the media fall for that bait hook, line and sinker. I’m happy to bet that this property will not be offered for sale, rather the present owners will simply transfer the property into another name. At the heart of the problem is that Joe Hockey is totally wrong when he claims that: “Under the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeover Act 1975, foreign investors must notify the treasurer through the Foreign Investment Review Board before purchasing residential real estate.”

Sorry to tell you Joe, but foreign buyers have found much better ways to acquire residential real estate and yes, thanks to your crackdown, you’re about to find out just how. Although I am sure that there will be many cases of foreign buyers who have simply disregarded FIRB regulations and purchased properties without application.

The much preferred method that foreign buyers have pursued is to simply transfer funds to their newly appointed “trustee” who has Australian residency, and they then legally purchase a property. When it suits the foreign buyer they apply for Australian residency and once this is granted they then apply the Duties Act 1997 – Sect 18 which applies to “no double duty”. Given that they can prove that they actually provided all the funds to acquire the property to their appointed “trustee” they then pay a duty of $50 to have the property transferred into their name. So you see there is absolutely no need to advise the FIRB given this is totally legal in NSW – so Joe Hockey should be looking at all the legally available loopholes first.

At last count the treasurer’s FIRB consisted of just 10 staff, so given the recent announcements we may assume that this department has been increased tenfold so that they can energetically confront these serious concerns. In all probability this too will be placed in the too hard Canberra basket, although I believe everyone would agree that this is a serious problem that requires urgent attention.

The reality of the matter is that the FIRB is, as I have said on many occasions now, “hopeless’’ given they don’t even know where to start to take control of this crisis. For most obvious reasons the states and territories won’t exactly be energetically offering assistance given they are only concerned about protecting their “rivers of gold”, otherwise known as stamp duty.

The only way that the federal government can get to the bottom of these foreign acquisitions is to somehow get hold of the stamp duty records – which won’t happen anytime soon.

Like a bull at a gate Joe Hockey has opened up his very own house of worms without even realising the sheer magnitude of the job at hand. From past experience we all know only too well what happens next, don’t we.

Nothing happening here folks, move along, we have everything under control. Next question?

Robert Simeon

Robert Simeon

Robert Simeon is a director of Richardson Wrench Mosman and Neutral Bay and has been selling residential real estate in Sydney since 1985. He has also been writing real estate blog Virtual Realty News since 2000.

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