Five lessons from Australia's recent real estate downturn: RiskWise's Doron Peleg

Five lessons from Australia's recent real estate downturn: RiskWise's Doron Peleg
Staff reporterDecember 7, 2020


As green shoots have clearly appeared in the property market, RiskWise Property Research has taken a retrospective analysis of lessons to be learned from the recent downturn.

1) Think long term and don’t seek quick wins. It’s easy to see Sydney and Melbourne carry a low level of risk and are the long-term winners when it comes to the property market. While we’ve had short-lived episodes of enthusiasm in areas such as Hobart and the mining towns in both Western Australia and Queensland, these areas are no longer in favour with owner-occupiers or investors (Hobart delivered a modest annual change in dwelling value of 2.6 per cent). Now we are seeing the Sydney and Melbourne markets starting to perform more strongly, which means that only the people who bought at the top of the market in 2017 and 2018 are seeing temporary reductions in dwelling values. People who are looking for ‘adventures’ in the property market are like gamblers and often find these escapades to be perilous down the track when it is too late to do anything about.

2) Taxation and regulatory changes carry very tangible risk to property investors. Investors should focus on purchasing dwellings that are suitable for families in areas which have a high owner-occupier ratio, particularly houses, as these are less subject to potential taxation changes.

3) High-rise units simply carry a higher level of risk. This is driven by areas which have oversupply of units, often flagged as Danger Zones. However, the newly emerging threat of construction defects and combustible cladding has added an addition layer of risk for investors. For the same amount of money investors can usually buy a house in the middle or outer rings which will present much less risk and is more likely to enjoy solid capital gains down the track due to the long-term appreciation of land values.

4) Capital growth should be the key driver for investor decisions, rather than cash flow. A RiskWise five-year analysis of the property market earlier this year demonstrated that high rental yields generally deliver low overall returns for investors. Our analysis proved that, over the medium to long term, low rental returns delivered significantly higher overall return (i.e. capital growth + rental return), while high rental returns delivered lower ones overall. What it means is people who invest in very affordable suburbs that carry a high level of rental return, with the expectation of strong overall growth, achieve exactly the opposite result. The analysis showed, under the assumption of a 20 per cent deposit, that low-rent houses would increase their net equity by 63.1 per cent. Conversely, high-return houses would increase their net equity by only 29.5 per cent. This means low-rent houses increased their equity by more than twice that of the high-rent ones.

5) Undersupply of houses in Sydney and Melbourne is a systematic issue. With high population growth in both these capital cities, undersupply of family-suitable dwellings, mainly houses and, to a lesser extent, townhouses will drive property values and is likely to create strong long-term growth in prices. What it means is supply has been unable to keep pace with strong demand. While there has been a large supply of units in high-rise buildings, these are generally unsuitable for owner-occupiers and are largely rental properties. This imbalance in dwelling construction has been a major contributing factor to housing affordability challenges, remembering that rental properties and owner-occupied ones are not fully substitute products. Overall, investors are more likely to benefit more from buying houses in the middle rings and the outlying areas of these cities, provided there are adequate transport solutions and access employment.

DORON PELEG is the CEO of RiskWise

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