13 Coronavirus property questions answered by Hotspotting's Terry Ryder

13 Coronavirus property questions answered by Hotspotting's Terry Ryder
13 Coronavirus property questions answered by Hotspotting's Terry Ryder

EXPERT OBSERVER

Australia is teeming with people who have questions about the impact of the virus crisis on real estate and are seeking urgent answers. 

My webinar with buyers’ agent Rich Harvey of propertybuyer on 24 March attracted a big audience – our largest ever - and we received more questions than we could handle during the live event.

Many of those questions including some of the fundamental ones that everyone is asking: will property values decline, how long will it last, is this a good time to buy, what happens if my tenant can’t pay the rent and if I ask my lender for a mortgage holiday, will it affect my credit rating?

here are some of the key questions or comments, and my responses.

Is now the time to be buying an investment property? Will there be tenants in the market?

I think this is a good time to be looking for an investment property. There will be opportunities to buy well in the current climate. Buyers will be able to negotiate from a position of strength. Just be careful to select a location with the credentials for long-term growth. There will be tenants – vacancies are low around the nation and the various government stimulus packages will assist people who might otherwise struggle to pay their rent.

Auction clearance rates will change now that the first wave of lock-down controls come into effect. Do you predict that the market will continue to be healthy amidst rising unemployment?

Yes, I think the market will continue to be healthy. The rise in unemployment will be temporary – if it was long-term, extending right throughout the year, it would have a material impact on markets and property prices, but I expect it to be relatively short-term. Auctions will be curtailed by the government restrictions on gatherings, but most sales do not occur via auction so that in itself will not be detrimental to property prices. Only 10-11% of sales across Australian happen through auctions. It will cause some vendors who particularly want auctions to withdraw their properties from sale, which will exacerbate the shortage of listings and put a floor under property values.

Do you think vacancy rates will rise in the short term with unemployment increasing?

I think there will be some increase in vacancy rates in the short-term, but mainly because owners who had been using AirBNB rather than permanent rental situations will now be seeking permanent tenants (because of the travel restrictions, which are killing the AirBNB market at the moment). Most markets should be able to absorb this, because vacancy rates are very low in most locations across Australia.

Can you help unpack how a potential 10% unemployment rate cannot have any impact on property prices going forward?

If we had a 10% jobless rate long-term in Australia, it would impact on property prices – but we won’t have that. We will have a short, sharp spike in unemployment but it won’t last long enough to cause a significant fall in house prices.

Will this situation promote longer-term demographic shifts to more people working remotely and strengthen property growth in regional areas?

I think that is a trend anyway and has helped to drive the boom in the past 2-3 years in Regional Victoria, particularly in towns within 1-2 hours of Melbourne, and also the Central Coast just outside Sydney. The current situation will probably enhance that trend towards people working remotely and therefore making lifestyle changes. Increasingly, there are fewer and fewer reasons to be close to the CBDs of major cities. 

Do you have any perspectives on negotiating with developers during this time, especially as first home buyers.

Everything is negotiable at any time but in these turbulent times I suspect buyers will be able to negotiate favourable deals when buying new product from developers. It would be a good time to present yourself as a buyer at a time when many people will be standing back or sitting on the fence.

Over the next few months if you find yourself unable to keep up with your loans, get on the front foot and call the credit provider early.  This will not only relieve some pressure as you won’t be living in fear of what they might do, but it will most likely help to protect your credit file in the process.  If the emotion is too close to home for you to liaise with the credit provider yourself, then engage a professional to do it for you. But check in early with your lenders.

I think that is sound advice. The major lenders have made it clear that they want to help their mortgage customers, as well as businesses, because they have a strong vested interest in keeping their customers healthy. Anyone who is struggling with loan repayments should contact their lenders and work out a solution with them. The major banks are indicating that they will allow people to pause their repayments for a period of time.

What should landlords do if a tenant advises they can’t pay their rent?

I don’t think it’s possible to give a generalised answer to that. It needs to be handled on a case-by-case basis. But a lot of the emphasis in the various stimulus packages is on assisting people in those situations. The benefits for people out of work have been significantly increased to try to avoid situations where people can’t pay their rent. But, for any landlords who fact that situation, work with your tenants, or your property manager, to come up with a solution – perhaps by reducing the rent for a short period.

Should I reduce the rent before the tenants ask?

It may be a good strategy, to pre-empt any problems – perhaps offer a reduction in the rent for a short period to help get through the difficult period. It’s preferable to do that, rather than losing your tenant. I note that some landlords are doing that, according to media reports. But it needs to assessed on a case-by-case basis. 

Should we hold on to our savings and see how low the market will go?

That kind of strategy seldom works. It’s indicates a short-term viewpoint when real estate should be approached with long-term horizons. The other problem with that kind of approach is that it’s impossible to pinpoint the bottom of the market – the data that shows the bottom of the trough doesn’t appear until a long time after the event. A better approach is to look for good buying opportunities in areas with the credentials for long-term growth.

What is your take on people losing their jobs who have a mortgage, will they lose their homes, if so how will they get a rental in such a tight rental market?

One of the key factors in the response from the Federal Government and the major banks is to support people who lose their jobs and have difficulty paying the mortgage. Lenders have said they will offer mortgage holidays – e.g. suspending payments for six months. The tight rental markets are being eased, to a certain extent, by investors who previously used AirBNB now putting their properties into the permanent rental pool (because the travel restrictions are killing the AirBNB market).

My husband is very nervous and wants me to sell our family home.  What’s your advice on selling now. 

No, please don’t do that. There is no need to panic to that degree. We are not going to see property values collapse and anyone who struggles to pay the mortgage during this crisis period should be able to arrange a suspension of their regular payments with their lender. 

If I were to make an opportunistic buy, what’s to say I can rent it out in a timely manner in the current environment?

A sensible investor would, firstly, buy in a location where the vacancy rate is low (and most locations around the nation currently have low vacancies) and, secondly, speak to property managers in the local area about the prospects for renting the property you’re thinking of buying – before signing a contract.

Terry Ryder is the founder of hotspotting.com.au

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Terry Ryder

Terry Ryder

Terry Ryder is the founder of hotspotting.com.au.

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Terry Ryder Coronavirus

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