The pros and cons of investing in a modern duplex

The pros and cons of investing in a modern duplex
The pros and cons of investing in a modern duplex

Sometimes, an investor is presented with the exciting prospect of picking up a dual-income residence at below-market buying rates. Many readers will be very familiar with the ‘duplex’ housing type in Australia. Throughout most capital cities and regional centres, duplexes have been a popular choice for many decades.

Modern innovation on the humble duplex design have also paved the way for new investor opportunities.

For those not familiar with duplex property types; a duplex property is effectively two conjoined properties occupying one block or plot of land and will share at least one common wall. Both dwellings in a duplex are constructed at the same time, however, depending on the title structure, they may be strata or non-strata titled.

If strata titled, each dwelling may be sold and owned separately. However if not strata-titled, it means both dwellings within the duplex can only be sold together. Sometimes investors can purchase both sides of a strata-titled duplex, enabling for the opportunity to owner-occupy one half, whilst renting out the other half.

Each dwelling in a duplex is completely separate with no shared rooms or entrances. Each dwelling has its own bathrooms, bedrooms, living areas, courtyards and sometimes their own garages. Duplex designs have come leaps and bounds in recent years, evolving from what were once pretty ugly property types that were viewed as only occupying dodgy suburbs.

This was because decades ago, tenant demands were very different to what they are today. Typically, ‘good quality’ tenants favoured only houses on large blocks, located in suburbs very far from the CBD centre (greater than 20 kilometres). For this reason, duplexes were harder to market, with rental return sometimes not being strong, due to renter demand preferring detached houses.

However, fast forward to 2014 and as the cost of land skyrockets across most major capital cities and renter demand is shifting towards smaller living spaces (but in closer proximity to CBD centres); the concept of the duplex has become a popular talking point again.

So here are some of the pros and cons for the duplex housing type:

Pros 

  • The biggest pro is the potential to pick up two income revenues on what is effectively one property.

  • If well-purchased, this rental return rate can make for a positive cash flow from the outset.

  • Duplex properties tend to fare better in terms of re-sell value compared to a traditional house that has had a granny flat added to the property.

  • The potential to have no strata title structure creates an opportunity for investors to not only reduce holding costs (thereby adding more rental return to the property), but it also enables greater control over the expenditure of both properties.

  • New providers and builders are innovating in this space. Designs are way more aesthetically pleasing these days and are in fact are being designed to give the appearance of one big house (from the street) rather than a duplex or an uglier ‘bolt-on’ house. This adds curbside appeal to both dwellings and helps maintain street value, and for investors this also enables greater capital growth potential for both dwellings.

Cons 

  • Whilst it is great having no strata costs; the reality is as owner of both halves you must maintain both dwellings as you would any other detached house. This can mean three to four bathrooms to maintain instead of just two; two kitchens instead of two; two gardens; HVAC systems and so on.

  • Further to this; you thus lose many of the ‘economies of scale’ gained when owning a unit in a strata titled complex of say a dozen or so units/villas. Things like roof maintenance become much more expensive when split between only two dwellings versus a dozen.

  • I mentioned the opportunity to live in one half and rent the other, however there could be capital gains tax consequences to doing this. The reason being it is effectively one title on the overall property. On the flip-side however, you could strata title each one and owner-occupy one dwelling (and never rent it out as an investment property) there is potential to qualify for capital gains tax concessions for that dwelling only. However…

  • Traditionally duplexes on one title are harder to sell. This is because you can only market the property to either owner occupier investors or owner occupiers who require a second dwelling for extended family. So, it shrinks the prospective buying pool, which may result in a less favourable sales price when you do find a buyer.

  • However, this may not be such a bad thing, because as our aging population gets older; the potential demand for properties that can occupy a young family, along with the grandparents, is significant.

Image courtesy of the the NNECAPA photo library/CC.

Cameron McEvoy

Cameron McEvoy

Cameron McEvoy is a NSW-based property investor and maintains a blog, Property Correspondent.

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Investor Tips Cameron Mcevoy

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