Land tax for all should replace stamp duty for some

Land tax for all should replace stamp duty for some
Land tax for all should replace stamp duty for some

In 2007, as the WA's extraordinary property boom reached its peak, then Treasurer Eric Ripper lifted the stamp duty threshold for first home buyers to $500,000.

As the median house price jumped, housing affordability became more difficult and the entry costs to first home buyers in particular became a real impediment. Chief among those costs was several thousand dollars in stamp duty, given that first time buyers were then typically purchasing dwellings at around $300,000.

That policy move by the Carpenter government to effectively abolish stamp duty for the majority of first home buyers has proved over intervening years to be a tremendous success. They have flourished in WA, helped along by low interest rates, the first home buyers grant, plenty of jobs and a robust state economy. In recent years first time buyers often reached more than 30% of the overall market, dwarfing the experience on the east coast.

First home buyer activity in particular has been very strong but is now trending downwards at a worrying rate. Changing policy settings at this time would be very unhelpful and a false economy.

Governments tend to underestimate the importance of first home buyers to the property market and economy in general. Not only do first home buyers take stock out of the market, they facilitate the property seller to trade-up, generating additional revenue from stamp duty as well as other business activity.

The new-home building markets also benefit as economic activity is increased through growth in supply chain business. WA ought not make the same mistake as NSW, which axed the first home buyer duty concession, or Victoria where first home buyer grants were greatly reduced. The clear evidence from these states is that first home buyer activity subsequently collapsed and has not recovered.

While REIWA understands the need for government to fund services and supply infrastructure, my concern is for the overall health and sustainability of the WA housing market at a precarious time. Current REIWA data supported by Landgate figures indicates a market downturn is likely for the second half of 2014.

Evidence from the March quarter shows a drop in sales numbers of around 6% compared to the same quarter in 2013. Listings for sale have risen to the highest level since December 2012 and rental listings are at a seven year high, with the vacancy rate now over 4% for the first time since 2010. Investors are scarce and first home buyers are dropping away. It’s time to recognise that stamp duty on property as a means to raise revenue is clumsy, inefficient and outdated.

Typical stamp duty on a median priced home in Perth is now $20,000. Bracket creep alone has pushed this up by $4,280 over the last five years.

REIWA calls on the government to have a serious look at broadening the land tax base to all property owners with the view to abolishing stamp duty altogether.

The benefit to government is steady, predictable revenue income based on land ownership, rather than unpredictable and volatile revenue income based on sales activity. The benefit to property owners is the simplicity of a modest, annual land tax as opposed to ‘bill shock’, when hit with a huge stamp duty tax in the tens of thousands when they transact.

In some cases stamp duty is so prohibitive to potential buyers that they stay put, jamming the market and not allowing established homes to flow into the first home buyer pool. A broad-based land tax was proposed by the Henry Tax Review and has merit. It has since been adopted by the ACT, which will phase it in over 20 years so it does not disrupt the market and will effectively be revenue neutral.

It’s time for a mature discussion around this proposal with the aim of creating a long-term plan for a better system of property taxes. One that’s not at the mercy of an anxious treasurer every financial year.

David Airey

David Airey

David Airey is president of the Real Estate Institute of Western Australia.

Western Australia David Airey Budget

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