Throwing brick bats at investors: Peter Chittenden

Peter ChittendenAugust 4, 20150 min read

In February the Reserve Bank Governor Glen Stevens admitted concern over the Sydney property, with expectations that the median house price ‘may hit $1 million’ by the end of the year. We all know that prediction has already been realised and last week Sydney’s median house price just crept past the $1,000,000 mark.

Since February there has also been an ongoing discussion about the impact of investors on the marketing. Investors have been very active buyers and this shows up in the demand for finance with investors active across the established and new home market, and also buying new apartments off the plan. Among these buyers there are big numbers of SMSF.

With investors being seen as dominant in the market there are now strong concerns being expressed that they are in part (along with offshore buyers) shutting out first home buyers, and with the advantage of very low interest rates possibly over-heating the market. So much so now that the banks and banking regulators have started to make it more difficult for property investors (and it must be said for offshore buyers) by taking a number of steps. These include higher interest rates and bigger deposits for investors and a restriction of loan funds that the banks allocate to this sector of the market.

Taken as a package these measures look like a strong reaction aimed at investors. In accessing if these steps are warranted or not, I think we should firstly remember that property investors have always been an important part of the market, and that they are a very diverse group. This is not a sector dominated by the ‘rich and famous’.

Are Restriction Really Necessary?

Now that some investors will face additional hurdles I think we need to ask if this group is simply an easy target and will, for instance, the measures announced do anything to directly help first time buyers. This sort of direct intervention into the market is rare and there’s little doubt that it’s driven by the idea that the Sydney market and parts of Melbourne in particular, may be overheating.

However just targeting investors in isolation looks puzzling. Mainly I suggest from the point of view that this is as mentioned earlier it’s a very diverse group. Low interest rates and the search for yield are two factors and the flow of SMSF investment I think is also very much tied up in the continued debate over superannuation.

For this group property has always had special appeal because it’s seen as a stable and long-term investment. SMSF already have to comply with a lot of tough rules when they invest in property and so such investments do not really strike me as speculative, in fact just the opposite.

Are such targeted changes really well founded, because from a financial view point I find myself asking why is one dollar of investment better than or worse than another?

I would think that most investors are more than capable of paying their obligations than an owner-occupier when someone else is after all usually paying the rent. Historically it has always been rents and tenants demand that has acted to temper investor demand.

Prior to some of the banks last week lifting interest rates for investors, there was already evidence that increased supply of new apartments was starting to slow down rental growth, a trend that I had noted earlier [see posts June 17th-19th] when looking at 2-3 year rental market trends as reflected in figures from the NSW Rental Bond Board.

And so given the very wide range of factors at work in the property market there is I feel, a need to question why are the regulators and banks are interfering with market process in one very select area.

Appreciating that there are tighter controls also now being focussed on some offshore buyers both measures look like high profile and doubtless popular measures among some sections of the community.

However if the aim is partly to give FHB an improved chance to enter the market, then I suggest that direct action should be taken to approve more land release, ease some rules around apartments, like lifting height restrictions along with much more effort to deliver infrastructure.

While above all, the tax burden, both direct and indirect on homebuyers, should also be addressed as readily as other financial measures now aimed at investors.

This coming at a time when the suggestion of a higher GST would further disadvantage first time buyers without really substantial changes to crippling stamp duty which now stands at $40,523 in NSW on the median house price of $1,000,616. The really horrific fact is that the rates have not been reviewed since December 1986 when the median Sydney house price was $98,325 and this is despite price creeping or the recent price explosion, a fact that is simply a disgrace and shows government’s addiction to property related tax revenue. For any sort of reform this does make investors, and offshore investors look easy targets.

Peter Chittenden is managing director for residential of Colliers International. He can be contacted here.

Peter Chittenden

Peter Chittenden is managing director for residential of Colliers International.
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