Why does residential land in Sydney cost twice what it does in Melbourne?

Why does residential land in Sydney cost twice what it does in Melbourne?
Why does residential land in Sydney cost twice what it does in Melbourne?

No one needs to do more about housing affordability than the NSW State Government. Sadly, no one is doing less.

The Victoria State Government has made an encouraging start to tackling some of the issues in Melbourne. The Northern Territory Government is doing plenty to help first-home buyers in Darwin.

Even in Tasmania, where Hobart prices are so low relative to other cities you wonder why they feel the need, the State Government is taking decisive action to help young buyers and the housing industry generally.

But in Sydney, the location with the biggest problems, the NSW Government has to date done nothing.

It has contributed mightily to the problems by ripping obscene amounts of revenue out of the housing industry and imposing major regulatory burdens on the development industry. But despite the rhetoric of Premier Gladys Berejiklian (who, as a former state treasurer should have some understanding of the issues and the numbers), the State Government has done nothing to assist.

In NSW stamp duty receipts have reached a record high. Official figures show that $1.98 billion in stamp duty poured into government coffers in the March Quarter alone – a $315 million increase on the first quarter of last financial year.

Stamp duty from all property transfers has risen $859 million so far this financial year, compared with the same period in 2015-16. This represents a 10 percent increase in stamp duty on residential property, outpacing the Treasury forecast of a 4.8 percent rise for 2016-17.

That’s a major part of the problem. The State Government has built a Budget surplus on the back of revenue from real estate, thereby adding to the costs that burden buyers, while claiming to care about affordability issues.

In considering what it can do ease price pressures, the NSW Government might ponder this question: why does residential land in Sydney cost twice what it does in Melbourne? The median price for a home site in Sydney in 2016 was double that of Melbourne’s, according to the recent State of the Land report.

One possible explanation is that Melbourne brought far more residential land to the market last year than Sydney did. Indeed, 40 percent of the new land marketed in capital city Australia in 2016 was in Melbourne.

Increasing supply is regarded by some as the silver bullet solution. It’s not, but it’s certainly part of range of measures that jointly might create improvement.

And certainly the Property Council has “turbo-charging housing supply through increased land supply and planning reform” at the top of its five-point plan to address affordability issues in Sydney. If Melbourne can create so much new housing land for sale, what’s holding Sydney back?

Increasing the supply of housing won’t help affordability if the new dwellings are expensive, because it costs so much to create them.

Which is why next on the Property Council wish list comes “reforming state property taxes and reducing fees, charges and red tape”.

It’s been reported many times but it’s worth repeating: research indicates that 40 percent of the cost of creating the average house-and-land package comprises government fees, charges and taxes.

That reinforces my view that the politicians who rage against foreign investors and negative-geared Australian investors are themselves the problem. Every time a state government in Australia announces its annual Budget, affordability in that state gets worse.

Some of the most vocal critics of the affordability problem in Sydney have been NSW state politicians, when they themselves are the people best placed to create remedies. They can start by reducing the cost burdens they place on the process of building and buying new homes.

Meanwhile, their populist scapegoating of foreign investors, and multiple measures by federal and state governments to nobble offshore buyers, are making the affordability problems worse.

The most effective way to cause property prices to fall – indeed, in my experience, the only way – is to create an oversupply. Some of our major cities have been heading unwittingly down that path recently, notably in the inner-city apartment markets in Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane.

But major projects made viable by the prospect of selling some of the product to foreign buyers will not proceed because of a range of measures by federal and state governments to make investment by offshore buyers unattractive, if not unviable.

They’ve made matters worse for young buyers while claiming to be improving their chances.

Don’t be surprised if one of the few measures the NSW State Government will introduce in its next Budget will be extra taxes and charges on foreign buyers. It will be another cash grab, dressed up as policy to “level the playing field for young Australians”.

Terry Ryder is the founder of hotspotting.com.au. You can email him or follow him on Twitter.

Terry Ryder

Terry Ryder

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

Land Tax Property market


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