Level of foreign investment is falling significantly as foreigners are demonized: Terry Ryder

Level of foreign investment is falling significantly as foreigners are demonized: Terry Ryder
Level of foreign investment is falling significantly as foreigners are demonized: Terry Ryder

The least understood, worst reported and most unfairly treated issue in residential real estate is foreign investment.

The degree to which a patchwork of half-truths, empty rhetoric and outright lies has come to be accepted by almost everyone as truth is quite startling.

All forms of investment in real estate have become demonized amid the increasingly hysterical “debate” about housing affordability, but especially foreign investment. 

Politicians’ handling of the affordability issue has been taken directly from the Yes Minister playbook. The iconic British comedy series has provided the scripts for federal and state politicians seeking a convenient scapegoat for the affordability issue – someone they can attack to give the appearance they care, without costing votes. 

Overseas investors are the perfect target because they are seen as filthy rich foreign bastards, so everyone dislikes them or at least envies them, and they don’t vote in Australian elections.

After two long and pointless federal parliamentary inquiries into housing affordability, the Federal Government decided to blame it all on foreign investors. This provided lots of opportunities for sabre-ratting and righteous speech-making, followed by a big clampdown on foreign buyers who break the rules. 

State Governments seized the opportunity to not only blame foreign investors for high prices but also to extract still more revenue from the property investment sector by slapping extra taxes and other imposts on the dastardly foreigners. Media, of course, has lapped it up.

So thoroughly have foreign buyers been demonized that a recent public opinion survey found that most people blame foreign investors for rising property prices. Even in Perth, where house prices have been falling for four years, half of respondents claim foreigners are forcing their house prices to rise. That pretty much says it all.

The anecdotal evidence suggests that anyone who has bid at an auction in Sydney and Melbourne in recent years, and been out-gunned by someone of Asian appearance, has gone away complaining about foreign investors. They could be third generation Australians for all they know.

The NSW Government, which is more to blame for poor housing affordability than any other entity or group of individuals, has seized the opportunity to exploit the unpopularity of foreign investors by slugging them with further taxes, while claiming – rather remarkably - that it won’t affect the level of foreign buying in Sydney.

If that’s what they believe, then what’s the point of doing it? It’s a rhetorical questions – the answer, of course, is that it’s all about revenue-raising.

The mounting imposts on offshore buyers will deter them and that will cause high-rise projects to be cancelled, thereby reducing supply - one of the factors needed to improve affordability.

The craziest thing about the whole sorry issue is that foreign investors are such a small part of the overall buying market. The research indicates that offshore buyers account for less than 10 percent of residential sales. We’re being asked to believe that this tiny minority is somehow driving prices up everywhere, overpowering the more than 90 percent of buyers who are Australians. Are we really that weak and puny?

It’s likely suggesting that a Japanese sevens team with two players in the bin could defeat a 15-man Wallabies outfit.

Yet 54 percent of South Australians think foreigners are the greatest factor in forcing Up Property prices, even though prices have hardly moved in Adelaide; and 56 percent of Queenslanders have the same attitude, despite the absence of boom conditions in Brisbane.

Of course, it all depends how the survey is framed – also well-documented in the scripts of Yes Minister. Strange that this recent survey had little to say about negative gearing, another hugely-popular scapegoat. Seven out of 10 nationwide blame foreigners.

It shows, once again, how opinion surveys do little more than reflect the prevailing media view. Politicians and media keep telling the public that foreign buyers are forcing up prices - so that’s what most people think. It’s not as if the average citizen goes out and conducts their own research. They just believe what they read.

The proof that foreign buyers are unfairly blamed is this: both federal and state governments, as well as lenders, have been clamping down on foreign investment for the past two years. New taxes and charges have made it incredibly expensive for them to buy our real estate, while those who are deemed to have done the wrong thing have been forced to sell back the properties they acquired.

The level of foreign investment is falling significantly. But prices have continued to rise in Sydney and Melbourne.

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.

Property Sales Foreign Investment


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