Off-the-plan apartments are shiny and new, well marketed and come equipped with all the bells and whistles that many of us would love to have in our own homes.
As a result, they may seem like a good investment to add to your portfolio.
After all, there’s no need for repairs or renovating; warranties are in place covering the building as well as fixtures and fittings; and there’s decent tax deductions to be had from the depreciation of new appliances.
It all sounds great so far, right?
Don’t be fooled: off the plan properties have their own set of risks that established buildings don’t.
I could write pages on the topic but today will focus on just one area and take a moment to look at off the plan investments from a financial point of view.
Off-the-plan investments are not a bad financial risk; they’re far worse than that.
In my view, they’re a terrible financial risk as they effectively represent gambling with your money.
This is because you have so little control over the investment from the moment you hand over your deposit until you collect the keys – which could be anywhere from 6 months to 4 years away!
Of course, like most things to do with property investment, every opportunity has its own set of factors and variables.
Apartment development approvals are now at record highs and as a result, construction is booming in many metropolitan areas.
Corelogic report that across the combined capital cities, there are 92,102 new units set for completion over the next 12 months with that figure expected to rise to a whopping 231,129 during the next two years.
But are there enough buyers for all these glossy new units?
Cameron Kusher of Corelogic said:
“The large volume of new stock, coupled with an ever-growing supply of existing stock means that historic high levels of unit settlements are due to occur over the next two years in most cities. In fact, even a recurrence of the peak year for sales in Melbourne and Brisbane over the next two years wouldn’t represent enough demand to cater for all of the new units set to settle over the coming 24 months,”
If we look at the property market in Melbourne currently, we can see a dramatic increase in construction of residential properties occurring at a time when there is already a significant oversupply of new apartments.
An estimated 30,000 new dwellings are expected to be commenced or completed in 2016, most within the city boundaries and the rest in the outer suburbs.
About 32,000 apartments are under construction and another 23,000 have development approval in Sydney and many experts fear that this huge number of high-rise flats coming on to the market puts downward pressure on prices.
Industry insiders say there are too many inner-city apartments being built, with people buying off the plan at risk of purchasing properties that will be worth less than their sale prices.
There’s around 10,000 apartments currently under construction in the Brisbane inner-city according to property economist Dr Lyndall Bryant, from the Queensland University of Technology.
“There’s another 15,000 that are approved and another 15,000 apartments waiting for approval, and add to that another 8,000 that are mooted.
“Add that all up and that’s just shy of 50,000 apartments that potentially could come onto the Brisbane housing market” she said
When we see a sizeable growth in construction of housing in an area, we also see the effects of competition.
Developers offer incentives to bring in the buyers and persuade them to purchase off the plan in their new estate or apartment complex.
Usually developers are required to sell a certain amount of apartments before they can commence construction, so they will wheel and deal to move their properties quickly.
This could work in your favour if you become interested in buying at the right time…
Or it could be the very reason why you paid $50,000 more than your next-door neighbour for the exact same property.
There are other financial risks, too.
When you make an off-the-plan purchase, you’re buying the property at its supposed current market value.
In general, the build time is between 24 and 36 months and in that time it’s possible for the market to shift upward.
Now I realise that in Sydney some investors have done very well over the last few years because on completion their properties were worth several hundred thousand dollars more than they paid for them a few years earlier.
This is a fantastic outcome – but it’s the exception, not the rule.
More often than not you’ll pay a premium on today’s market price to cover the developer’s margin and marketing costs, so don’t count on capital growth of your new property as a strategy to generate a quick profit.
The opposite scenario – where the property is valued at less upon completion than the price you paid – is a more common financial risk of buying off the plan and it can turn ugly, fast.
Towards the completion of the property, your lender will appraise the property to check that the current market is still in line with the purchase price.
If the property is valued at less than the purchase price, and that’s happening a lot nowadays, it will result in you requiring a higher Loan to Valuation Ratio.
Best case scenario?
The bank could agree to lend you more money and charge you a higher Lenders Mortgage Insurance premium.
But over the last year or so, as APRA has made the banks tighten their lending criteria, very few will lend more than 80% of the value of your property on completion and many banks are only lending up to 70% LVR in the postcodes around the CBD’s.
And worse… if the market has shifts downward, or you only put down 10% deposit and hoped capital growth would mean you don’t have to find any extra deposit, you could find yourself in real financial strife.
· You purchase a property Off The Plan for $600,000 with a 10% deposit of $60,000
· You expect it to be worth $700,000 at settlement in a few years time, allowing you to borrow 80% against the end value without having to put in more funds.
· Upon completion it is valued at $550,000 (now that’s generous based on some of the real life case studies I’ve seen!)
· The lender limits your borrowing capacity to 80% of $550,000 to minimise their risk… giving you access to just $440,000 in finance.
· You need to come up with a further $100,000 to settle the deal – or you lose your $60,000 deposit and the developer can still sue you for any loss he incurs.
This scenario has stress written all over it and its happening to investors all over Australia, every week of the year.
But it gets worse
This is “investment stock” not what I’d call “investment grade” as it has little or no owner occupier appeal and, lacks scarcity value.
Over the last months most lenders have announced they will no longer be lending to overseas home buyers which is likley to result in a larger number of contracts not progressing through to settlement.
Supply exceeds demand.
When a new apartment complex is released to market, suddenly 20, 40 or 60 new dwellings become available all at once and supply often exceeds demand.
Finding a tenant, even in an area that had previously been a rental hotspot, can suddenly become difficult.
This can result in needing to drop the expected rental price to bring the tenants in.
In my mind there a e many other risks to buying off the plan and all this uncertainty means you should only consider buying this type of property if you obtain a significant discount.
Yet in reality investors usually pay a premium to the market price, giving away the first 5 or more year’s capital growth to the developer – and it’s not his to have!
So in summary off the plan purchases are not a bad financial risk – they’re a terrible financial risk – steer clear.