8 sure fire ways to lose money in property investment

I’ve heard it said that property investment is simple, but it’s not easy. 

Now this is not a play on words.

Let’s face it… each year hundreds of thousands of Australians turn to property investment as a way of developing financial freedom, or getting more choices in their life or building a retirement nest egg.

But very few achieve their goals.

Look at the facts…

About one in four property investors sell their investment property within the first year and almost half have sold up in within five years. By the way…this article explains why.

Of those who remain in the game, less than 10% own more than two properties.

Most property investors fail

Putting it bluntly…most property investors fail to reach their objective of financial freedom.

And my concern is that in the current turbulent economic environment this will only get worse.

The good news is that there is a way to make property investment work and I’ll explain how. But first let’s look at what not to do…

Currently our property markets are a confusing place, yet property investors are still being bombarded with messages of easy money which has lead to a worrying trend where some investors are so keen to do something, in fact to do anything, that they are heading for property investment disaster.

Even if they don’t have enough money, or haven’t developed the discipline to save, or they’ve already borrowed to their limit, some investors feel they’ve got to do something and in their bid to get into the property market they are now speculating rather than investing.

Of course I understand why they are keen to share in the profits others have achieved through property, but sometimes the right thing for an investor to do is nothing.

I’ve made more money by the things I’ve said no  to than the things I’ve said yes to. That’s because all my investments have been made as part of a planned strategy.

So here are 8 sure-fire ways to lose money in the current property markets…

1. Off the plan purchases

Sure it sounds enticing…buy at today’s price then settle or on sell at a profit in a few years time. Sounds good, but does it work?

The problem is when the project is completed some purchasers won’t be able to obtain finance and have to sell. Others, who intended to flip their property for a profit, never planned to settle.

This means that when many projects are completed there will be a group of desperate vendors who lower their prices to sell at whatever the market offers.

And even if you are one of those who does settle your purchase, the banks will only lend you against the prevailing market price of your property, which will be the lowest sale price achieved by one of the desperate vendors, rather than the price you paid.

Add to this the fact that banks often only lend on a 70% loan to value ratio in many of the big new developments and what initially looked like a good investment starts to turn sour.

Other reasons I would avoid off the plan purchases include the uncertainty of completion dates, the level of finishes and the market conditions when you eventually take possession.

In fact you should buy your property at a significant discount to make up for these unknowns, however developers have to sell their products to you at a premium, not a discount, in order to make a profit.

And if that isn’t enough to turn you off buying off the plan, here’s one last point:

Almost all off the plan developments are sold to investors. On the other hand, I like buying properties in buildings that have a good proportion of owner-occupiers in them. I just find owner-occupiers tend to look after the buildings better, and enhance their long-term capital growth.

2. House and Land Packages

Some investors buy new homes because they’ve heard that land appreciates in value. But when you think about it, the land component usually accounts for less than half the purchase price, giving these properties a very low land to asset ratio.

While they may be great places to bring up a family, in general new or outer suburbs are not good places to invest.

Remember…one of the big factors that enhances capital growth is scarcity and that’s something missing in these suburbs. Many properties look the same, and there’s always another estate with more similar houses and more land just across the road.

Another reason I would avoid investing in these areas is their demographics, as they don’t attract the same demand from a diversity of tenants as the inner and middle ring suburbs do.

3. Buy renovate and sell a property

I’m all for adding value through renovations; but you can’t buy a property, do minimal work and then sell it at a profit, because stamp duty, buying and selling costs and tax eat away at your profits. On the other hand, buy renovate and hold in the long term is a great investment strategy.

4. Positive cash flow properties

You can’t save your way to wealth with a few dollars a week positive cash flow.

The best way to financial independence through property is to accumulate assets and, in Australia, properties with higher capital growth usually have lower rental returns.

5. Options

Another way to lose money is to follow some of the creative schemes currently being promoted.

People with little or no money are being tempted by the prospect of bypassing the step of developing the discipline of saving. They are happy to hear the promoter’s suggestion that you can control millions of dollars worth of property using none of your own money when you buy using an option.

There’s nothing new about these schemes. And if history repeats itself the promoters of today will become very rich while their students will learn a very expensive lesson.

6. Rent Guarantees

This is where the developer guarantees a certain rental for a period of time, pandering to inexperienced investors’ concerned about vacancies.

But these guarantees come at a cost – they are factored into the purchase price. You’re paying the developer upfront for the rent he’s going to repay you over the next few years.

7. Regional properties

Some regional towns have clearly exhibited better growth than some under performing suburban areas; but on the whole capital city properties have outperformed other types of properties in the long term.

Since two important drivers of capital growth include strong population growth and a diverse strong local economy, I only invest in capital cities.

8. Investing in mining towns.

Yes I know we’re going through the mother of all resource booms and mining towns will grow in size in the future.

But if history repeats itself, and it usually does, the property market in these towns will be driven by speculative investors. While there will be some short-term booms, property prices in these towns tend to be very volatile.

Don’t believe me? Try selling your property in one of these towns today and see if you find any buyers.

Well if these methods don’t work, what does?

There is one proven, time-tested method that has made average Australians very wealthy…

If you want to grow your own significant property portfolio, you need to buy a well located property below its intrinsic value, in an area that outperforms the average over the long term in terms of capital growth and a property to which you can add value so you can manufacture some capital growth.

This could be through renovations or redevelopment. Then over time borrow against your property’s capital appreciation and grow your portfolio one property at a time.

That’s what the small group of investors who have achieved financial independence through property have always done.


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Michael Yardney


Michael is a director of Metropole Property Strategists who help their clients grow, protect and pass on their wealth through independent, unbiased property advice and advocacy. He's once again been voted Australia's leading property investment adviser and one of Australia's 50 most influential Thought Leaders. His opinions are regularly featured in the media. Visit Metropole.com.au

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