Inner City Apartment Oversupply: is it time to get nervous?

Boy are the inner city apartment markets of Sydney and Melbourne behaving differently.apartment

And these differences are important for property investors to understand.

Looking back a few years, following their post Global Financial Crisis downturn, the inner city apartment markets of both Sydney and Melbourne boomed, in part due to investor demand and in part helped by low stock levels.

But over the ensuing years our two major CBD markets behaved very differently and now they are poles apart.

While limited new apartment stock was built in Sydney, Melbourne now has a significant inner city apartment market oversupply which is likely to cloud its market for a number of years yet.

You see…Melbourne town planners have approved the construction of over 20,000 apartments to be built in the central business district over the next four years.

apartment house keys cityThis is well above previous annual construction level of around 1,000 a year. In fact construction has already started on some 7,800 apartments

In addition, there are a heaps more planned or being built in the city fringe areas and in many Melbourne suburbs.

On the other hand in Sydney, only around 5,500 apartments have obtained approval in the CBD, however a greater number are being built in the suburbs, particularly around Alexandria and Parramatta.

According to Colliers International the number of CBD apartments approved or under construction in Brisbane is around 3,000, while Adelaide is building 2,300 and Perth 1,700.

Now these numbers may not seem large, they are all huge increases on previous construction levels.

So what is going on?

After the GFC investors returned in their droves to the inner Melbourne market as the economic outlook improved over 2009/10, while demand in Sydney recovered at a more modest rate.

According to Census data, in both Sydney and Melbourne the vast majority of inner city apartment occupants can be divided into three categories;

1.        Students – largely from overseas,

2.        Young professionals typically employed in white-collar occupations in and around the CBD and

3.        Older empty nesters who downsize when their children leave home.

The latter demographic are typically owner occupiers, while the first two make up most of the apartment market’s tenant pool.keys

Recognising their opportunity, Melbourne developers cranked up construction of new apartments in late 2010.

Over the next few years Melbourne’s then planning minister Mathew Guy decided to “Manhattanise” Melbourne and encourage the development of large apartment complexes while the approval process for similar developments in Sydney was more arduous.

This happened at the same time as our Asian neighbours decided Australia was a great place to invest their money.

In fact the vast bulk of Melbourne CBD developers (many funded by Chinese banks) and most of the buyers of Sydney and Melbourne CBD apartments are Asian.

Of course this has been helped by the recent fall in the Australian dollar as well as the lower international (and local) interest rates, both effectively lowering the purchase prices for Asian buyers of Australian property.

While the new Victorian government is likely to be more cautious in giving development approvals but it’s too late… the market is already flooded with too many one or two bedrooms apartments.

According to BIS Shrapnel’s forecast, by June 2016 there will be a surplus of 14,300 multi-residential dwellings in Victoria – see their chart below:

There is clearly a shift to apartment living and this trend is likely to grow with BIS Schrapnel predicting that multi-residential dwellings will one day makeup more than half of national dwelling commencements.

However in the short term – especially in the Melbourne property market – we’re overdoing it and the huge oversupply is likely to cause a significant correction in property prices in the inner and near CBD apartment markets.

But here’s another problem…

Many of these new apartments have been built to a poor standard.

A critical report last year revealed that many of our tiny apartments would be banned in New York, while another report estimated that 55 per cent of the city’s tallest apartment buildings are of “poor” quality, with common design flaws.

Too dense and too small

A scathing report from the Melbourne City Council shows some of the city’s newest developments are up to 10 times as dense as permitted by law in some of the world’s most urbanised market data

Council experts have called for the development of new apartment design standards for the city that could include rules to ban very small apartments.

You see… Sydney, London and Adelaide all have rules that ban new one-bedroom apartments smaller than 50 square metres.

But in Melbourne, 40 per cent of the city’s newest apartments are smaller than this.

Of course many of these sub size apartments are being bought by investors, many from overseas, and often they buy them off the plan not realising they are buying the slums of the future.

Why do I say this?


Bad quality apartments overrun Melbourne’s newest high-rise towers.

A Melbourne City Council study has estimated 55 per cent of the city’s tallest apartment buildings over 15 storeys are of “poor” quality, with common design flaws such as cramped layouts and a lack of natural light with windowless bedrooms in almost a quarter of new residential developments.

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Melbourne City Council’s Future Living report, which analysed the design of 25 of the city’s new residential developments, found poorer quality apartments were more likely to be located in taller apartments.

All 11 of the high-rise apartment designs studied were considered either poor or average quality.

Common failings included kitchens in hallways, poor storage, lack of ventilation and excessive energy use.

But the report’s authors said as long as there was someone willing to rent the property, the investors who buy 85 per cent of apartments in the municipality were not bothered.

Only buy investment grade properties

If you’ve been following my blogs you’d know I have always suggested you should steer clear from buying inner city off the plan apartments.

In general these have had poor capital and rental growth. Instead to chose properties that will outperform the averages in the long term, at Metropole we use a 5 Stranded Strategic Approach to property selection:

  1. We buy properties that appeal to owner occupiers, as (over the long term) owner occupiers make up the bulk of property purchasers and push up the value of certain types of property.strategy-design
  2. We buy a property below its intrinsic value – that’s why we avoid new and off the plan properties, which come at a premium price.
  3. In an area that has a long history of strong capital growth and that will continue to outperform the averages because of the demographics in the area. This will be an area where more owner occupiers will want to live because of lifestyle choices and one where the locals will be prepared to, and can afford to, pay a premium price to live because they have higher disposable income.
  4. We look for a property with a twist  – something unique, or special, or different or scarce about the property (you’re not likely to get that in a high rise tower), and finally
  5. A property where we can manufacture capital growth through refurbishment, renovations or redevelopment.

By following this 5 Stranded Strategic Approach, we minimise the risks and maximise the upside. Each strand represents a way of making money from property and combining all five is a powerful way of putting the odds in our favour. If one strand lets us down, I have three or four others supporting our property’s performance.

If you’d like some independent unbiased advice about getting started in property investment, or for one of Metropole’s property strategists to review your existing portfolio click here and organise a free strategic property portfolio review.



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'Inner City Apartment Oversupply: is it time to get nervous?' have 9 comments

  1. Avatar for Property Update

    October 28, 2015 @ 3:16 pm fiona forbes

    I have a very attractive 2 bed 2 bath one car space apartment in Woolloongabba should I keep it for a few years there is a huge oversupply of units and I cant sell it at the moment .


    • Avatar for Property Update

      October 28, 2015 @ 3:37 pm Michael Yardney

      Without knowing how much you paid for it – what your rent ir, what your outgoings are and what your plans are – I can’t really advise you.


  2. Avatar for Property Update

    March 27, 2015 @ 1:51 pm Adele

    Hi Michael, how do you think the quality 2 bedroom units that meet all five investment grade criteria will perform in blue chip inner Melbourne suburbs such as South Yarra? Will those much better units be affected by all this development even though they’re not really comparable? Should we sell a good one now before it is adversely affected and show no growth for years to come? thanks Adele.


    • Avatar for Property Update

      March 27, 2015 @ 2:23 pm Michael Yardney


      South Yarra is a vibrant well located suburb – however sow over 2,300 properties for rent there and in surrounding suburbs.

      There are a few great streets I’d still buy in there, but in genera I would not be purchasing new properties in that suburb. If you own a good property I wouldn’t panic


      • Avatar for Property Update

        March 30, 2015 @ 12:11 pm Adele

        Thanks Michael, I do have a large older style 2 bed apartment in a great street that would look great with a renovation to improve the yield which is not so good due to so many properties for rent as you mentioned. I just don’t want to spend tens of thousands on a renovation that might only improve the rent slightly anyway. I bought it as a long term hold for capital growth but hope there is opportunity for an increase in rents.


  3. Avatar for Property Update

    March 27, 2015 @ 11:21 am Kathy

    It’s not just Melbourne and Sydney with an oversupply. Brisbane is very much oversupplied with many blocks of flats. The 3000 figure quoted in the article is just the CBD. But the very close inner city ring (eg. South Brisbane, West End, Woolloongabba, Fortitude Valley, Newstead, Bowen Hills) have a huge number of new buildings going up.

    I was told late last year that the Fortitude Valley, Bowen Hills and Newstead area alone there are already 10,000 approved flats, some of which are already under construction or about to be constructed. And many of them are really, really small, less than 50 square metres.

    There was a news report on the weekend just gone where the rail officials were puzzled that the Fortitude Valley rail station is flooding regularly after heavy rain and they’d called in an drainage “expert” to help them.

    It’s absolutely no surprise and a no brainer in my opinion. If you’re constructing a huge number of blocks of flats in a concentrated area, all pumping water (and here in Brisbane, we get an awful lot of rain in a short time) into the storm water drains, of course the system is not going to cope! Where else is the rain going to go? Into the underground rail tunnels perhaps?

    Very bad planning and policy by Brisbane City Council, but what did they expect when they want to cram as many people as possible into as small a space as possible with no thought on how the infrastructure is going to cope and to hell with lifestyle and liveability.


    • Avatar for Property Update

      March 27, 2015 @ 2:24 pm Michael Yardney

      Thanks Kathy – Sydney is not really oversuplied – i was talking about Melbourne, but I agree that parts of Brisbane are clearly in oversupply


  4. Avatar for Property Update

    March 27, 2015 @ 10:45 am steve

    Hi Michael, thanks for continuing to share yours and others knowledge and experiences. We have owned a 2 bedroom unit in a smallish block in Elwood and another in Windsor, Melbourne for about 7 years now. I was wondering how you view these positions over the next several years taking all this inner city unit proliferation into consideration, thanks again, steve


    • Avatar for Property Update

      March 27, 2015 @ 2:26 pm Michael Yardney

      Steve – the are both good suburbs. However there are 3 distinct precincts in Elwood – each with their own price points and benefits.

      Similarly there are locations in Windsor I would definitely avoid. There’s much more to location than choosing a suburb


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