Sydney’s property market has been the central focus of the real estate industry in recent years…
Particularly as it is Australia’s largest property market.
But now that the Harbour City market has moved to the next phase with slow growth in some locations, no growth in others and prices falling slightly in certain locations, the media is again full of stories wondering what’s ahead for Sydney property values.
Of course, low interest rates, a construction boom, a strong economy, rapid employment growth and strong population growth at a time of renewed confidence in the State government were just some of the reasons behind Sydney’s rapid and explosive growth in property values over the last years.
But the market clearly turned, losing steam in mid 2017 and then moving into the next phase of its property cycle.
For investors who haven’t secured real estate in Sydney, it begs the question: “are there still good quality opportunities to invest in Sydney’s suburbs?”
My answer is straightforward…
Sure the extraordinary house price growth Sydney has recorded over the last property boom is clearly now receding, and dwelling prices have fallen in some areas, but this has to be put into context with the spectacular growth Sydney experienced over the previous 5 years.
And just to make things clear…the Sydney property market is experiencing a “soft landing” – there’s no property crash ahead as some property pessimists predict.
There are no forced sales by desperate vendors, instead we’re seeing an orchestrated slowdown created by our regulators who’ve tightened the screws on lending, particularly to investors.
While Sydney property has experienced the largest decline for many years, it’s not all bad new; dwelling values remain significantly higher than they were five years ago and the recent declines have provided an improvement to housing affordability.
You see Sydney is not one property market…
It is divided by geography price points and type of property into many submarkets – this means you can’t count on the general Sydney property market to do the heavy lifting over the next few years, so careful property selection will be critical.
For all the talk of a slowdown, Sydney real estate is still chugging along nicely in some regions but overall buyers are being more cautious and and selective – there is a “flight to quality.”
Well located “A Grade” homes and “investment grade” properties are still selling well but secondary properties, which in the past would have been snapped up by eager buyers scared of missing out, are not selling unless vendors drop their prices to meet the market.
These are the properties that are creating the headlines as many potential buyers are sitting on the sidelines waiting to see how things pan out.
So to help give you a better understanding of what’s really going on I’m going to explore the nitty-gritty behind Sydney’s market trends, the areas where long-term growth is still likely, and the impact of shifting demographics on the city’s future performance.
This blog is a little longer than normal, so if you’re looking for a particular element of the Sydney property market, use these links to skip down the page.
Fast facts about the Sydney Property Market
1. Sydney Property Market Prices
But new data from Domain reveals a whopping 78 suburbs now boast a median house price of $2 million or more.
Five years ago the list was limited to just six suburbs.
That’s the cost of living in an international city on the water offering unparalleled lifestyle
2. Sydney’s Property Market Trends
Sydney’s recent unprecedented market boom saw the city experience the highest rate of capital growth of any capital city over the last decade.
And Sydney has had the strongest capital growth over this property cycle.
This is in part due to the strong appetite for Sydney property by investors, who previously accounted for more than half of purchases, but this has clearly slowed down now due to tightened lending measures on investors under pressure from APRA who was wanting to stop much of the speculative investor activity in Sydney.
And their macro prudential controls did just that!
Ask I explained earlier…
The Sydney market isn’t about to crash, it’s experiencing a soft landing.
Sure house prices may fall a little further in some locations, but Sydney’s strong economy which is leading to jobs growth which attracts population growth underpins the long term fundamentals of its property market.
And changing demographics is playing a big role in driving shifting market trends.
The big house on a big block is no longer a sure-fire strategy for success, as single-person homes and households without children are increasingly favouring living in medium density inner city and waterfront apartment properties.
Meanwhile, families are trending towards locations that offer effective transport infrastructure, with access to amenities and quality education.
Upgrades to major highways and new rail links may close the gap between suburbs that were previously closed off by poor infrastructure.
Sydney residential real estate turnover over the past year was the lowest it has been over any of the past nine years due to a significant fall in property sales.
Over the past year, 4.8% of Sydney housing transacted compared to 6.0% a year earlier.
Turnover remains much greater in regional NSW however, it has also fallen over the past 12 months from 7.5% to 6.6%, the lowest it has been since mid-2016.
At the same time auction clearance rates fell, however as at late February the Sydney home auction market started to show early signs of a revival with early-season buyer activity clearly on the rise.
Dr Andrew Wilson of My Housing Market reports that inner city, higher-priced regions have predictably led the charge carrying on their market-leading performances of the past year.
Reporting the auction results for 16th February 2019 Dr Wilson explained that the Inner West was Sydney’s top performing region on Saturday results with a strong clearance rate of 82.0% followed by the Northern Beaches 78.9%, the South 77.3% and the consistently solid Lower North with 76.0%.
Sydney reported a median auction price of $1,224,000 on Saturday February 16th which was higher than the previous Saturday’s $1,060,000 but 2.1% lower than the $1,250,000 recorded over the same Saturday last year.
Sydney’s home auction market will host increased listings over coming weekends and although numbers still remain well below those recorded the same time last year, recent positive results if maintained will certainly encourage those sellers sitting on the sidelines to get involved.
3. Sydney’s Rental Yield
As usually happens at this stage of the property cycle, rents have been unable to keep pace with Sydney’s rising house prices and as a consequence, overall yields have declined over the past few years as can be seen from the following chart from SQM Research.
Traditionally in Sydney, vacancy rates have been tight; hovering well below the level of 3% vacancies, which traditionally represents a balanced rental market.
However currently the overall vacancy rate in Sydney has crept up to 3.2%, but this varies in different locations.
At Metropole Property Management our vacancy rate is less than half this rate, in part because our clients have chosen investment grade properties, but we’d like to think it also has a bit to do with our proactive property management policies.
At the same time rents have fallen in many parts of Sydney, but as the graph below shows, things look like they could be on the improve.
4. Sydney’s Average Capital Growth
In 1993, the average house price in Sydney was $188,000.
Today with a current median in excess of $1 million, this represents a five-fold value increase in just over 20 years.
Sure the “overall” Sydney property market reached its peak in mid 2017, however there is still potential for property price growth in the inner and middle ring suburbs which tick all the boxes for strong capital gains in the long term.
You see…Sydney is comprised of dozens of smaller markets, each of which has their own drivers and supply/demand issues.
Overall Sydney is a city in gentrification, with the fingerprints of a younger demographic upping the desirability of the city lifestyle.
While dwelling values have fallen for the more expensive housing in Sydney, the price of lower valued properties continues to rise.
What’s so special about Sydney?
5. Sydney’s demographics
Sydney is Australia’s most populous city, and is also the most populous city in Oceania.
ABS statistics showed the population of Greater Sydney, which includes the Blue Mountains and Central Coast, reached 5,005,400 at the end June 2016 after adding a million people in just 16 years.
That was an increase of almost 83,000 on the previous year, and the city’s fifth largest annual population increase in absolute terms since 1901 with Sydney absorbing 78 per cent of NSW’s total population increase in 2015-16.
Sydney’s population grew by 1.7 per cent last financial year while the rest of NSW grew by 0.8 per cent giving the State an overall annual population growth of 1.6%
It took the harbour city almost 30 years, from 1971 to 2000, to grow from 3 million to 4 million people but only half that time to pile on its next million.
This makes Sydney Australia’s only global city and a key city within the Asia-Pacific region.
Today Greater Sydney’s population is estimated to be 5.57 million people.
Interestingly around half of its population were born overseas, making Sydney the world’s most multicultural and ethnically diverse city, with over 250 spoken languages.
The median age of Sydney residents was 35 years, and households comprised an average of 2.7 members.
But drilling down deeper, within the CBD, the majority of dwellings are occupied by two adults without children, with the average age of residents reducing to 32.
With distinct areas of trendy, modern districts, Sydney has undergone incredible change since its early days as a settlement city.
Formerly gritty housing zones, originally built for labourers, are being revived and modernised, increasing their allure for those after a modern city lifestyle.
The Rocks is an excellent example of an area going through gentrification, with prime waterfront government housing transitioning to private dwellings.
These types of renewal projects are sure to bring new life – and growth.
Similarly gentrification if changing the face of Sydney’s Inner West.
Looking back European settlement in Sydney began in 1788, and in 1800 Sydney had around 3,000 inhabitants.
It took time for its population to grow – in 1851 its population was only 39,000, compared with 77,000 in Melbourne.
Sydney overtook Melbourne as Australia’s most populous city in the early twentieth century, and reached the million inhabitants milestone around 1925.
The opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge helped pave the way for further urban development north of Sydney Harbour.
6. Sydney’s layout
One of the largest cities in the world, the metropolitan area has about 650 suburbs that sprawl about 70 km to the west, 40 km to the north, and 60 to the south.
Greater Sydney extends from the coast at the east back to the foothills of the Blue Mountains, with a relatively compact CBD located around its famous harbour.
South of the harbour are the desirable inner suburbs and densely populated beaches, including Bondi Beach.
North Sydney, connected to the CBD by the Sydney Harbour Bridge and tunnel, is home to a thriving business district and some of Sydney’s most affluent suburbs, including the Upper and Lower North Shores.
According to the Real Estate Institute of New South Wales, the suburbs of Bellevue Hill, Vaucluse, Palm Beach, Dover Heights and Mosman were amongst the best selling Sydney suburbs for property investment in 2014 – not surprising, given they are all waterfront localities within the city’s inner ring.
Plans are underway to build a motorway link to open up access between the pricey eastern suburbs and the western district, which makes up the majority of metropolitan Sydney.
Changes in positioning of major companies to outlying ‘mini-cities’ like Parramatta may see a shift in buyers heading to these cheaper housing areas and employment opportunities.
7. Sydney’s infrastructure
With leading universities, premier shopping districts, iconic landmarks and lively urban flavour, it’s clear why Sydney is considered one of Australia’s most desirable cities to live in.
Built around the world’s largest natural harbour, Sydney offers three efficient modes of transport in, around, and out of the city: road, rail and ferry.
Anyone who lives in Sydney knows all too well that driving more than an hour each way to and from work is the norm.
But this is likely to change with light rail playing an important part in the future of transport in Sydney providing quick transportation around the CBD.
Further construction is underway to connect outlying suburbs to existing rail lines, with plans to extend the light rail system to the Eastern suburbs.
Sydney Airport, the busiest in Australia, handles over 35 million passengers a year, is located only 8km from the city and connects directly to 100 destinations around the world.
8. Sydney’s economy
Largely a manufacturing city in its heyday, Sydney has evolved into a metropolis of high-end, knowledge-based jobs in the business and financial services sector, earning itself the title of Asia-Pacific’s economic hub.
Tourism and hospitality are its next leading employment industry.
Last year Sydney created 54,193 new jobs – almost a third of all the new jobs around the country.
Sydney’s economy has been rising steadily since its change of government in 2011, boosted by high levels of spending on infrastructure; and this in turn is boosting business and consumer confidence.
NSW’s labour force is much stronger than most other states and territories
The NSW trend unemployment rate was recorded at 4.8% in June 2018 which is the same as it was a year ago.
Over the past 12 months, NSW has created 143,912 jobs. Based on the 143,912 jobs created over the past year, total employment has increased by 3.7% and 45.0% of all jobs created nationally last year were in NSW.
Of course jobs creation and rising confidence also leads to population growth, which further fuels the property market.
Inner-city employees earn an average individual wage of $888 per week, compared with $619 for those working in the Greater Sydney area.
Sydney’s eastern and northern suburbs reported an unemployment rate of between 2 and 2.4%, with Parramatta and Blacktown topping 8%.
With the recent boom in property prices, many buyers are finding themselves locked out of the property market, which may signal an increase in long-term rentals.
More than 55% of dwellings in the city are rentals, where occupants – primarily single professionals and couples without children – are willing to pay a premium to live in the heart of the city near to their work and all the action.
9. Sydney’s growth
Since the 1970’s, Sydney and Melbourne have been locked in a head-to-head race for highest population growth, with both cities adding 1.7 million new residents over 40 years.
Overall, Australia’s growth rate is amongst the highest in the world, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimating that 66% of residents live in our capital cities.
Population growth in NSW remains strong however, it has started to slow
Over the 12 months to December 2017, the population of NSW increased by 116,823 persons, the lowest it has been since March 2016.
Looking at the components, the 116,823 person population increase was comprised of 43,144 from natural increase, 92,978 persons from net overseas migration and there was a loss of 19,299 persons from net interstate migration.
Annual natural increase was the highest it has been since September 2016, net overseas migration was the lowest it has been September 2016 and the net outflow of residents was the largest it has been since March 2009.
The NSW government is planning extensive additions to its transport infrastructure to support future growth, with new motorway extensions providing an uninterrupted connection from Sydney’s south to the north, and major road expansions on the plans to ease city congestions.
Outlying suburbs such as Parramatta and Liverpool are developing into regional cities, and with improved infrastructure in the works, there is likelihood we will see significant population growth in these areas further from the CBD.
10. Sydney’s culture
Sydney is truly a global city, welcoming a broad range of ethnicities from all over the globe.
In fact, nearly half of the people who call Sydney home were born overseas, creating the most dynamic and culturally diverse metropolis in the world.
Each year Sydney celebrates its famous multiculturalism with the month-long Living in Harmony festival, which brings its residents together to celebrate and promote cross-cultural understanding.
Housing in the inner city is attractive to those who love the city life, with tenants looking for properties that include the following features:
- Location – above all.
- Storage space.
- Amenity including balconies.
- With street noise generally a given in city living, smart tenants are looking for added features – like double-glazed windows – to minimise the city sounds.
- Cooling – especially over summer
- Healthy mobile phone signals
- Great WiFi connectivity.
- Multiple power points
Which Sydney areas are worth investing in?
11. Upper North Shore
Statistically one of Sydney’s safest areas, with beautiful parks, large land sizes and an easy train commute to the city, the prestigious suburbs of the Upper North Shore have seen a stable increase in pricing over the years.
Incorporating Pymble, Turramurra, Wahroonga, Warrawee, Killara, Lindfield and Roseville, the Upper North sees a ‘generational’ cycle, with wealthy families moving in to gain access to esteemed private education and excellent public schools. The family moves on once children are out of school, thus allowing the next generations of young families to begin the cycle again.
This trend has maintained steady supply and demand, making the Upper North Shore area one to consider for stable growth, particularly as it sits in the middle ring of the CBD.
12. Lower North Shore
Located just over the Sydney Harbour Bridge and featuring a boon of waterfront properties overlooking the Sydney Harbour, Middle Harbour and Lane Cove River, the Lower North Shore is considered one of Sydney’s most desirable places to live.
While the Upper North Shore attracts families due to the larger land lots and houses, the Lower North has a higher population density with a greater proportion of apartments and units, making it appealing to young professionals who work in the CBD.
The Lower North Shore consists of the suburbs of Mosman, Castle Cove, Cremorne, Neutral Bay, Kirribilli, Milsons Point, McMahons Point, Wollstonecraft, Greenwich, Longueville, Riverview, Linley Point, Lane Cove West, and Chatswood.
13. City and East
Recently positioning itself at 6th on Sydney’s best-performing auction rankings, with a median dwelling value of just over $1 million, the suburbs in East Sydney and the city centre are home to Australia’s highest property earners, including Edgecliff, Rushcutters Bay, Darling Point and Point Piper.
Densely populated and with land at a premium, most properties are small terraced housing or units/apartments, with a higher proportion of renters in the Eastern suburbs than elsewhere in the city.
Suburbs in the city’s inner ring such as Darlington, Chippendale and Darlinghurst have shown interesting changes in their demographic make-up recently, revealing a very high proportion of young, single residents who have populated the area for the social scene and city lifestyle.
Eastern Sydney is also highly desirable, as the home of the famous beachside suburbs of Bondi, Tamarama and Coogee.
14. Inner West
There is no end of demand from home buyers and investors who want to live in Sydney’s gentrifying inner Western suburbs.
The suburbs within the region are characterised by medium to high-density housing and while they’ve been subject to gentrification, this process will continue for decades as the older workers and migrants make room for upwardly mobile high income earners.
What advice do you have for new Sydney investors?
15. Look for Sydney’s best properties in the inner and middle ring suburbs
A review by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute has found that suburbs located within 5 to 15 km of the CBD consistently see a level of capital growth that outperforms suburbs.
These inner and middle ring suburbs continue to see long-term increases in value because:
- They are close to employment nodes.
- They offer a desirable city lifestyle.
- There is no further land available for release, keeping supply in check and demand high.
Gentrification has changed the look and stigma of ‘ugly duckling’ areas into increasingly attractive places to live.
Sometimes, changes to an area, such as improved road and rail access or a change in demographic, can spur on the gentrification process in a neighbourhood, transforming it into an area that enjoys a steady increase in desirability.
While a rising tide lifts all ships and house prices have risen throughout Sydney, in general the outer and western suburbs have not had the same level of capital growth as Sydney’s inner and middle ring suburbs.
16. Be mindful of a potential Sydney property oversupply
We’ve seen an oversupply of newly built apartments happen Sydney after the building boom of the late 1990’s leading up to the Olympic Games and if we connect all the dots, the signs are there on the page again.
Developers are presently cashing in on Sydney’s enthusiastic market, with major housing developments on the plans or in construction.
I’m little concerned about the oversupply of properties that is looming in certain locations of Sydney.
Interestingly only last week I spoke with a very, very unhappy investor who’d bought an off the plan apartment in Paramatta and on completion the valuation came in at $400,000 below his purchase cost.
This is one of the reasons most banks have blacklisted a number of Sydney suburbs.
In general these suburbs had similar characteristics – a large number of new high-density developments.
A case in point is Green Square where nearly 10,000 apartments will be built in one of Sydney’s newest suburbs in the next four years to satisfy investor demand, which has already sent property prices in the city to the highest ever.
It will also add to the record 213,000 new home starts across the country amid slowing population and economic growth.
Green Square, about 3.5 kilometres south of the Sydney business district, is on course to be the densest suburb in the country.
- off the plan properties
- new properties in the large developments
- established properties close to those locations where an oversupply new projects is looming.
There were a very high number of dwellings were under construction across NSW at the end of March 2018
According to the ABS there were 87,266 dwellings under construction across NSW at the end of March 2018, which was only slightly lower than the historic high of 89,162 dwellings over the previous quarter.
The 87,266 is split between: 20,041 new houses, 66,054 new units and 1,171 non-new dwellings.
The number of new houses under construction increased to its highest volume since September 1989 over the quarter while the number of new units under construction fell however, it was the third highest figure on record.
17. Consider making the most of investing in Sydney properties
Sydney properties have exhibited strong capital growth over the long term and are likely to do so in the future.
But with their current low yields comes the challenge of negative gearing.
While this understandably concerns many first-time investors, I see it as a cost of doing business.
Here’s a quick explanation of negative gearing:
A property is negatively geared when the costs of owning it – interest on the loan, bank charges, maintenance, repairs and depreciation – exceed the income it produces.
Since the costs of producing an income are generally deductible against the taxpayer’s other income, property investors can effectively offset some of the interest expense against their wages.
This has made some argue that other, less fortunate, taxpayers help these property investors meet their costs.
Why would you buy a property that makes a loss?
Generally it’s because property investors hope that their income losses will be more than offset by their capital gains when they eventually refinance or sell their property.
And in Australia capital gain is not taxed unless you sell your property, and then it is concessionally taxed; again evoking the argument that it favours wealthy landlords.
The truth is that negative gearing is more favourable for taxpayers who earn high incomes.
Imagine an investor had excess interest expenses of $10,000.
If they were on a marginal tax rate of 15 cents in the dollar they could use their loss and reduce their tax by $1,500.
But to a taxpayer in a higher tax bracket, one who pays 30 cents in the dollar tax, they could reduce their tax by $3,000.
So the benefits of negative gearing are greater the more you earn and the higher your tax rate.
While negative gearing has its critics, in my mind property investment is about capital growth of your assets rather than cash flow.
Cash flow will keep you in the game, but capital growth will get you out of the rat race.
In the long term well located properties in the inner and middle ring suburbs of Sydney will continue to be highly sought after and keep increasing in value creating wealth for their owners, be they home owenrs of real estate investor.
18. How I choose a strong investment property in Sydney.
If I accept that in the short term I’ll be negatively geared, then I must ensure I buy an investment grade property that will outperform the market averages with regards to capital growth and to do this I use my 6 Stranded Strategic Approach.
- I would only buy a property that would appeal to a wide range of owner occupiers. Not that I plan to sell my property, but because owner occupiers will buy similar properties pushing up local real estate values. This will be particularly important in the next few years as the percentage of investors in the market is likely to diminish.
- I would buy a property below its intrinsic value – that’s why I avoid new and off the plan properties which come at a premium price.
- 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 incomes. In general these are the more affluent inner and middle ring suburbs of our big capital cities
- I would buy a property with a high land to asset ratio.
- I would look for a property with a twist – something unique, or special, different or scarce about the property, and finally
- I would buy a property where I can manufacture capital growth through refurbishment, renovations or redevelopment rather than waiting for the market to deliver me capital growth.
How can I stay on top of current information?
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