The worst properties to buy in an uncertain market


We are living in interesting times, aren’t we? Property Market

After strong property price growth in all our capital cities so far this year, currently, with around half our country locked down there is a large degree of uncertainty about our economy and our property markets moving forward.

This will result in two types of property buyers:

  1. Those who see it as an opportunity to take advantage of a short-term lack of general confidence in our property markets
  2. Those who will sit on the sidelines waiting for the situation to become clear

Just look how well things played out over the last 12 months for those who took a long-term approach this time last year.

But while periods of uncertainty and confusion create opportunities for investors who have a long-term focus, they also create two property sub-markets that are particularly vulnerable in fluctuating environments.

While these markets might look attractive on paper, they can present significant risks for investors.

As always, knowledge is your best defense against error so let’s have a look at these ‘worst markets’ and why they pose a risk to investors.

1. Off the plan apartments

Currently, a new wave of naive property investors is considering buying off the plan hoping to settle on their properties a year or two down the track when all the issues with Covid have cleared up.

While buying off the plan isn’t inherently bad in every circumstance, the risks are often much higher, for several reasons.

Firstly, when you buy off the plan, you’re locking in a purchase price at what is meant to be the current market value of a dwelling that won’t be completed for several months, or even a year or two.

Of course, you hope the property will increase in value during the construction phase and by the time it’s completed you have a little nest egg of equity already in place.

However, that’s not what has been happening over the last few years, and, disappointingly for the buyers, on completion, most off-the-plan properties are valued at considerably less than the contract price.

In my mind, you should get a discount for all the uncertainty that goes with buying a property that has not been completed, but instead marketing costs, agent’s commissions, developer’s margins, and GST add a premium to the price.

That together with the banks’ reluctance to lend as much on this type of property and you’ll need to be able to immediately front the shortfall between the lender’s revised mortgage amount and the purchase price.

Plus you’ll often find hundreds of identical apartments listed simultaneously for sale or lease which will only add fuel to the fire, potentially lowering values further.

As well over the last few years, the concerns about structural integrity have steered many investors and homebuyers buying off the plan properties

And if you purchased to sell at a profit, you might have to reduce your sale price just to stay competitive in a market flooded by investors with the same idea.

At worst, you might find yourself having to hold onto the property if there aren’t enough buyers in the market.

The fact that off-the-plan properties mainly appeal to investors rather than the deeper owner-occupier market, means that’s it’s a property sector to clear of at present ( in fact you’re probably always better to steer clear of these properties.)

2. House and Land packages

For similar reasons, investors should tread carefully around house and land packages. house real estate

Sure there’s been a large amount of activity in this segment of the sector of the property market fuelled by first home buyers taking advantage of the various incentives but these types of properties share the same vulnerable characteristics as off-the-plan apartments, in that values can fall during construction, leaving buyers with a gap to pay on completion.

In addition, while you’re getting a shiny new investment with great depreciation benefits, you’re also paying a premium price and don’t have the potential for value-adding to your investment.

That means you’re relying solely on market movement to gain capital and earn equity which is unlikely because the demographic who buy in these locations are usually interest-rate sensitive.

And while they tend to be hard workers, young family’s wages tend to rise by CPI at best, meaning there is little momentum to push house prices higher.

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How should you approach the current market?

In essence, there are much safer options available than purchasing off-the-plan properties and house and land packages; ones that aren’t so vulnerable to changes in market conditions. property market

I prefer to buy established family-friendly apartments, townhouses, or houses in the inner and middle-ring suburbs of our capital cities where there is a strong demand from affluent owner-occupiers who can afford to and are willing to, pay for them.

These properties tend to have the essential pillars of growth: near great infrastructure and transport, proximity to large job centers, the ability to purchase at fair market value (rather than at a premium), and the option to “manufacture” growth through improvements.

Without a flood of similar properties on the market, as is common with new developments, competition amongst buyers and renters will drive prices and rentals.

This is a foundational growth factor that can be absent in off-the-plan markets.

For mine, there are too many risks currently in the off-the-plan and new house markets for property investors.


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Kate Forbes is a National Director Property Strategy at Metropole. She has 15 years of investment experience in financial markets in two continents, is qualified in multiple disciplines and is also a chartered financial analyst (CFA).
Visit Metropole Melbourne

'The worst properties to buy in an uncertain market' have 3 comments

    Avatar for Kate Forbes

    July 29, 2017 Jarrah

    Thank you for this interesting article. Buying established units or townhouses provide indeed some room for improvements however they attract lower tax depreciation and may be none if the construction is too old. In addition it exists other incentives that make biyung off the plan or new build units interesting: lower maintenance fees or saving on stamp duty. From what I understand in your article you do make minimising tax as a priority when investing. Why is this a good strategy? How do you evaluate the benefit from one option to the other?


      Avatar for Kate Forbes

      July 29, 2017 Jarrah

      Sorry for the typo in my comment. I mean you do NOT make minimising tax a priority when investing. Why is it a good strategy? How do you evaluate the benefit of one option rather than another?


      July 29, 2017 Michael Yardney

      Sorry Jarrah I think you have it wrong
      The main focus of my strategy and that of all successful investors is capital growth – tax, depreciation, one off stamp duty savings are all secondary and short term benefits.
      We evaluate the options with numbers and figures and stats – that’s the right way – not what looks good


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