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A new way to invest in properties

During a consultation last month with a client who has been with us for 6 years, I suddenly realised they didn’t know anything about our Property Advisory Service which has been around since April 2010. I thought I’d better fix this oversight and explain what it is and why it is unique and unprecedented in Australia.

But before I do, I would like to give you some data you simply don’t get from investment books and seminars, so you can see where I am coming from.

Over the last 10 years of running a mortgage business for property investors:

We have executed more than 7,000 individual investment mortgages with around 60 different lenders;
Myself and our mortgage team have reviewed the financial positions of approximately 6,000 individual property investors and developers;
I have enjoyed privileged access to vital data including the original purchase price, Factor Investing value of property improvements and the current valuation of close to 30,000 individual investment properties all around Australia from our considerable client base.
When you have such a large sample size to do your research on and make observations, you are bound to discover something unknown to most people.

I have discovered many things that may surprise you as much as they surprised me, some of which are against conventional wisdom:

Paying more tax can be financially good for you.

This one took me years to swallow, but I can’t deny the facts. The clients who have managed to get into a positive cashflow position have paid a lot of tax and will continue to pay a lot of tax, whether it is capital gains, income tax or stamp duty. They don’t have an issue with the tax man making some money as long as they continue to make more themselves! They regularly cash in the profits from their properties and reduce their debt, but always continue to invest and park their money where the return is best. In fact, I can almost say that the only people who enjoy positive cashflow from their investment properties are the people who have little concern about paying taxes as they treat them as the cost of doing business.

Just about every property strategy works. It just depends on who does it, how it is done, when it is done and where it is done.

When I first started investing, I went and read many property investment books and attended many investment educational seminars. Just about every one of them was convincing and this confused the hell out of me. Just when I was about to form an opinion against a particular property strategy, someone would show up in one of my client consultations and prove that it worked for them!

After testing many of these strategies myself, I came to realise that it is not about the strategy,(which is only a tool) but rather it is about whether the person is using the tool appropriately at the right time, in the right place and in the right way.

There is no such thing as the best suburb to invest in, forever.

If you randomly pick a particular property in what you think is the best suburb over a 30 year window, you will find that there are periods during which this property will outperform the market average, and there are periods when this property will underperform the market average.

Many property investors find themselves jumping into historically high growth suburbs at the end of the period when it is outperforming the average, and then stay there for 5-7 years during the underperforming period. (Naturally this can taint their view of property investing as a whole!)

There is no such thing as the worst suburb to invest in, forever.

If you pick a property in the worst suburb you can think of from 40 years ago, and pitch that against the best suburb you can think of over the same period of time, you will find they both grew at about 7-9% a year on average over the long-term.

Hence in the 1960s, a median house in Melbourne and Sydney was valued at $10k. The worst property around that time may have been 30% of the median price for then, which was say about $3k. Today, the median house price in these cities is about $600k. The worst suburb you can find is still around 30% of that price which is say $200k a house. If you believe a bad suburb will never grow, then show me where you can find a house today in these cities, that is still worth around $3k.

Median Price growth is very misleading.

Many beginner property investors look at median price growth as the guidance for suburb selection. A few points worth mentioning on median price are:

We understand the way median price is calculated as the middle price point based on the number of sales during a period. We can talk about the median price for a particular suburb on a particular day, week, month, year, or even longer. So an influx of new stocks or low sales volume can severely distort the median price.

In an older suburb, median price growth tends to be higher than it really is. This is because it does not reflect the large sum of money people put into renovating their properties nor does it reflect the subdivision of large blocks of land into multiple dwellings which can be a substantial percentage of the entire suburb.

In a newer suburb, median price growth tend to be lower than it really is. This is because it does not reflect the fact that the land and buildings are both getting smaller. For example, you could buy a block of land of 650 square metres for $120k in 2006 in a newer suburb of Melbourne, but 5 years later, half the size block (i.e.325 square metres) will cost you $260k. That’s a whopping 34% annual growth rate per year for 5 years, but median price growth will never reflect that, as median prices today are calculated on much smaller properties.

Median price growth takes away people’s focus from looking at the cost of carrying the property. When you have a net 2-3% rental yield against interest rates of 7-8%, you are out-of-pocket by 5% a year. This is not including the money you have to put in to fix and maintain your property from time to time.

Buying and holding the same property forever doesn’t give you the best returns on your money.

The longer you hold a property, the more likely you will achieve an average growth of 7-9%. But you will be bound to hit periods where your property outperforms the 7-9% growth and periods where it under performs the 7-9% growth.

The longer you hold a property, if its growth is at or above average, the lower its rental yields will become.

The longer you hold a property, the higher the capital gains tax you will need to pay when you sell, and the less likely you will be able to sell it.

The longer you hold a property, the more likely there will be a need for an expensive upgrade of the property.

The longer you hold a property, the more likely you will forget which part of the equity actually belongs to the tax man, AND the more likely you will be to try to leverage the equity that doesn’t belong to you. This can get you into a negative equity position with a negative cashflow forever, unless you have proper financial guidance.

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