Simon Pressley | 18 February 2013

If you build greenfield housing estates, they won't necessarily come: Simon Pressley

If you build greenfield housing estates, they won't necessarily come: Simon Pressley

Can someone please tell the Victorian state government that Kevin Costner is an actor, not a policy maker?

Costner’s infamous theory of “Build it and they will come” worked a treat for him in the 1989 film Field of Dreams, when he built a baseball field on a cane farm in the middle of nowhere, then attracted a crowd to see his team relive their glory days. But in Melbourne, where it’s not baseball diamonds that successive governments are building but too many greenfield housing estates and high-rise apartments, the “Build it and they will come” theory is way off base.

Melbourne has around 41,000 properties for sale right now – that’s a whopping 74% more than Sydney’s 23,467. And yet, Sydney’s population is 12% higher.

Melbourne’s glaring error is that the “baseball field” it has built is now bigger than two MCGs put together, yet the number of people who’ve turned up at the "game" could comfortably fit inside Rod Laver Arena. It’s construction on steroids!

You could say Melbourne’s property market won the "World Series" in 2009 and 2010. The $155,000 (38%) increase in the median value of established houses topped the table in Australian property terms and rightly created jubilation for its fans.

Then, property owners in Melbourne hit a home run when the Victorian government added significant stamp duty incentives to the federal government’s GFC stimulus package incentives. It created a buyer frenzy, which was further fuelled by an influx of Indian students needing somewhere to live.

"Sign me up for season tickets!" was the call of many DIY property investors looking to join a winning team. Instead, they’ve witnessed successive wooden spoons, with Melbourne’s property market performing abysmally over the past two years. In Costner terms, we could say the crowd numbers are way down. In property parlance, we can say Melbourne’s got high vacancy rates and low rental yields right now.

The problem with Victoria’s "field of dreams" strategy is that, while they certainly have "built it", they no longer have the people to come. Large-scale job cuts in the public service, manufacturing, and financial services sectors are putting punters out of action. This "field of dreams" is fast turning into a "boulevard of broken dreams".

I love Melbourne for its culture. But as a property market, unless it can rid itself of its addiction to construction steroids, its performance is more likely to resemble a B-grade spaghetti western than an Oscar-winning epic. And even Kevin Costner couldn’t save it.

Simon Pressley is managing director of Propertyology, a full-time property market analyst, accredited property investment adviser, and 2012 REIA / REIQ Buyer’s Agent of the Year.

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