Mark Armstrong is a director of ratemyagent.com.au, Australia's number one real estate agent rating website.

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Mark Armstrong

27 November 2012

How current trends can indicate where to invest in property for the future

I’ve said it time and again that the residential investment property is a long-term proposition. The property market takes around seven to 10 years to move through a full cycle, from low capital growth/high rental yield to high growth/low yield and back again. 

Despite this, many property investors choose locations and property styles with little potential to survive and thrive throughout market fluctuations. Some investors choose locations that lack the long-term underlying demand to drive capital growth, while others choose property styles that don’t reflect trends in the way people want to live. 

In other words, the property investment decisions that look good today may not prove so attractive in five, 10 or 20 years’ time. It’s essential to understand the nature of long-term economic and demographic trends, then select assets accordingly. 

Interest rates rise and fall, but in the long term, dwindling oil reserves and rising petrol prices will be a key economic trend influencing the property market. In the coming years, rising prices at the pump will make outer-suburban living and commuting less feasible and less appealing. This will curtail the urban sprawl and increase demand among home buyers for property in the middle suburbs close to public transport corridors, shops and schools. 

At the same time, rising property prices in the inner and middle suburbs will put home ownership beyond the reach of more Australians, or at the very least, delay it significantly. Figures from the Bureau of Statistics tell us that the proportion of households renting from private landlords in Melbourne has increased from 22.8% in 2001 to 27.2% in 2011. Almost 32% of Sydney’s property market is inhabited by tenants. 

The increase in tenant demand is not unique to Australian cities. Major global cities such as London and New York have 50% or more of their property tenanted. I am not suggesting we are a London or New York just yet, but we are following a similar path, and there’s every reason to expect that this trend will continue.

Because many tenants want to maintain the trappings of an urban lifestyle, the trend away from home ownership will increase demand for rental properties within walking or short driving distance from trams, trains, shops, cafes and entertainment precincts. For those who can afford to buy, these areas will also be their preferred choice. This two-pronged demand from home buyers and investors will further boost capital growth prospects in the inner and middle suburbs. 

Delaying having children is another trend set to influence the residential market well into the future. The median age for parents is 28.9 for women and 33.1 for men, and women currently have an average of 1.9 children, compared with 2.8 in 1981. 

This trend has resulted in the average number of people per house almost halving over the last 100 years from 4.5 in people to 2.6. In addition, single-person households have jumped from 22.9% to 24.4% over the last 10 years. 

The shrinking size of the family unit means that demand for low-maintenance, compact dwellings will increase, while demand for the conventional sprawling home on a quarter-acre outer-suburban block will soften. 

When you look at all these trends in their entirety, it’s clear that pockets of the middle suburbs close to public transport, shops and schools will provide feasible long-term opportunities for residential property investment, particularly for investors who have been priced out of the tightly held inner suburbs.

Mark Armstrong is a director of iProperty Plan, which provides independent analysis and tailored advice to investors and home buyers.

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