"While we will always need property investors to assist the supply of rental accommodation, for those unwilling or unable to purchase, property should not become a speculators’ domain."
Glenn Steven, Glenn Stevens, Michael Matusik, Saul Eslake, Catherine Cashmore...more, Wayne Swan, Julia Gillard
Governments must stop meddling in property markets – and negative gearing has to go
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Balancing a real estate market is not an easy task. Too much supply and prices fall – too little and they rise. Over time, various incentives – negative gearing, grants for first-home buyers, reduced stamp duty rates for off-the-plan sales and new homes, have been introduced, changed, and intermittently withdrawn by government “movers and shakers”. All have the effect of falsely influencing consumer demand one way or another. Sometimes it’s done in favour of the investor, sometimes the home buyer, however in most circumstances it results in price increases rather than the opposite.
As the RBA is well aware, it’s a fine line you tread when it comes to maintaining stability. It takes careful analysis of a broad range of data and an intrinsic understanding of various micro markets before decisions are made. However when it comes to the property market, state laws seem to dictate their own agenda, not to mention the federal government stirring the pot whenever it’s time to collect more revenue.
For example, when the budget came out, Wayne Swan saw fit to remove the 50% CGT discount – previously available for non-residents who have held property for a 12 month period or more – with no warning and a little addition added to “honour the discount in relation to any existing accrued capital gains ONLY if the non-resident obtained a market valuation for the asset as at May 8, 2012”.
As Michael Matusik correctly pointed out earlier this year, the sudden change will reduce demand from foreign and expat investors. Considering most offshore purchases of property are new home or off-the-plan sales, it will adversely affect construction resulting in further stagnation of supply concentrating demand on existing dwellings. GFC aside, metropolitan property prices in Australia are counted amongst the world’s highest. Therefore it’s vital we plan our cities effectively if the aim is to keep real estate affordable and reduce inner-city inflation in the established housing market. It’s something our governments have yet to achieve – as analysis of boom/bust housing cycles prove.
Encouraging broad-based investment with policies such as negative gearing, which incites investors to enter into the established housing market rather than the “new home” market, do nothing to increase the supply and stimulate the many retail offshoots that benefit from construction. However it’s vital we do so if we value our ethical responsibility to provide enough affordable choices for home buyers and also magnify the supply of rental accommodation. As the recently released 2011 census data shows, the national median weekly rent has risen 50% since the last census in 2006. Not surprisingly there’s also an increase in the number of households getting stuck on the rental ladder, with 10% paying in excess of 30% of their income for the privilege.
Those in favour of negative gearing always base their arguments on the historical data, which proved a rise in yields in Sydney and Perth when the policy was withdrawn during the Hawke government in 1986-1988. There are a few issues with this – firstly, the policy changes were not in effect long enough for a reasonable adjustment of market demand to be established. For example, due to a very low vacancy rate at the time in both Sydney and Perth, rents naturally rose. It’s worth noting – as others have done, including Saul Eslake, on numerous occasions – that rents did not rise nationally and in Melbourne, growth actually slowed. If the market had been allowed to adjust to the changes, the consequence would likely have eventuated in investor demand decreasing in the established market, levelling the playing field somewhat for first-home buyers to gain a foothold.
It’s also worth noting at the same time the policy was withdrawn, the Hawke government encouraged the supply of new housing by the introduction of:
“Accelerated depreciation for new buildings or major renovations in order to create more rental property and more opportunities for renters”. (Keating, 1985).
Unfortunately, two years of changes were not enough to monitor the success or otherwise of the plan. Lobbying from the real estate industry and investors, who had previously benefitted from the scheme, resulted in political back-pedaling. All in all, it was badly handled.
No other country has such generous negative gearing policies as Australia when it comes to property investment. Yet investors don’t leave these markets in droves. With the policy as it stands, there is no limitation on the number of residential homes a single investor can claim against. Consequently, we see large property portfolios acquired by a smaller percentage of the population who benefit most from reducing their tax burden and consequently, less supply for the majority market.
We need a phasing back of the current policy while at the same time planning outer-suburban and rural/regional growth with infrastructure – if not already established, then at least approved and funded – to ensure we continue to provide feasible options for home buyers and not just vacant dwellings in paddock lands.
While we will always need property investors to assist the supply of rental accommodation, for those unwilling or unable to purchase, property should not become a speculators’ domain. Over-investment in property markets drives up demand and consequently prices, resulting in higher rent – not lower. Rather, property’s prime function as an abode for shelter should be respected in so much as any policy is aimed at making it an achievable option for our growing populous.