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Jul 16, 2024

Ethics and Real Estate

As a junior sales agent many years ago, I lost a listing to a competitor. The seller’s rationale surprised, telling me, “We really like you, Hayden, and the other guy makes my skin crawl, but we reckon he can get us the best price.” The idea there was a disconnect between being a good person and achieving the best market price was difficult to comprehend then as it is today. The Governance Institute of Australia undertakes an annual survey of Australian society’s perceptions of ethics across the major occupational sectors. Unsurprisingly, nurses, veterinarians, doctors, teachers, ambulance and fire services all rank in the top ten of ethical occupations. The bottom ten are made up of lawyers, politicians, senior executives and fund managers. Real estate agents appear third last with 46 percent of those surveyed suggesting we were ‘somewhat unethical or very unethical’. Real estate agents appear third last Surprisingly, the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining Energy Union ranked higher in ethical behaviour than real estate professional associations. Clearly, the community judge us and those that represent our interests relatively harshly. With such a poor ethical reputation, it is surprising that many real estate agencies survive as long-standing small businesses. It’s hard to imagine a local restaurant, retail shop or other cottage business that suffered such a poor reputation surviving very long. As a local real estate practitioner and employer, reputation is everything. Damage your reputation through misconduct in the market and word quickly spreads that you’re untrustworthy. Most local agents enjoy a solid reputation, attract repeat business and have serviced their communities for years. For example, a quick Google search of Fremantle’s top three real estate agencies boast 558 reviews at an average of 4.6 stars. And ask random folk about real estate agents and the reply is often, “they’re terrible, but mine’s great!”. So, why the disconnect between community perception and most users of real estate services? Its noteworthy that during peak COVID in 2020, the ethical standing of agents improved, a result of our sector’s management of rental moratoriums and tricky selling environment. Current market conditions where buyers and tenants are disadvantaged can lead to a perception that agents are acting unethically. I think it is our fiduciary responsibility to work in our client’s best interest that impacts community perceptions of agents’ ethical conduct. Being duty bound to achieve the highest possible rent or market price for a property in times where supply is tight and demand is high, impacts those on the buying and renting side. It follows that a buyer or tenant can feel ‘forced by the agent’ to pay more and that is perceived as unethical behaviour. Perception or reality, the work of real estate agents requires greater transparency. The community clearly expects more from us in how we conduct our business. Agents can find reasons and get defensive about it, but the reality is we need to do more in this space to win the hearts and minds of the communities we serve.

Jun 27, 2024

Beat the Spring Rush

One of the major problems with the local property market right now is the blockages caused by short housing supply. Would-be sellers - whether up or down-sizing – are ‘stuck’ because they are struggling to find property that meets their needs and with short rental supply too, the usual ‘fall-back’ of renting for a period is also problematic. With only around 3,250 properties listed for sale on reiwa.com buying opportunities are limited considering there were around 14,000 listings less than five years ago. However, if you are considering selling your property, it's worth considering bringing your property to market sooner rather than later. Off the back of higher-than-expected inflation figures reported this week, interest rates could be on the rise again come August and with the usual spring listing rush not far away, more supply could come into the market. That said, it remains likely overall supply will remain below average levels for some time, particularly given higher levels of state migration, piling pressure on the demand side. Buyers remain hungry for quality property despite recent interest rate rises with sales numbers running at about 900 per week metro wide. Average days on market have settled though, stable at 8 days for the past three months. The Reserve Bank’s rapid increases in official cash rates added 35 percent to average mortgages in 12 months, or about $1,000 extra per month for an average mortgage. This is beginning to hurt those borrowers who took on low interest fixed rate mortgages in 2021, many of whom have properties in the outer suburbs. Supply in these markets will rise if these borrowers can’t meet these higher repayments. For property owners in and around Fremantle, coming to market now gives sellers the opportunity to buy closer to a settlement period that will align with more property coming to market in spring, avoiding the need for a ‘double move’. Sellers are holding the competitive advantage in the market so there’s opportunity to negotiate outcomes that include things like an extended settlement period or ‘rent back’ options. Importantly, in this market selling and buying within the same time-frame is preferrable as property values continue to rise, choice remains constrained, and investors turn their attention to our relatively under-valued market.

Jun 25, 2024

Use a REIWA Property Manager

Property management is more about managing the tenancy than it is about managing the property. The property manager’s primary role is managing the tenancy agreement as expressed by the terms of a lease and regulated by the Residential Tenancies Act. The property manager can only inspect the property on four occasions per year on behalf of the owner, so it is important that the tenant understands that it is them as the occupant, that effectively manages the property itself. For tenancies longer than three months, the Residential Tenancies Act (the ‘Act’) applies automatically (whether there is a formal lease or not) and it is foolhardy not to utilise the services of a competent property manager for a property asset, particularly during times of short supply and high demand. Management fees are not exorbitant and are tax deductible. And for the sake of saving a relatively small portion of the rental income in management fees, the risks of self-management are significant. A sound working knowledge of ever evolving legislation is essential, as is the capacity to properly reference check a prospective tenant. But, perhaps most importantly, much of the risk and responsibility attached to the management process is borne by the managing agent, giving property owners someone to rely on if the tenancy goes wrong. Even thoroughly assessed tenancies go off the rails on occasion due to a change in circumstances of the occupants; job loss, relationship failure and health issues are common reasons. A professional, well trained local agent is equipped to deal with this challenging issues when they arise. Finding the right tenant can be tricky too. Prospective tenants almost exclusively rely on the internet to find themselves a property, so owners without access to the favoured websites will find it difficult to attract the right tenant in the first place. There is great value in having a property manager act at ‘arm’s length’. Many a self-managing landlord has fallen into the trap of sympathising with their defaulting tenant and allowing rent arrears to build up over time hoping that they’ll “make good”. Acting at arm’s length affords the property manager a compassionate ‘just business’ approach to rent payments and the lease agreement more broadly. This is particularly important in these times of rising rents and inflationary pressures. Self-management often works well and for extended periods, but when a tenancy goes wrong, it is costly and stressful and it has been my experience that with all things considered, it is not worth the risk.

Jun 19, 2024

Get Your Price Right

Fremantle’s property market continues its positive trajectory with short supply and solid demand. This current imbalance is keeping up property values as buyers continue to compete for the limited homes available throughout the area. FOMO enthusiasm gives rise to some ‘unicorn’ selling outcomes too, with seller expectations sometimes rising faster than market sentiment. The short supply means agents are desperate for listing stock and, unfortunately, one response to this market is for agents to offer ‘happy prices’ to would-be sellers, the aim being to secure the listing and hope the market ‘catches up’ during their period of authority. friends, lovers and others have their own opinions Additionally, emotional attachment often leads homeowners to believe their property is worth more than a market consensus of a fair price. Opinion of market value for property is largely a subjective exercise; various agents will have differing views of market price, and friends, lovers and others have their own opinions that influence would-be sellers. Sellers who have committed to another property at a higher-than-hoped price will also be pressured to sell their own home for more than the market might bear. The result can be price expectations that exceed market reality. In truth, the value of a property is not determined until a buyer is found, negotiations finalised and the contract for sale completed. The combination of market information, comparative property sales analysis, demand and supply levels, buyer activity and property presentation provide an insight into what fair market price might eventuate for a property, but what does the anticipated or listing price have to do with the final market price? In short, plenty. Statistics show that sellers that over-price their property lose money in the end. Sellers that allow their property to languish on the market due to unrealistic price expectations (either derived from themselves or an over-zealous agent) end up fighting against the buyer sentiment of a “stale” listing; a property that has been on the market for above average periods of time. Such properties are often simply over-priced and buyers will discount them because they think “there must be something wrong with it if no one has bought it.” Sellers that discount listing prices to sell will almost always end up selling for less than if they had a realistic market price expectation from the beginning. Sellers are well advised to take in professional advice from a local REIWA agent and form a considered, unemotional opinion of value based on facts, evidence and reputable market data.

Jun 13, 2024

Is the market too hot?

Thinking I should have heeded my own advice two years ago and bought real estate (which I foolishly did not), I enquired recently about a neat, two-bedroom duplex half in Rockingham advertised at $459,000. A little high, I thought, given it had sold three years’ earlier for $230,000. The agent informed me, she had received offers already - site unseen – for over $500,000, a gain of about 120%! Value gains of more than 33% per annum are generally unsustainable, but stories such as this are not uncommon in the current market. Meanwhile, broader economic conditions are posing some challenges, with the national economy slowing to an anaemic 0.1% for the March quarter, the worst quarterly performance in 24 years. Interest rates are not likely to come down anytime soon with March’s inflation at 3.6%, higher than hoped. The inflationary costs of fuel, rents and food are pressuring family budgets with household spending still on the rise as is credit card debt. We are more pessimistic too with a recent survey finding the percentage of people feeling optimistic about their personal future falling from 32% in July 2022 to 13.5% in February 2024. cost of living and housing affordability have been the two top issues Without the recent surge in migration levels, Australia would be in a technical recession. A recent survey of current and future concerns by Foresee Change, reveals cost of living and housing affordability have been the two top issues for Australians since October 2022. Issues like climate change and security of personal information have since dropped out of the top ten major issues of concern. With the economy faltering and pessimism rising, most property commentators would be predicting a significant slowdown in the housing market. So why not this time? Housing supply and the lack of it remains the core challenge of housing affordability and the primary factor behind the rapid rise in house prices locally. Our ‘lost decade’ of meaningful net value gains from 2010 to 2020 has deterred substantial investment in sufficient housing across WA. Meanwhile, there has been a significant rise in population growth, well exceeding forecasts of net migration of 90,000 per annum where actual migration gains from 2008 and 2019 was 225,000 annually. Despite the surge in population since 2007, dwelling approvals never exceeded 50,000 nationally in a quarter until the 2023 December quarter. Currently, we are running about 20,000 dwellings per quarter short of our national target to meet the federal government’s target of 1.2 million homes by mid-2029. At this rate we will miss the target by at least 400,000 dwellings. There is a sense of inevitability that local house prices will continue to rise due to the potent and enduring relationship between demand (through migration) and supply (the lack of it) irrespective of broader economic conditions.

May 29, 2024

New Laws Arrive

The state government has introduced its first tranche of tenancy law changes designed to further protect renters in the face of stubbornly low vacancy rates, rising rents and ongoing supply shortages. As national debate about the ‘housing crisis’ rages on, becoming more political by the day, the frustrations of those impacted by housing affordability constraint continues to rise. Thankfully, everyone agrees that the lack of housing supply goes to the heart of the problem of housing affordability, yet there is yet to be substantive, needle-shifting policies from our state or federal governments that has meaningfully focused on this core issue. So far, we’ve seen a series of back-slapping fringe policies that are either promissory or tinker around the edges. there’s no law against being a rude, vindictive narcissist For example, the federal government’s promise of building 1.2 million new affordable homes by 2029 came off the back of protracted negotiations with the Greens over the Housing Australia Future Fund; a political promise that sets a wildly ambitious construction target. Housing approvals over the past five years reached about 925,000 boosted by the HomeBuilder grants of 2020/21. The trajectory for new approvals is troubling for adding supply having fallen back (down 9.5% in December) sharply as construction material costs continue to rise, up 32.5% since 2020. Add to this rising inflation elsewhere in the economy, poor productivity, NIMBYism, high property taxes, planning constraints, lack of building innovation, higher interest rates and falling employment, we’ll miss the 1.2 million home target by miles. Meanwhile, our state government celebrates fringe policies such as the $5,000 landlord incentive for property owners who, after having their ‘extra’ property lay empty for six months, can claim the $5k for putting in a tenant. Our Treasurer reckons this could add an additional 1000 homes to the rental pool. Sorry, but anyone that can afford leave their investment property empty for six months, won’t be swayed by five grand. Other government actions around housing included changes to the Residential Tenancy Laws, two of which came into effect this week. Firstly, there is now a ban on ‘rent bidding’. This effectively means landlords and property agents are banned from encouraging tenants to “pay extra” to secure a rental home. Nor can properties be advertised at a “from” weekly rent. The intention is sound but in response, initial asking rents will rise to account for the competition in the market. Tenants can still offer more than the asking rent if they choose to. The second new law is referred to as the ‘retaliatory rule’ whereby a landlord cannot respond to reasonable requests from a tenant regarding property maintenance and other matters by not renewing the lease, for example. Some tenants can be unreasonable to deal with and there’s no law against being a rude, vindictive narcissist. It will be interesting to see how the new law deals with circumstances like this where the property owner seeks to not renew a lease on the grounds of their tenant being unreasonably difficult. There is no quick fix to the housing crisis, but every effort to add supply to the housing stock in an affordable way must be the priority.

May 10, 2024

More Edge Tinkering

The Cook government is trying to rebalance Western Australia’s rental market. There has been a flurry of affordable housing-related policy announcements recently to address surging rents and low vacancies. REIWA assesses Perth’s vacancy rate at 0.6 percent, a long way from a market parity 3.5 percent. The latest announcement aims to encourage property owners to convert their vacant homes into long-term rentals by offering a one-off $5,000 payment. Sorry to be cynical, but a property owner who can afford to leave their property vacant (Granny / Fonzie flats or vacant rooms are ineligible) for a period of longer than six months, doesn’t need a lazy $5,000 to convince them to lease it. The policy comes off the back of the recent Short Term Rental Accommodation (STRA) Incentive Scheme, which encouraged owners to convert their property from the short to long term market with a $10,000 payment. So far, 150 properties have converted their properties into the long-term market or a minute 0.05 percent of rented properties across WA. In announcing the latest policy, Premier Cook acknowledges the “significant demand for housing” and has committed to “leaving no stone unturned in our work to boost supply of homes.” Responsible Ministers shared the limelight with Treasurer Saffioti suggesting, “This initiative has the potential to bring up to 1,000 properties back onto the rental market.” Commerce Minister Ellery reckoned the STRA Incentive Scheme has been “a success” and Minister Carey (Planning and Housing) reflected on his government “continuing to think outside the box…to boost housing supply.” To give credit where credit is due, at least the government is doing something and, in this market, something is better than nothing. Unsophisticated private investors – ordinary West Australians – supply 27 percent of all homes to tenants, about 264,000 properties. Government supply about 3 percent. In this time of greatest need, with supply of rental homes at severe lows, these recent housing policies that seek to encourage the investor cohort into supplying more homes will barely scratch the surface. Meanwhile, big-ticket items that would significantly move the needle on supply are ignored. Stamp duty - where bracket creep means an investor tax of $27,000 at Perth’s median house price - and land tax rebates are obvious places to start. And why not (even temporarily) repeal the foreign investor tax where these buyers pay $76,000 in state tax when buying a $700,000 property? This group, very sensibly, choose to rent rather than pay the tax, soaking up valuable rental stock. Put simply, governments – supported by the media and tenancy advocates – have been busily whacking investors, whilst simultaneously failing to provide enough rental housing for West Australians as the only possible alternative to the private investor market. WA’s poor market performance in the years 2012-2020, has left our housing market underprepared for the surge in new arrivals and we’re playing catch up. There is time for meaningful reform to encourage investors into the market to add more supply and whilst relatively small cash incentives may tinker around the edges, they won’t make a meaningful impact.

May 3, 2024

Rent Bidding

As recently reported in these pages, the West Australian parliament passed into law changes to the Residential Tenancies Act designed to further protect the interest of tenants. Some of the changes bring WA into line with other states where substantial changes have altered tenant-landlord relationships and, in some cases, have deterred investment and pushed up rents. Many of the changes will be relatively benign, such as rent increases limited to no more than every twelve months (currently it is a minimum of six months). None of the laws encourage investors to further supply rental stock by improving protections for landlords from tenants that breach the lease agreement and / or wilfully damage the property. One of the changes will be to make it illegal for a landlord (or their property manager) to encourage a tenant to offer more rent to secure a lease. Known as ‘rent bidding’, in a tight rental market it is common for tenants to offer more than the advertised rent for a property. It’s important to note that the ban will not prevent a tenant from offering more rent than advertised. In other states, rent bidding is already banned, but the outcome of the ban has failed to afford any additional benefit for tenants. In the current market, most properties receive multiple applications to rent with many tenants prepared to offer more than the asking rent to secure the property. Under the current arrangement, tenants will typically seek guidance from the leasing agent as to what constitutes market rental value and without specifying the details of competing applications, tenants are able to secure a lease by offering a modest amount above the asking rent. With a ban on rent bidding, tenants will be ‘flying blind’. The leasing agent will have to be silent on proffering any advice as to the level of competition, or where the market sees value. What has occurred in other states is tenants are offering substantially more than the asking rent because the leasing manager is unable to guide them where fair market rent might lie. I am told desperate tenants in NSW will offer 20% above asking rent where a 5% increase would have been sufficient. Already, property managers are advertising asking rents with a “From” in front. This makes it more difficult for tenants to determine fair market rent, especially once rental bidding is formally banned. Mostly, landlords are seeking quality tenants at a reasonable rent. Many will choose the best tenant over one offering the highest rent. Property managers have a duty to their landlord to secure the best possible lease outcome for their client and the rent achieved is but one component. Banning rent bidding will do nothing to further the plight of tenants already dealing with a highly competitive, stressful market of limited supply and rising rents. Governments should spend their time thinking about how they can get more rental supply into the market by actively encouraging property investors. Everything else treats the symptom not the cause and rents will continue to rise.