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Feb 13, 2024

Blockchain in Real Estate

Like a startled rabbit staring into headlights, this Gen Xer listened intently to the REIWA Trainer awaiting the lightbulb moment for clarity and understanding of what Blockchain is. Unremarkably, blockchain was simply described as a “chain of blocks”. Not that helpful to my understanding. For the benefit of others, here’s how I was able to better grasp the blockchain concept. REIA CEO, Anna Neelagama assisted by pointing out that unless you’re a coder, trying to understand the blockchain from a technical point of view is probably quite pointless. One way to gain understanding is to describe blockchain as a new layer of the internet building on Web1 and Web2. Web 1 was simply information being put out to be consumed in a one-way manner. Web 2 began to enable users to interact with content and “talk back” - remember the first online payment you made online and how revolutionary that was. Web3 will have a new level of the internet called a blockchain. This facilitates legal and financial transactions to occur in a secure way representing a true economic exchange. This is due to the blocks (which are pieces of programming that cannot be altered) enabling a complex transaction environment with many parties simultaneously involved. The blockchain therefore removes the need for a third party - such as a bank – to be involved in the transaction. Bitcoin is a well known example of a blockchain. As blockchains are unchangeable, malicious actors are unable to tamper with the transactions or contracts within it mitigating against fraudulent activity. The “smart” contracts (digitally created agreements) within the blockchain are immutable and record a complete history of transactions within the particular network which can be either private or public. PEXA, the digital settlement system now widely used for property transactions is an example of a private blockchain. Real Estate transactions are, of course, more complex than a simple bitcoin trade, with multiple participants and processes involved in a typical transaction. However, the principles of value exchange remain the same and that’s where blockchain technology can begin to play more of a role. Blockchain technology is able to verify, inform and enable transfer of property ownership. This is where things get complicated with the introduction of Smart Contracts, the Metaverse, Non Fungible Tokens (NFT’s), Decentralised Finance (DeFi) and Decentralised Autonomous Organisations (DAO’s). There is insufficient room to attempt to explain these terms. These are, in short, aspects of blockchain technology that can apply to real estate transactions in both the real and virtual world that are already with us. No doubt, the aspects of blockchain technology will be more easily understood as certain applications of it are applied to real world situations. However, the idea that people are actually buying (spending real money) advertising space in a virtual metaverse is, for this Gen Xer at least, a bridge too far divorced from reality.

Feb 1, 2024

Property Taxes Back on Agenda

The federal government’s revision of the Stage 3 Tax cuts has re-enlivened debate for a comprehensive tax review, with negative gearing and capital gains tax settings once again part of that discussion. The ability for investors to claim property-related expenses against other income (normally their taxed wages) has been a key part of Australia’s housing spectrum for generations, underpinning the supply of affordable rental homes for millions of tenants. Governments, unable to supply enough taxpayer funded rental homes has relied on property investors to supply property to the market at a ratio of 9:1. Calls from teal independents and others to remove negative gearing in order to address housing affordability fails to consider the impact this would have on supply, rents and the budget. With 27 percent of all homes in Australia rented, the estimated value of this asset class is $2.835 trillion; nearly three times annual GDP. The burden on taxpayers in Australia is already substantial (as a measure of overall tax take, only Denmark collects more tax than we do from wages), so without investors supplying the market (which would surely diminish if negative gearing was disallowed) how can government afford to supply the rental homes? The 2019 election campaign featured proposed changes to negative gearing with then would-be Treasurer, Chris Bowen saying, “Don’t worry if your property value falls.” I cannot imagine how the community could possibly think such a comment is okay given household consumption makes up about 45 per cent of the economy and if housing values fall, so does their spending and so does, therefore, the economy. Bowen’s comment back then is telling because it paints property investors as being aspirational and therefore on the wrong side of certain political agendas. If he’d said, “Don’t worry if your rent goes up,” he’d have been in trouble, but the brutal truth is that both comments are the same. Abolish negative gearing on established homes and prices will fall and rents will rise. Any plan to mess with the current negative gearing provisions is fraught because it is so deeply entrenched (it’s been part of our tax system for more than 100 years) and therefore interlinked with our vast and complex tax system. We know about 80 percent of investment properties are owned by mum and dad types who only have one investment property. Proposals to remove negative gearing is hardly taxing the wealthy and ignores the fact that not all investors choose to buy property to avoid tax otherwise payable. A loss is a loss and pressure on families to meet their daily expenses means investors are often attracted to property investments that either break even or are positively geared in order to maintain cash flow. The last time a government tried to abolish negative gearing it was back in several months later as the voter backlash from soaring rents and plunging property values frightened them into a retreat. If Labor once again wades into the negative gearing morass, the Opposition will be one step closer to winning government.

Jan 23, 2024

Investors Not to Blame

Only a few weeks into the new year and rental affordability is once again making headlines. Core Logic’s latest numbers put national rents at $601 per week, up from $437 per week four years ago. Inevitably, calls to make rents more affordable will follow with campaigners Everybody’s Home calling on the government to scrap negative gearing and capital gains discounts to fund more social homes. This group, amongst countless others, fail to recognise the fundamental fact that across Australia, 9 out of 10 rented homes are provided by private investors. Removing negative gearing and CGT discounts and hundreds of thousands of investors would sell, decimating supply and setting rents soaring. Governments have very successfully shifted the blame for today’s housing affordability challenges away from their own housing policy failures and instead pointed the finger at property investors and the real estate agents that represent them. Politicians have very effectively shifted the narrative away from supporting private property investment to supply homes to the market whilst simultaneously blaming investors for spiralling rents and house prices. This is a remarkable achievement. Like it or not, unsophisticated private investors – ordinary Australians – supply 27 percent of all homes in the nation to tenants. Government supply about 3 percent as social housing. Yet, in this time of greatest need, with supply of rental homes at severe lows, there are few housing policies that seeks to encourage the investor cohort into supplying more homes. On the contrary; governments shun the idea of stamp duty reform, land taxes continue to rise and tenancy laws continue to swing in favour of tenants. Negative gearing and capital gains tax discounts are no longer sufficient incentives to encourage enough investors to buy. Appealing tax settings and returns in superannuation funds, commercial property and syndicated funds offer ‘mum and dad’ investors an alternative to direct residential property investment. Prior to 2014, the volume of investors buying residential homes to add to the rental pool, ran at a higher rate than those selling rented homes. Talk of changes to negative gearing tax laws from the then opposition, along with broader market factors, began to see this trend reverse. Nowadays, there are far more rental homes being sold than purchased. In Victoria, thanks to rising land taxes and changes to tenancy laws, for every three tenanted properties sold, only one remains in the rental market. In WA, there are now 18,000 fewer tenancy bonds being held today by the Bond Administrator than in 2019. When investors are inactive in the market, it falls to government to provide the housing; something they have failed to do. Put simply, governments – supported by the media and tenancy advocates – have been busily whacking investors, whilst simultaneously failing to provide enough rental housing for Australians as the only alternative to the private investor market. And, somehow, they’ve so far been able to get away with it.

Jan 10, 2024

Missing Out

Licensed real estate agents are regulated by the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS) with consumers able to seek advice and lodge complaints about agents’ behaviour to that department. The Real Estate Institute of WA (REIWA) also has a community hotline where consumers can obtain real estate advice when dealing with a member agent. Current market conditions of savagely low supply and strong demand for both sales and rentals often leads to a spike in enquiry with REIWA and DMIRS, especially from tenants and buyers that have missed out on the opportunity to either buy or rent a home. Most are just wanting clarification of the process. When representing their vendors and landlords, agents have a role to play in ensuring their communication with interested buyers and tenants is clear and thorough, especially in circumstances where there is strong competition to either buy or rent the properties they represent. In the first instance, agents should make it clear to buyers and tenants that there is competition for the home. This can include asking prospective buyers to sign a document that acknowledges an awareness that their offer is one of many and that they’ve had sufficient opportunity to put forward their best offer. Similarly for tenants, the sheer volume of visitors to a home open should indicate that renting a home will be competitive. It is unlikely your application to rent will be the only one submitted. Local agents mostly manage competition amongst buyers and tenants in a professional, process-driven manner. However, it’s worth noting that agents are not obliged to inform you that there is competition for a property, albeit best practice to do so. Buyers and tenants ought to remember the agent is duty bound to act for their client and is not working in your interests. Agents are merely obliged to be honest, ethical and fair in their dealings with tenants and buyers. Despite this, buyers and tenants who miss out on a property are often quick to blame the agent. Some will lodge formal complaints against an agent even though the agent is simply discharging their responsibility to their client in seeking the best price or highest rent. A recent experience from a buyer who was repeatedly told a property would likely sell for above $900,000, was aware they were in competition and still insisted on submitting an offer for $875,000, was livid when told someone else had paid $975,000. Similarly, a tenant who offered $80 per week above the asking rent lodged a formal complaint against the agent when their landlord accepted an offer to lease $130 above the asking rent. Higher rents and selling outcomes are part of the natural market in action. Agents understand that buyers and tenants are trying to secure a property for the lowest possible price or rent, but it is not the agents’ role to achieve that outcome.

Nov 30, 2023

Rental Reform On Way

The Cook government introduced legislation into the parliament this week that seeks to make sweeping changes to the Residential Tenancies Act that favour tenants. Assuming these changes pass into law the following key changes will impact residential tenancies: Tenants will be allowed to keep pets and the property owner will only be able to refuse in certain circumstances. Tenants will be able to make minor modifications to the property without permission from the owner. Rent increases are limited to once annually. The process of bond disposals can be commenced by either tenant or landlord. Disputes will mostly be heard by the Commissioner of Consumer Protection rather than the Magistrate’s Court. Rent bidding will be banned. Overall, the changes are moderate and align with tenancies laws in other states and territories. Importantly, the changes stop short of prohibiting ‘without grounds terminations’, a silly phrase used to describe circumstances where a tenant requests a further lease term after the end of a fixed term and the landlord refuses without giving a reason. REIWA conducted a survey into this particular element of the tenancy laws with an astonishing 61 percent of the 6,000-odd landlords surveyed saying they’d ‘consider selling’ the property if ‘without grounds terminations’ were prohibited. Given a fixed term lease has a clear end date, neither party should anticipate that an additional lease or reversion to a ‘periodic lease’ is assured. You don’t have to give a reason to end a fixed term agreement in any other circumstance, even a marriage! At a time where supply of rental homes are at crisis point across Australia, new laws that actively undermine the encouragement of supply risks further disincentivising the main cohort of property investors; unsophisticated, family investors the majority of whom own one additional property other than their home. Hopefully, investors consider the incoming changes reasonable and will continue to add to the rental pool by investing in residential real estate. Given family investors provide 9 in every 10 rentals in WA, we cannot afford to discourage them.

Nov 30, 2023

To Auction or Not to Auction

Why Auction my Property? With property listings across the Perth metropolitan area dropping below 5,000 whilst property transactions tack 25 percent above the five-year average, there’s little doubt that the current ‘sellers’ market’ conditions are likely to prevail for some time. With strong demand for quality homes our most popular method of sale, private treaty, normally attracts multiple offers and because buyers are making offers ‘blind’, it is possible to have a large gap between the best offer and the one second in line. The auction process is different, of course, with buyers unlikely to bid much above a competing buyer. It is reasonable to conclude, therefore, that selling by private treaty could deliver superior outcomes than an auction in the current market. But this is not necessarily the case. In such a strong market, buyers in open bidding competition know precisely what they need to pay to prevail at auction. With private treaty, buyers will often hold back from their maximum price hopeful they’ll get a chance to further negotiate with the seller.  The seller may choose to accept the best offer, perhaps unsure if they’ve extracted the best price. At auction, the seller knows they’ve extracted the best possible price from those bidding in open competition once past the reserve. Other benefits to sellers include a cash, usually unconditional contract at auction, a settlement period that suits their needs, a healthy deposit and the delivery of what is the very definition of fair market value. The “no price” marketing strategy in the lead up to the auction day is also beneficial as it captures all possible buyers, including those that may not otherwise consider the property if on the market at a fixed price by private treaty. The “start low, end high” nature of auctions also discharges agents’ fiduciary responsibility of obtaining the highest possible price. The auction process also “shakes the buyer tree” and reveals all possible buyers active in the market. Once past the reserve price, a skilled auctioneer will extract the best possible outcome and if two or more competing and motivated bidders are participating, the end result is likely to well exceed the sellers’ expectations. An auction campaign also gives sellers the chance to extract strong offers prior to auction day as some buyers may fear a ‘bidding war’ on the day of auction. And most properties that fail to reach reserve price on the day and pass-in sell in the days following. To give themselves the best possible chance of selling well at auction, sellers ought to set a realistic reserve price and talk to their auctioneer about having some flexibility around the reserve and how this may work on the day. When selling be sure to ask your agent about all the options when coming to market as there’s benefits with all methods of sale, including an auction. It’s a matter of choosing a method that suits your needs and circumstances and agents should be across the details of all options.

Oct 25, 2023

Real Estate Ethics

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. Thankfully, the two are not mutually exclusive. 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’. Remarkably, the militant Construction Forestry Maritime Mining Energy Union ranked higher in ethical behaviour than real estate professional associations. Clearly, the community judge us and those who represent our interests (as President of the REIA that includes me) 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, your 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 boasts 418 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 is there a disconnect between community perception and most users of real estate services? It's 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. Mostly though, it is our fiduciary responsibility to work in our client’s best interest that impacts community perceptions of an agents’ ethical conduct. Being duty bound to achieve the highest possible rent and/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, especially younger people, expects more from us in how we conduct our business. We 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.

Oct 12, 2023

Australian Housing and Urban Research: A Real Estate Perspective

Real Estate's Role in Housing Supply The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute's (AHURI) annual conference is a crucial platform for addressing housing and urban planning policies, primarily supported by government funding. Surprisingly, the real estate sector has remained largely on the sidelines of AHURI's efforts. This is somewhat perplexing, considering that real estate represents and plays a pivotal role in approximately 97% of all homes in Australia. Real Estate's Limited Participation In a gathering of roughly 80 speakers at the conference, only a handful of real estate agents, including myself, were in attendance. Instead, the majority of speakers and participants hailed from the not-for-profit social housing sector, dedicated to supporting marginalized Australians who struggle to find stable housing.  Housing as a Fundamental Right Stable and sustained shelter is a fundamental human right. Even as the housing market is a capital asset class, every Australian deserves a place to call home. Currently, about a third of Australians own their homes outright, another third hold mortgages, and the remainder rent. It's essential not to forget the approximately 160,000 individuals, as of the last census, who are without a home. The Global Housing Supply Challenge Participating in an international panel discussion on rental markets and systems, a common theme emerged — there's a significant housing supply problem. In the United States, there is an estimated four million home shortfall to meet demand. In Australia, we are projected to be 110,000 homes short within the next year, given the current pace of construction and migration trends. Rental Market Dynamics Our rental market is primarily supplied by ordinary Australians, with the majority owning a single investment property. However, this group of property owners has been facing challenges. Since the peak of COVID-19, investors have had to deal with rental moratoriums, rising mortgage costs, increased maintenance and insurance expenses, substantial changes to tenancy laws, higher land taxes, and criticism from various quarters. Reevaluating Housing Policies There appears to be a shift away from relying heavily on individual investors to supply rental homes. With the current supply crisis, there is an urgent need for housing policies that actively encourage investors. The Role of Government Housing While there's a call for more government housing, these should primarily serve those genuinely unable to participate in the open housing market. It should not be the ambition of ordinary Australians to receive taxpayer-funded housing. Build-to-Rent (BTR) Sector The BTR sector is often considered the "supply saviour." However, it primarily caters to investors looking for appealing returns on investment. They deliver high-end lifestyle rentals in premium locations, but affordability remains a challenge for many. Supporting Property Investors It's imperative to acknowledge the contributions of everyday investors, often labelled as 'mum and dad' or unsophisticated investors. They play a significant role in supplying rental homes in Australia. Let's stop undermining the individuals who provide much-needed homes to the market.