Friday, March 30, 2012

AFR: Qld Property Due for Kick Start

Extract from Story in the AFR:

For years now, much of Queensland has been a home-grown testament to how property booms can go dreadfully wrong. But a select few see the parlous state of the Queensland housing market as a rare opportunity to pick up homes with great growth prospects at bargain prices. Many see the landslide election of the LNP government as a key catalyst.

Earlier in March, private equity firm Engage Capital bought 19 luxury apartments from the Bank of Scotland in The Macrossan tower in central Brisbane, developed by Macquarie Group. Engage Capital director Ben Grootemaat says he paid about $1 million less for each apartment than off-the-plan prices. He thinks Brisbane values have bottomed and he plans to sell the homes straight away, claiming there is strong demand for the right kinds of apartment at the right price. “There is a lot of demand, especially for three-bedroom residences,” he says. “We have a strong level of interest.”

He’s not the only one positive about the sunshine state. Veteran developers Ken Woodley and David Devine founded apartment developer Metro in March 2010. Since then they have bought or are in the process of buying 2500 apartments in inner-city Brisbane. Woodley says the company sold more than 450 apartments last year, and hopes for a similar result this year. The drivers he is banking on are a tight rental market and the influx of resources employees.

“Because of the huge influx from the resources companies in the office towers, I think what is going to happen within six months is people will have to pay three months’ to six months’ rent in advance to secure an apartment,” Woodley says. “There really aren’t many being built.” But he’s also hoping a confidence boost will come with the reforms new Premier Campbell Newman has promised to deliver in his first 100 days in office. One is stamp duty exemptions for the principal place of residence, which may become law on July 1, costing the government $900 million.

Combined with more interest rate cuts that most banks are still expecting, housing will become more affordable. “I would think those two things would kick start the market,” Woodley says.

The value of houses in Brisbane fell 7.6 per cent in the 12 months to the end of February, according to RP Data Rismark, the worst decline in any mainland capital. The fall in values and dearth of credit have caused a plunge in building. Mirvac research figures show per capita housing levels in Queensland have plunged to their lowest levels since about 2002. But Hoke Slaughter, Morgan Stanley head of real estate investing in Asia, believes the supply-demand picture in Queensland will be “quite attractive” when the market finally recovers. And there are certainly some bargain prices on offer.

Queensland has been littered with receivership sales. Receivers KordaMentha predicted last month there would be an increase in the volume of distressed assets put to market in the state this year as financial institutions attempted to clean up their loan books. Savills agent Greg Harris is selling new townhouses on the Gold Coast that were once priced at $635,000 for about $500,000. He says although prices have fallen 30 per cent, rents haven’t.

Australian Property Monitors senior economist Andrew Wilson says some “green shoots” are emerging in Brisbane. Home values fell 1 per cent in the three months to February, according to his figures, a slower rate of decline than last year. There were other early signs of improvement, such as an increase in home loans and positive feelings about the new government, which may improve buyer sentiment. “The whisper around is we’re just starting to get some early cycle momentum in that Brisbane market,” Wilson says. “With the election behind them, there is always a honeymoon period for the market, which can lead to a more positive attitude.”

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