Friday, June 29, 2012

Which Way Is The Market Going?

In trying to work out which way the market is heading, I decided to call a number of Brisbane real estate agents who sell apartments.  Last week, I call about 10 agents and said that I wanted to sell an apartment that I owned.  Eight out of ten said now is a good time to sell, because the market is likely to get tougher or stay flat for a long time.  Some said that it would be best if I could hold and not sell, provided that I was prepared to hold for some time.  But if I needed to sell in the next few years, then I should sell today.

This week, I called the same agents, and asked if it was a good time to buy, and that I was interested in an apartment that they had listed for sale.  I did not tell them it was the same person who called them last week.  Eight out of ten said it was an excellent time to buy, as the market was at the bottom, and prices were sharp.

Two real estate agents each time said that they did not know, or did not want to offer an opinion.

So I guess asking real estate agents is not the way to go.  But many people seem to rely upon real estate agents when making buying or selling decisions, which is probably not the best thing to do.

The real answer to the question of whether it is a good time to buy or sell is that no one really knows.  Another answer is that property is a long term investment, so if you a looking to buy for a short term gain, or need to sell in the near future, then the answer for you may be different than a general, abstract answer.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

More Affordable and Smaller Apartments

The Courier Mails reports that developers are building apartment buildings with smaller apartments, because that is what is selling today.  Does this mean that there will be a shortage of larger, family sized apartments in Brisbane in the future?

From the Courier Mail:

"Developer FKP recently withdrew a development application from Brisbane City Council for a future tower at its Gasworks development at Newstead.  It was lodged in 2009 and executive director Mark Jewell said it needed to be revised in line with the present market. The tower, known as Parkside Boulevard, will be released in the next three to five years.  Two weeks ago, the same developer released its reworked masterplan for The Mill development at Albion.  A change in market conditions early in 2010 saw it refund deposits for units already sold off the plan and designs changed. It has now launched the first tower and is waiting for sufficient pre-sales before it starts construction.

In Brisbane's CBD, Melbourne-based developer Billbergia unveiled plans to develop the failed Vision site into a 90-storey residential tower with about 800 apartments, a hotel and a 34-storey commercial tower.

Bellise at Fortitude Valley had initially been planned as a 199-unit development, but had received a new approval to reconfigure it to a 228-unit development of smaller product.

Citimark's Angus Johnson said the launch of its 200-unit Rivana development at Hamilton would wait until the market was right.

While Stockwell plans to proceed with the 150-unit stage two and 50-unit stage three of its Riverpoint development at West End, it has not yet advised a time frame.

Sunland has preliminary approval for the 47-storey Carrington in Alice St in the City. Managing director Sahba Abedian said there were conditions attached, which they were working through."

Friday, June 22, 2012

Falling prices

I have been looking at the listing and sale prices for two bedroom apartments in Brisbane. During the peak of the market, which was about 2008, good quality two bedroom apartments (which were more than 110 sqm in size, and often larger) were selling in the $800,000 range. Now, these same apartments are selling in the mid to low $600,000s. That is a decrease of about 20%. One wonders what would have happened to Vision and Empire Square buyers, where the contract price of two bedroom apartments exceeded $1 million.  These buildings did not go ahead, despite Colliers reporting strong presales.

Byron Bay to New York City

A nice story in the New York Times on Sunday about the founder of, which is used by some real estate agents to promote property.   He has moved from Byron Bay to New York, and just rented a new apartment. The story of his search is here:

Monday, June 18, 2012

Matusik Says Brisbane on the upswing

There is an interesting story in Property Observer by Matusik.  In it, he says:

"Market watchers will have their own theories on milestones that signal a change in the fortunes of the real estate market.  I, for one, think that Brisbane has turned a corner and is well-positioned on the property clock.  ... Too early to call an upturn?  Maybe, but the signs are definitely there.  Of course, the proof in the pudding is a sustained rise in generic property prices."

I think Matusik is slightly optimistic about Brisbane at present, but that is just my view.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Luxury Apartments

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Prediction: Market to Keep Falling in Brisbane

My prediction for the next four months -- the Brisbane property market will continue to decline.  My reasons - (a) There is much uncertainty as to what new taxes and increased taxes Newman will hit property owners with.  We will not know until September.  (b) There will be many Queensland government employees and contractors who will suddenly become unemployed.  This has started to happen, and they are selling their investment properties in distressed situations, and few government workers are buying investments at present due to the uncertainty.  It is uncertain whether foreign buyers will be less interested due to the doubling of capital gains tax for non-residents.  I am seeing many Brisbane apartments being sold for 10% below recent sales price.  Gloomy times ahead.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Oracle Buyers Loose Appeal

A number of off-the-plan purchasers for The Oracle development at Broadbeach refused to settle.  One reason they gave for their refusal was that Peppers purchased the management rights for the complex.  The purchasers lost their appeals today.  There were two decisions, Gough, and Walsh.  See also Courier Mail.

"... there is little support for the conclusion that, in addition to the role played by the Oracle name in identifying the apartments to be sold and purchased, there was also a promise by the vendor that Tower 1 be known or described as The Oracle at the date of completion. If such a promise existed, it needed to be inferred and the inference, if it could be drawn, was far from obvious.  ...  For the above reasons, I would order that the appeals be dismissed and that the appellants’ pay the respondent’s costs of the appeals, including reserved costs if any, on the indemnity basis."

The main reason the buyers did not settle was because the apartments dropped significantly in value between contract signing and settlement.  That is a risk of buying off-the-plan, and is not a ground to refuse to settle.

Newman Targets Property Owners for Tax Increases

Any further financial imposts on property investors is likely to see them pull up stumps and sell their rental properties, according to the Real Estate Institute of Queensland (REIQ).

The release of today’s audit on the Queensland Government’s finances shows property owners, and investors in particular, have once again been earmarked to financially salvage the State’s fiscal woes.  The audit has outlined potential revenue-raising measures including: imposing a $100 levy on all property owners; reducing or removing the concession on land tax; applying a premium transfer duty rate; and increasing the landholder acquisition duty rate.

Acting REIQ CEO Antonia Mercorella said property owners were sick and tired of having to bail out the government.  ‘‘Property owners - and investors specifically - seem to forever be targeted by all levels of government when they are short of cash, whether it is through higher council rates, one-off levies or higher rates of stamp duty,’’ she said.  ‘‘The additional legislative and compliance obligations on property investors over recent years, coupled with weaker returns on investment, has resulted in many opting to sell their rental properties.’’

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data shows the number of investors active in the Queensland property market has halved in the last five years.  Ms Mercorella said this number was likely to decline even further if investors were slugged with additional costs.
“We are currently starting to see the impact of this reduced investor activity with vacancy rates tightening and rents increasing across the State. If more investors left the rental market, then this situation would undoubtedly worsen,” she said.  “If land tax thresholds are reduced or removed, the added costs would put an end to the glimmers of renewed investor activity we have seen in recent months and would also likely be passed onto tenants via increased rents.  Also the unit and townhouse market in particular is yet to see investors return significantly with the additional costs associated with this type of housing deterring investors.”

Newman was unfriendly to property owners as Mayor of Brisbane -- he substantially increased rates for apartment owners, and did nothing to reduce spending by Council or the number of council administration workers.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Park At Waterfront

This weekend, I visited Park at Waterfront, a newly completed Mirvac apartment tower at the Newstead River Park.  The area was dark and desolate.  The Park building is located behind some car dealers, and other industrial properties.  It overlooks a small park and construction site for other buildings.  I would not feel safe walking around this area at night.  But seeing that there is nothing to walk to, I guess that is not an issue.  Why buy or live in an apartment in such an isolated wasteland?  The building itself seemed to be a fine looking building, not that many people will see it.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Recent Apartment Sales in Brisbane

Metro 21 (21 Mary Street)
  • Apt 1701, 2 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, sold furnished $492,500 (rents for $700 per week)
  • Apt 1003, 1 bedroom, $310,000
Quay West (132 Alice Street)
  • Lot 29, Apt 503, 1 bedroom, 73 sqm total size, sold furnished $450,000
Admiralty Towers One (48 Howard Street)
  • Lot 105, 2 bed, 2 bath, on Macrossan Street side, sold on 28 April, $532,500
  • Lot 85, 1 bedroom, direct riverfront, sold on 4 April for $562,000
  • Lot 141, 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, $535,000
  • Lot 31, 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, $615,000
  • Lot 5, 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom, on rear of building, for $490,000
Admiralty Quays (32 Macrossan Street)
  • Lot 83, 1 bedroom, $580,000
Felix (26 Felix Street)
  • Lot 57, 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom, large courtyard, sold for $540,000
  • Lot 152, 2 bedrooms, sold for $475,000
  • Lot 117, 2 bedrooms, sold for $465,000
  • Lot 278, 1 bedroom, no car, sold for $325,000
Casino Towers (151 George Street)
  • Apt 1503, 2 bedrooms on front/side, with river and Southbank views, settled in May for $580,000.
  • Apt 1603, 2 bedrooms, on front/side with river and Southbank views, $565,000
  • Apt 2202, 2 bedrooms, middle front with river and Southbank views, 103 sqm total size - $655,000
  • Apt 2107, 2 bedrooms, river views, 93 sqm total size - $515,000
  • Apt 2104, 1 bedroom on rear - $362,500
  • Apt 3803, 2 bedroom sub penthouse, 188 sqm in size - $805,000

Rent Sales in Charlotte Towers

  • Apt 1907, 2 bedrooms, sold on 11 April 2012 for $456,000
  • Apt 1104, 1 bedroom, no car, sold on 27 March 2012 for $326,000
  • Apt 2808, 2 bedrooms, sold on 25 March for $510,000
  • Apt 605, 1 bedroom, sold on 22 March 2012 for $290,000
  • Apt 1704, 1 bedroom, sold on 21 March 2012 for $322,500
  • Apt 2003, 2 bedrooms, reported as sold on 17 March for $475,000
  • Apt 2804, 1 bedroom, sold on 14 March for $350,000
  • Apt 1210, 1 bedroom, sold on 12 March for $338,000
  • Apt 4108, 1 bedroom, sold on 5 March for $330,000
  • Apt 2502, 2 bedrooms, sold on 1 March for $498,000
  • Apt 910, 1 bedroom, sold on 29 February for $370,000
  • Apt 1904, 1 bedroom, sold on 21 February for $327,000

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Is Median House Price Data Useful?

There are many newspaper reports that discuss rising or falling house & apartment prices by reference to the median sales price for a particular period.  For example, see this recent report from REIQ.  The median price is the middle price of all the properties sold in the defined period.  (For example, if there were 5 sales in the period, for $1, $10, $1000, $1001 and $6409, then the median is $1,000.)

If you select a different length of time to measure the median, you get a different result of course.  For example, according to REIQ, the median sales price for Brisbane apartments (all of Brisbane local government area) for January 2012 to March 2012 was $387,750.  The median for April 2011 to March 2012 was $395,000.

The median is not the average price.  (The average for the example above is $1484.)  See also here and here.

The statistics only look at the properties that were sold in the period.  If the median changes, it does not necessarily mean that the value of any particular property has changed.  For example, if in one quarter, there are many two bedroom apartments that are sold, and in the next quarter, there are mostly one bedroom apartments that are sold, then the median price is likely to decrease.  If a new off-the-plan development settles in the period, then the median is likely to increase for that period and decrease for the next period.

So how reliable are the recent REIQ statistics?  I had a look at a number of the more larger, upmarket and top end apartment buildings, and there are no or few reported sales for the relevant period (January 2012 to March 2012).  For example:
  • Admiralty Towers Two - no recorded sales
  • The Grosvenor - no recorded sales
  • Quay West - only one sale, a 1 bedroom.
  • Admiralty Quays - only one sale, a 1 bedroom
  • Riparian - 1 reported sale, a 2 bedroom
  • Metro 21 - 2 reported sales (1 bedroom & 2 bedroom)
  • Admiralty Towers One - no sales on direct riverfront side of building
  • Fresh Taringa - no sales since October 2010
  • Riva Indooroopilly - no sales in more than 12 months
  • For the above, there were no 3 bedroom sales at all.
It seems that the larger and more expensive apartments are not being sold.  Thus, the median price will be less than periods where there are more of these apartments that are being sold.  That the larger or more expensive apartments are not being sold could be for a number of reasons:  (A)  They may be listed for sale, but not selling because the owner does not want to or need to decrease price. (B) These buildings have more owner-occupiers, who do not sell as often.  (C) If rented, the rents are good, and so selling for a lower price makes less sense than renting out the apartment.  (D) An owner who needs to sell may decide to rent the apartment for a short period, until prices rise.  (E)  There may be no buyers at the high end of the market.

So it is hard to determine if the apartment values have fallen for the kinds of apartments that are not often sold, and if so, by how much.  Also, the median price decease for Brisbane may be because of a change in mix of the apartments that are being sold.

Demand strengthens in unit market: REIQ

Press Release from REIQ today:  Queensland’s unit and townhouse market experienced strengthening demand over the March quarter, according to the latest Real Estate Institute of Queensland (REIQ) figures.

The REIQ’s quarterly Queensland Market Monitor found the numbers of preliminary unit and townhouse sales across the State were up 11 per cent compared to the December quarter last year.  Over the period, there was also a dramatic increase in the numbers of units sold between $250,000 and $350,000 with sales in this price bracket increasing 22 per cent.

"This increase in more affordable unit and townhouse sales is being driven by demand from first home buyers and investors, who often target properties at the lower end of the market," REIQ CEO Anton Kardash said. "About 19 per cent of homes financed in Queensland are now being bought by first home buyers, which is the highest level of activity from first-time property buyers since 2009 when the First Home Owners Boost was available. Investors too are making a long-awaited return to the market with more than 4,500 properties bought by investors in March this year. The 10-year average is 5,000 dwellings per month so this is also the strongest level of activity from investors since early 2010".

Over the March quarter, median unit and townhouse prices softened in a number of areas due to this shift in demand for more affordable properties. Median prices reflect the types of properties that sell over a particular timeframe so if more affordable properties sell the median will be dragged lower.

Brisbane’s median unit and townhouse price softened 3.1 per cent to $387,750, however sales activity was up more than 20 per cent compared to the previous quarter.

On the Gold Coast, the beachside suburbs recorded the greatest increase in activity, with Surfers Paradise and Broadbeach topping the list.

The Sunshine Coast saw a similar trend with Mooloolaba and Noosaville recording the top increases in sales activity over the quarter. The Sunshine Coast was also the only major region for Southeast Queensland to record an increase in its median, up 2.2 per cent to $332,250.

Although a strong result for the house market was recorded over the quarter, Cairns’ unit market continues to struggle, with sales down 30 per cent. Comments from various regional zone chairs, Cairns included, say that units are proving difficult to sell, as buyers are put off by the increased costs associated with owning a unit, such as body corporate fees, insurance levies and council rates. As such, buyers end up seeing more value in buying a house, with the ongoing servicing costs equalling that of a unit.

The chart below, from REIQ, is for apartments and townhouses only, not houses.  Click on chart to make bigger.

Notes for chart 
* Medians affected by varying quantities of new properties sold 
f Medians affected by varying numbers of waterfront properties sold 
- Due to the nature of properties in this suburb, some group titled property sales have been omitted

Thursday, June 7, 2012

CBRE - Brisbane improving

The Brisbane housing market is starting to experience the benefits of the resources boom but the Gold Coast remains one of the “worse performing markets,” says CBRE in its second quarter south-east Queensland market view report. 

The report notes that the Sunshine Coast housing market continues to struggle – though not to the same extent as the Gold Coast market – with both coastal markets not seeing much benefit from the mining boom in central and northern Queensland.

Buyers Now Saying Yes?

"The head of real estate strategy at Macquarie Capital, Rod Cornish, uses an affordability measure that brings together the mortgage rate, the level of house prices and the ability of households to pay.
Many will have seen the Cornish graph already. It is easy to follow: when affordability falls, so does housing activity; when affordability rises, housing follows.
All the elements of affordability are now moving the right way.
House prices have dropped. Mortgage rates are falling. And household income is rising.
But there are lags and hiccups. As Cornish says, mortgage rate moves take six months to have an impact. The two cuts late in 2011 would be boosting housing now if the banks had not cut the shift short with out-of-cycle rate rises."
See AFR Story
"The Reserve Bank of Australia’s rate cuts, which started in November, have not boosted demand in the housing market, meaning one in seven homes bought in the past five years are still worth less than their purchase price."
See Home Buyers Still Uninspired

No Smoking in Some Apartment Buildings

Archers director Andrew Staehr said building owners across Queensland had passed by-laws to stop people smoking in apartment buildings, with several in mixed-use developments in inner-city Brisbane.
See City News story

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Interest Rates Down in Australia

The Australian Reserve Bank decreased its interest rate today by 0.25%.  BOQ immediately dropped its home lending rate by 0.2%.  Will this assist the Brisbane housing market?  It will not hurt, but it may not be enough to assist.  What drives residential property growth more is population growth and employment growth.  In Brisbane, many State Government consultants, contractors and employees are being fired, with the government bankrupt and trying to decrease its workforce by 20%.  So this will have a bigger, negative impact than any positive impacts of the interest rate decreases.

RP Data Reports

Click on reports to make bigger.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Brisbane Doing Better Than Melbourne

"As at the end of May, Melbourne dwelling prices are off about 5% this year. But most of this decline has materialised since the middle of April. Specifically, home values in Melbourne have declined by 4.2% since the 15th of April.

In contrast, the Sydney housing market, which is denoted by the black line, has rebounded nearly 1% since the second week of May. In seasonally-adjusted terms, this would be an even stronger outcome. Likewise, we can see some recent stabilisation in raw Brisbane dwelling values, which are illustrated by the orange line in the chart above."

See Property Observer article, by Chris Joye.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

RP Data Report

From a recent RP Data Report:

Brisbane values and volumes
  • Over the past 12 months, property values in Brisbane have fallen by -6.6 percent for houses and units declined by -5.4 percent, underperforming the ten year average annual growth rates of 8.0 percent for houses and 7.0 percent for units.
  • Although the combined capital cities began to record a strong rate of growth post GFC, Brisbane’s property market underperformed and has recorded limited growth in home values over the past five years.
  • Brisbane’s property market also experienced distinct cycles over the past decade, with annual property value growth recording an historic high in November 2003, then consolidating over 2004 to 2006, followed by a strong recovery prior to the GFC however, Brisbane has been underperforming since 2008.
  • Over the last five years, sales volumes have been recorded an average of 3,915 transactions per month.
  • The current sales volumes are estimated to be -24 percent lower than the five year average.
  • Brisbane’s median house price is recorded at $430,000 and the median unit price sits at $360,000 in April 2012. 
Key Statistics

  • Compared to the combined capital city average, Brisbane’s property values have been underperforming since the beginning of 2009.
  • Over the past five and ten years, Brisbane has experienced a much stronger housing market performance than it has over the past 12 months.
  • Vendor discounting rates are currently recorded at an average of -9.5 percent for houses and -7.5 percent for units. At the same time last year, discount rates were recorded at -8.9 percent for houses and -7.8 percent for units.
  • In March 2012, Brisbane houses were on the market for an average of 86 days and 58 days for units. In March 2011, houses took an average of 88 days to sell and units 66 days, highlighting a slight improvement in conditions for sellers.
  • Vendors who sold their dwellings over the past year had owned their houses for 8.7 years on average and units for 6.9 years. 
  • In June 2011, Brisbane’s estimated population was roughly 2.1 million persons, growing by 1.7 percent over the year.
  • Brisbane dwelling are each home to an average of 2.7 persons. 

Brisbane Northbank Redevelopment

Campbell Newman is proposing new plans for the North Bank area of the Brisbane River, including George Street.  It seems like the hotel and casino proposal for the old State Library site has been put on ice by the new government.

See stories on Brisbane Development and Brisbane Times.

According to Newman, re the image shown above: “It’s just an artist’s impression to give people a feel for the excitement we have for the revitalisation of the precinct.”

Friday, June 1, 2012

Brisbane Apartment Values Up Slightly in May

Residential property values have continued to slide across the capital cities, with the RP Data-Rismark Home Value Index recording a -1.4 per cent fall in dwelling values over the month of May.

The latest drop brings the cumulative decline to -2.2 per cent over the first five months of 2012 and overall values are down -5.3 per cent over the past twelve months.

Much of the weakness is confined to the detached housing market rather than apartments. According to RP research director Tim Lawless, unit values have been much more resilient to value falls compared to houses.  It is clear that the market is becoming increasingly price point driven. Unit values across the combined capitals increased in May and they are up by 1.3 per cent over the first five months of the year. Based on median prices, unit prices are generally around 15 to 20 per cent lower than house prices.

Investment yields also tend to be higher and units are often located more strategically compared with their detached Mr Lawless said.

Another hurdle for the property market is the large number of properties currently being advertised for sale. Based on RP Data estimates, there were approximately 308,500 homes advertised for sale across Australia during May which is almost 9 per cent more than at this time last year.  While stock levels have reduced since the latter part of 2011, Mr Lawless said that this result still represents a larger than normal pool of homes available for sale at a time when transaction volumes are running well below their five year average.

Brisbane Apartment Capital Growth/Losses to 31 May 2012 (RR Data Rismark Index)
Month 0.3%
Quarter -2.1%
Year to Date -3.9%
Year on Year -4%

Brisbane Apartment at Bottom?

Valuers HTW say in their recent report that the Brisbane apartment market has bottomed out.  They also say this about residential property in Brisbane:
"The reality on the ground is this – most agents are stating with certainty that there has been an improvements in the number of buyers under $500,000 with the vast majority being investors. Most agents who speak openly and honestly will tell you that this is a good sign but let’s not start popping the corks just yet. We would also say that many who have made the positive the call on the sub half million property turnaround will just as quickly remind you that over $500,000 property is still a ghost town."
HTW June 2012 Month in Review