Picking a good investment property
Property investing has become a popular Australian pastime with one in ten taxpayers owning a negatively geared property. But just what makes a good bricks-and-mortar investment? It's not about buying any old house or unit, that's for sure, and it's most certainly not about buying something you'd want to live in or even in an area that you necessarily find desirable. Over the next few weeks I will investigate what factors to consider in an investment purchase.
The first biggie is what is better – good price growth, or a high rental return?
There's two ways to measure your return on investment. Capital growth – the change in price over time – and rental yield – how much rent you're getting as a proportion of what you paid for the place. Gross rental yield is your annual rent divided by the purchase price, or value, of the property.
Here's an example: If you bought a flat for $400,000 and you rent it out for $400 a week, you would calculate ($400 x 52) / $400,000. You then multiply that by 100 to get a percentage figure. In this case that gives you a gross rental yield of 5.2 per cent.
People often talk about buying a property with high rental returns. However, most of the professionals who buy property on behalf of investors would advise going for capital growth primarily, and then aiming for a decent yield. Their argument is that just like interest payments left untouched in a bank account, house price rises have a compounding effect when the market is going up. Rent payments on the other hand are generally used to service the costs of owning a property – that is they help to pay interest payments, rates and so forth, and they don't compound. A bit like if you had a bank account and kept withdrawing the interest payments, it might provide an income stream but you wouldn't get the benefits of growth on growth.
Generally people who favour high rental yields will be those investors who have less disposable income that they can use to pay the property's associated bills. They have to have a higher rent-earning property because that's how they can afford to own it in the first place. People who have more spare cash are more likely to be able to go for a property that has higher price-growth prospects but might attract lower rent.
As a rule of thumb, houses tend to grow in price faster than units. However, units tend to attract higher rent. So units can be cheaper to buy and hold, but may not earn you as much growth in the long run.
Likewise, country properties tend to have higher rental yields and lower capital growth than their city counterparts over time. So country properties can be less expensive to buy and hold, but may not earn you as much growth in the long run.
If you're in the market for an investment property, deciding what capital growth rate and what rental yield you will target will depend on your own financial situation.
Buyers agent Stuart Jones of Rose & Jones says when buying city investment apartments he targets 5 per cent gross yield and between 4 and 8 per cent capital growth, combining to give total target returns of between 9 and 13 per cent.
For city houses, Jones seeks gross yields of between 3.5 and 4 per cent.
Jones says it's important to target realistic returns. "People read stories about somebody who bought a property for $100,000 and then in two-and-a-half years' time it was worth $350,000," he says. "People chase that but what they don't realise is it comes off a low base ... there might have been something environmental that went on at the time, like a mine opened up around the corner and all of a sudden you know your place is worth more than you would realistically get in a normal market.
"It's not about finding bargains, it's about getting a good combination of yield and growth and allowing property to do what it does through the passage of ownership, and that is grow."
On a note sure to please tenants, Jones says smart investors need to look after their properties and keep them fresh. "If you take from property and don't give to it, like a relationship, it'll stop giving to you," he says.