New home sales are back on the rise, fueled in part by many investors and owner-occupiers buying off the plan.The concept is straightforward: put up a deposit (usually 10 per cent) to help the developer fund construction and pay the balance when the build is complete. Apartments are now springing up at a rapid rate in capital cities and popular holiday locations with the confidence that property prices will rise, handing buyers a tidy capital growth when they eventually take possession.
Developers sell off the plan to entice as many sales commitments as possible to then secure from their lender the finance they need for the build. Because buyers are essentially handing over their deposit for the promise of an apartment they won’t see for one to two years (or more), prices are set at current market rates with incentives often offered to entice buyers. This adds to the capital gain potential, but price rises are never a sure thing, as we have seen in past years.
In exchange for your deposit, the developer should provide a contract that outlines the details of your particular purchase, the completion date for the development and the deadline for when a decision must be made as to whether the development will go ahead. That decision usually hinges on whether sufficient finance has been secured. If the developer pulls the pin or passes the decision deadline, you should be entitled to a refund of your deposit, but this depends on the conditions of the sale contract. It is imperative that you read this document carefully, and we recommend that you seek thorough legal advice. Full payment for the property is not required until settlement, which is usually one to three months post completion.
While buying off the plan looks great on paper and can reap rewards, getting in on the ground floor of a new development is not always a fast track to making money. We look at how you can make the most of the opportunity and avoid some of the common pitfalls.
Time on your side
One of the biggest advantages of buying off the plan is time. Unlike traditional property purchases with relatively short windows to round up the total finance, you will have at least 12 months, if not longer, to settle. Savvy buyers will take advantage of this extra time to save their pennies and reduce their borrowings.
New home, no hassles
If you dream of a new home but have nightmares at the thought of building one, an off-the-plan purchase may be the perfect compromise. Although you will not get to design everything as you would with a custom-built home, most off-the-plan developments allow some customisation of finishes and fixtures. Make sure your contract outlines what you can tailor and that you are clear on any additional costs.
Various incentives are still being dangled in front of first-home-buyers, which may add to the appeal of buying off the plan.
Concessions vary across Australia and some have been curbed since January 1, so visit your State or Territory web site for the latest information on grants and exemptions. You can also research your eligibility for stamp duty concessions on new properties at ASIC’s MoneySmart website.
Off-the-plan apartments are often pitched heavily at investors due to the tax* benefits that come with depreciation on new properties and rental assurances. Tax savings will depend on your individual circumstances, but generally the newer the property, the higher the depreciation allowance for the building and fixtures.
Investors may also be offered attractive rental returns for a limited period. Make sure you do your homework on rental returns on similar properties in the area before accepting the developer’s terms. Be wary of over-inflated rental figures. Builders will sometimes promise a high-rent yield to lure investors, build the cost into the property price and then subsidise any gap themselves for a short period. When the rental guarantee expires, you may find the actual market rent falls well short of what you originally pocketed. If investing, make sure you have the option to manage the property yourself or with your chosen property manager from the time you take possession.
Beware a boom
Many buyers get swept up on a wave of rising property prices when they hand over their deposit in exchange for a floor plan. Historically, property is a consistent long-term performer, but property prices can plateau and even wane at the mercy of economic factors.
Buyers also need to be wary of over-supply, which may devalue their property. Queensland’s Gold and Sunshine Coasts are carrying a glut of apartments on the back of many years of off- the-plan sales, while the skylines of capitals such as Canberra have real estate commentators urging caution.
Make sure you consider the bigger picture if buying off the plan. Research how many other developments are planned in the area and whether any increase in apartment numbers is justified by new or improved infrastructure, such as transport corridors, business precincts, universities or hospitals.
Be discerning about the developer
Make sure you purchase from a reputable builder and take the time to research their previous projects. Do they use quality contractors? Do they deliver projects on time? Make a point of visiting some of their projects so you can assess the finished product first-hand.