18 Dec 2017

Diversity is the key to avoiding property pain

A real lack of diversification in property market hotspots is catching out investors and it's threatening to send some people to the wall.

Imagine paying nearly $50,000 a year in council rates on top of mortgage repayments for properties that no one wants to rent.

That's the position that real estate agent and investor, Bella Exposito finds herself in after going all in and buying up 19 properties in the Queensland mining town of Moranbah.

"About 70 per cent of my wages is going out on mortgage repayments, and rates are on top of that cost. It makes me feel sick and very angry," she says.

Mining towns aren't the only ones at risk of a property price correction. Propertyology head of market research Simon Pressley says capital cities like Sydney and Brisbane also have their weaknesses.

"Every location has an Achilles heel," Pressley says.

"Perth's property market has experienced a downturn due to its economic exposure to iron ore and gas; Sydney's Achilles heel is financial services and an above-average proportion of Asian investors, Brisbane plays the role of a head office for the coal industry," he says.

Moranbah, which is part of Isaac Regional Council, was Australia's third best-performed property market for the 15-year period since the turn of the century.

That puts it behind West Australian mining towns Newman and Port Hedland.

In 1995, the median house price in Moranbah was only $13,000 and it peaked at a whopping $580,000 in late-2012. Since then property values have nearly halved.

"I can't say it's a financial loss yet because I haven't sold," Exposito says. "But the value of my properties has come down 60 to 70 per cent.

"I'm a real estate agent, so if I'm not safe, no one is."

Some property commentators blame speculators for driving prices dramatically higher in Moranbah, while others blame the arrival of fly-in-fly-out workers for causing it all to go bust.

"Moranbah is not the sort of location which we would consider to invest in because it is a one industry town with no economic diversity and not an overly desirable lifestyle," Pressley says.

"Whether it were Moranbah or Sydney, we don't encourage investors to adopt an all-my-eggs-in-one-basket strategy like some people have."

But a lack of diversification is only part of the issue according to Domain Group senior economist Dr Andrew Wilson.

"Moranbah was a classic bubble market based on high levels of speculation and a perfect storm for prices to move south.

"It's an example, of how we shouldn't look at property as a short-term cash spinner," Wilson says.

"Those that look at property for shorter-term gains are in the wrong product.

"If you want to diversify – you need to make sure you can afford to buy property first, if you can't put 20 per cent in as a deposit, then it probably signals that you can't afford it," he says.

There are many investors who own property in Moranbah and who are close to going broke as they're forced to realise huge losses.

Homes that were once fetching as much as $4000 a week, are now lucky to be tenanted for $500 a week.

At this point in time, Bella's debt is manageable because of record low interest rates.

"Prices were just unrealistic," Exposito says, adding that if she had sold her family home at the peak in 2011, it would have fetched about $920,000, that's about four times what she'd value it at today.

The added dilemma for Bella is that an oversupply of properties in the local market means there's little demand for rentals.

"We have about 500 properties on our office rental role at the moment.

"I'll be okay until December to meet my repayments. But after that I don't know."

"I've met with Isaac Regional Council members and after they hiked rates in July 2016, they are likely to put rates up again," she says.

In addition to that, from July 1 this year, the local council will also begin charging for all water consumption on top of current rates charges.

"I have some small one-bedroom units that are only a tiny 35 square meters in size and the annual rates are around $2600 per unit which is the same as an average house in Moranbah," Exposito says.

"This amount is around three times what I pay on similar properties that I own in Brisbane, where I have access to much better services and great demand from tenants."

For some time now Bella has been a vocal critic of the property downturn in the Queensland mining town of Moranbah, which she blames on the Labor Government under Anna Bligh, approving fly-in-fly out workers.

"Before miners would settle in the local area, but now 70 per cent are opting to fly in and fly out, and they are not even coming into town to shop with buses taking them from the airport to work, and back again.

"Now we have a lot of supply of properties but no demand," Exposito says.

Share Socially