“Brisbane’s “weak” inner city vacancy rates climbing
The REIQ recorded a 3.8% vacancy rate in Brisbane’s inner ring (0 to 5 kilometres from the city centre) in December 2014.
Any vacancy rate figure above 3.5% is categorised as “weak”, while a market is considered “tight” if it has a vacancy rate below 2.5%, and healthy with a vacancy rate between 2.5% and 3.5%.
“The other “weak” Queensland markets in December were in Bundaberg, Gladstone, Rockhampton, Mackay and Townsville, with Mackay topping vacancy rates at 10.3%.
The Brisbane inner market is the only greater Brisbane region with a “weak” market. The REIQ notes that vacancy rates are trending upwards.
In a release, REIQ chief executive Antonia Mercorella said: “Residential vacancy rates are prone to seasonal fluctuations over the Christmas/New Year period and 2014 was no different.”
“Many REIQ agents reported softer tenant demand in December, with many leases expiring as students finish up their studies and others also take up employment opportunities in new locations.”
However, Brisbane’s inner market is experiencing weaker conditions than in previous years: In December 2012, the REIQ recorded a vacancy rate of 2%. In the same month of 2011, Brisbane had an inner city vacancy rate of 1.9%.
According to the REIQ, the median price of a unit in Brisbane was $420,000 in the September Quarter. In the latest HSBCDownunder Digest report, HSBC forecasts 6% to 7% price growth for Brisbane homes in 2015, with 4% to 7% forecast for 2016.
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This West End property will be available to rent in March at $540 per week. The two bedroom “near new” apartment was advertised to rent in September at $550 per week, with the asking rent lowered last month.
At its current advertised rent, investors who paid $510,000 in May 2013 will be receiving a yield of 5.6%.
Buyers paid $465,000 for this National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS) unit in July 2014. It was listed to rent late last month for $397 per week – slightly less than the $400 per week the previous owners were expecting this time last year.
According to Domain Group, vacancy rates for units in the greater Brisbane area were higher for units than houses in January, which is normal across all the capital city markets (see graph below).
Source: Domain Group
The unit at Kangaroo Point, has two bedrooms and two bathrooms. Its current advertised rental rate reflects a 4.4% yield.
SQM Research data shows that asking rents for units in the Brisbane inner region have remained relatively stable over the past five years.
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However, there have been recent warnings, including this from Terry Ryder, about the threat of oversupply in the Brisbane inner market:-
A media release this week was positively gushing in its eulogy of the Brisbane inner city apartment market. Sales are surging, it said, and the level of new construction in the pipeline was a cause for celebration. The market, apparently, “continues to shine”.
From where I’m sitting, sales are not surging and the new construction – 14 new projects with 1,400 apartments were launched in the June quarter alone – will make worse an existing oversupply.
The thing is, the people building, promoting and selling apartments are concerned only about finding buyers. They’re not interested in the broader consequences of the projects that are earning them money.
If the apartments in the current project sell, they pocket the profits and commissions, and move on to the next one.
Others have to deal with the carnage created by their projects. And there will be repercussions from the overbuilding of apartments in Brisbane.
The situation in the Brisbane inner city market is not (yet) as serious as that in Melbourne, where the existing oversupply is serious and the future oversupply will border on catastrophic.
But Brisbane is heading down the same slippery slope to surplus as Melbourne.
In Brisbane, as in Melbourne, Sydney, the Gold Coast and other major unit markets, the inspiration for the high level of new building is the Chinese investment market. Everyone is targeting Chinese investors.
Developers and their marketing stooges don’t care about the vacancy rate figures. That’s someone else’s problem. If they can flog their apartments to Asian buyers, nothing else needs to be considered.
The people who will feel the most pain in the future will be the investor buyers. High vacancies will push down rents and the returns they will earn from their investment. That in turn will undermine values.
Others will suffer. Owners of existing properties in or near the inner city will also find it hard to tenant their properties and will have to cut rents. Their values will fall also. Home owners in those areas will be equally affected by falling values.
Overbuilding is a constant and recurrent problem in inner city apartment markets. It’s the reason capital growth rates have been so poor in Brisbane.
The average annual rise in the median unit price in the Brisbane CBD has been around 3% per year over the past five years and also the past 10 years. In real terms, capital growth has been negligible at best.
Suburbs just outside the CBD, including Kangaroo Point, Fortitude Valley and South Brisbane, have similar track records.
This week’s media release claims sales are now “surging” in the Brisbane inner city apartment market. Not according to the sales data I’m seeing. Sales levels did rise last year, with every quarter producing an increase in sales volumes. But the market peaked in the December 2013 quarter and sales activity has declined in 2014.
That probably explains why there has been little price growth in evidence recently. According to Australian Property Monitors data, there was no change to median prices in the CBD and Woolloongabba in the most recent quarter, a rise of about 1% in Fortitude Valley and South Brisbane, and a 4% decrease in Kangaroo Point.
The real issue is that the Brisbane inner city areas already have too many apartments. The CBD and the near city suburbs all have vacancy rates in the 3.5% to 4.5% range. Those vacancy levels would not cause undue concern, except that massive levels of new supply are in the pipeline.
The writer of this week’s media release was clearly excited about the new projects coming up. It scoffed as the “predictable murmurings” about oversupply. But the concerns are real and well-placed. Dozens of new highrise apartment buildings are under construction or in planning, bringing thousands of new units to an oversupplied market.
There’s been a lot of media about the potential for prices to fall because of a “bubble”. There is no bubble in Australian property prices but there is a real threat of value decline in many major markets caused by developer overbuilding.
We’ve seen many times in the recent past how much damage oversupply can do and how much angst it can cause to property owners, including both investors and home owners, when values fall.
The Gold Coast has just emerged from years of falling property values – many people own properties worth less than they paid four or five years ago. The median unit price in Surfers Paradise is still lower than it was in 2009.
Owners of property in Gladstone have suffered double-digit value losses, not because of a decline in demand but because of absurd levels of overbuilding by developers. What were they thinking?
Where overbuilding has coincided with a sharp drop in demand because of a pause in the resources sector, values have dropped as much as 40% from their peak levels, including in Karratha in Western Australia and Moranbah in Queensland.
Inner city apartment markets, including those in Brisbane, face the same risk.
I’m not sure what the solution is, with councils and state governments eager to approve anything that’s proposed and trumpet the outcomes as a construction boom benefiting everyone. Until Chinese investors realise they’re being sold over-priced apartments for which there is little or no tenancy demand, developers will continue throwing up high-rise in inner Brisbane and elsewhere.
The outcome, in some places at least, will be a market crash that will be ugly to behold.
I’m urging investors and owner-occupiers to stay well away from these markets”
While in September had heard reports of rents softening, with rents previously “quite inflated”.
“About what’s driving growth in Brisbane’s apartment sector and what this means for the property market.
What are some of the growing trends in Brisbane’s inner city off the plan apartment market?
We’ve never really seen this much activity in Brisbane.
It’s a pretty exciting time for Brisbane, with this level of development and also infrastructure growth, through master plans and government infrastructure.
Brisbane is growing very quickly, from a demographic point of view. Nationally, there are some major changes happening right now in the residential market, and we’re seeing new fundamentals emerging.
What demographic trends are driving the growth of the inner-city apartment market?
The residential market is built off two major demographic groups: the 25-30 year old bracket, which is very large and growing significantly, and baby boomers.
They’re very complex groups, so I normally hate to say “Gen Ys and baby boomers”. But they are major demographic groups in the residential market.
We’re seeing major changes in the type of properties that they’re looking for. The trade off they have to make to cope with the cost of living is definitely having some implications for demand.
We’re also seeing changes in infrastructure and where that’s being invested. We’re seeing much less urban sprawl and much more upwards development. It’s cheaper to upgrade and put infrastructure in central areas where there’s already a major population, rather than emerging regional areas.
Where is apartment growth focused?
The major development is happening is along corridors where there is existing infrastructure, or proposed future infrastructure. Running from Woollongabba/South Brisbane coming through to the CBD and going into FortitudeValley/Bowen Hills and going all the way up to Portside Wharf/Hamilton – that’s where we’re seeing a lot of supply and demand.
These emerging developments are all still fringe based. The CBD is probably undersupplied – it’s got a few developments on their way, but it predominately the growth is in the fringe areas.
For apartment developers, there were better opportunities in the fringe. In South Brisbane, there was very little supply, and it made perfect sense to develop because the infrastructure was already there. The same was the case in Fortitude Valley.
Is there a threat of oversupply in the Brisbane apartment market?
There are a couple of things we need to get clear on in terms of apartment development from a supply point of view. We often talk about 23,000 apartments in the inner Brisbane market, which are either in the application, presale, or approvals stages, but you can’t look at thin air.
We care more about settlement, which has been pretty fragmented. There is a lot of stock coming through the off the plan through to the end fo 2015. It’s a very hot market, but it really is about that settlement.
Rents are definitely aligning. They’re starting to move away from the inflation period we had that was created on low supply. That, to me, is saying that developments are doing what they should.
2015 is definitely going to be very competitive for the off the plan apartment market. We’re probably going to see a lot of developers not get off the ground, which is going to affect supply.We look at a lot of these developers playing in Brisbane and to be honest, there are some that have not proven themselves yet.
There are still a lot of challenges when it comes to taking that glut of supply and making it a tangible product.
At the moment, there are going to be areas that are going to have some fluctuations, which always happens. We’re going to need continued population growth, through migration and international students, which are very important to Brisbane’s inner city rental market.
Brisbane is also very closely related to what’s happening in Sydney, and prices are obviously high there, which may drive demand for Brisbane.
The one thing that we definitely know is that we’re going to see more renters come through.
The cost of living is unfortunately not getting any easier. In Australia, the employment opportunities are very centralised. The infrastructure is very challenging as we go further out, and in the capital markets, the 15 kilometre to 20 kilometre ring from the CBD is very difficult market to get into for young buyers.
The ability to own their own home is a big trade off for younger people – if they buy further out, that’s going to cost them more in terms of fuel. Thats why we’re looking at the apartment market. Sure, supply is coming through, but the challenges facing buyers and the demand growth is here to say.
It will go through the fluctuations, and developers are great at getting a good thing while they can, and then we’ll see a correction.
How will the influx of new apartments affect Brisbane’s rental market?
We are hearing that rents are softening.
The owner occupier market is really taking an effect on the existing apartment market and the more mature stock on the market, taking that away from renters. So the new apartment market is obviously catering to renters.
Rents have been quite inflated, so we have a buffer. Now, we can make things align, and it’s getting a bit better from an affordability point of view. The time to fill an apartment is growing, but still pretty good. Instead of one week, it’ll take a month or two months to fill an apartment.
To me, this is a normal thing, and means developers are doing their jobs.
Historically, December always seems to have a lot of vacancies, and so does the March quarter because it includes January. In June it always comes back again, to around the 3% mark.
There are going to be pockets where there are going to be some realignment in rentals, which I think is positive. It’s a good thing for the renter, who can see what amenity they get for their dollar. There’s going to be some good choice there, and affordability will improve. That’s a good thing.”
Do you believe that Brisbane’s inner city is getting weak too?
Best Regards Linda & Carlos Debello “Your Local Property Management Specialist” LJ Gilland Real Estate Pty Ltd (http://www.ljgrealestate.com.au) PO BOX 19 ZILLMERE 4034 (07) 3263 6085 0400 833 800 (Mob 1) 0413 560 808 (Mob 2) 0409 995 578 (Linda)
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