29th September 2017

Australian policymakers are taking action with taxes in response to local complaints over the ascending price of real estate, due to flocks of foreign investors.

In Melbourne and Sydney’s high-end residential buildings, many apartments costing around $1 million are left vacant and dark at night. These homes, aptly named ghost homes, have been bought by mostly Chinese investors living overseas who wish to diversify their wealth in foreign assets. As a result, Australian locals have noticed the price for a home has become surprisingly high, so high that even middle-class families cannot afford them.

New taxes imposed nationwide

To cope with public disapproval, Australian local governments have increased taxes on foreign buyers purchasing a property in their states.

In New South Wales, the surcharge of stamp duty for foreign buyers has been doubled from 4% to 8%. Land tax has increased from 0.75% to 2%, and a new tax—especially designed for such situations—has also been enacted in Western Australia.

Similar to NSW, the government of Victoria stopped stamp duty concessions for investors from overseas and replaced it with a 1.4 - 5.5% stamp duty charge. A tax of 1% on vacant property was also imposed.


Chinese ownership

According to Credit Suisse, 16% and 25% of the new homes in New South Wales and Victoria were bought by foreigners. The Chinese are considered the biggest group of foreign investors in the Australian real estate market. From 2015 – 2016, the group spent $32 billion on property purchases, mostly in Melbourne and Sydney. To put that number in perspective, that’s more than four times the amount that Americans spent.

A study from CoreLogic Inc. revealed that the price for a Sydney home has doubled since 2009. This has caused local residents to blame foreigners for both rising housing costs and homelessness, which they believe is fueled by the many homes that are bought and left vacant.

According to an analysis by the City Futures Research Centre, more than one in 10 homes were empty the night they took a census in 2016. The survey also concluded that vacant residences in Melbourne and Sydney have risen 19% and 15% in the past five years.


Reaction from Chinese investors

Regardless of the new rules meant to discourage them, millionaire investors from China are still interested in investing in Australia’s real estate market. As the Yuan currency is not performing well, they see Australia as a haven for their cash. What’s more, the price of a two-bedroom apartment in Shanghai is still 25% more expensive than in Sydney and Melbourne. Therefore these Chinese investors believe they are getting a great deal when purchasing a home or apartment in Australia.

However, this new tax reform is causing some Chinese investors to rethink how they are utilising the properties they purchase. Rather than using the property as a holiday home and leaving it vacant the rest of the year, some may consider renting property out through Airbnb, for example.

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