March 2021

This is the 32nd in a series of articles summarising monthly news and happenings in Sydney real estate, and more broadly.

Floods and housing

This month Covid-19 takes a back seat to the new disaster of the extra-ordinarily wet weather around the NSW coast and Sydney. The ABC discussed insurance premiums for properties in and around flood prone areas and where not to build, buy or rent. In respect to a potential insurance figure of $30k per annum for affected properties, the article quotes The chief executive of the Insurance Council of Australia, Andrew Hall, as saying, “If you live in a very high-risk area where your entire house could be flooded on a regular event then, yes, it’s probably likely that’s what you’d pay.”

This then potentially includes large areas of the whole Nepean and Hawksbury flood plain. A story in the Guardian states about 70,000 people live in affected areas, and that the State government is also seeking to increase the population to 200,000 by 2050. An interesting point is made that increased development reduces the amount of area where the ground can naturally absorb water, as hard ‘impervious’ surfaces such as bitumen and concrete increase runoff, thus potentially exacerbating the ‘bathtub effect’. In other words, more homes = (potentially) worse floods.

The bathtub effect is explained by another ABC article. In a nutshell, a bathtub is filled by turning on the taps and causing a restriction in the outflow (ie putting in a plug). The Sydney basin may not have a plug per se but there are several points where the waterways are severely restricted, which is in effect acting like a plug by restricting the natural flow of water out to the ocean. Apart from other things, the greater the amount of runoff (due to artificial surfaces), the greater the amount of restricted water will get backed up.

On a similar topic, Domain discussed the rights of renters should their property become flooded, and urges them to get in touch with their agents or landlords immediately. The bottom line? David Gray, chief executive of a Port Macquarie real estate, is quoted as saying, “If a property is uninhabitable the rent stops straight away.” He also added that a rent reduction can also be negotiated for partial water damage.

In the same article, Tenants’ Union of NSW chief executive Leo Patterson-Ross is quoted however, as saying that, “This is very situation-dependent and people should seek advice.” He also advises that negotiations should be done in writing or by appointment (rather than, say fronting up to the real estate and making a scene when demands can’t be immediately met). Mr. Patterson also notes that a tenant can break a lease immediately if a property becomes partially or wholly inhabitable.

Farmland near Windsor (Shutterstock)

Stamp Duty

With Sydney home values reaching a new all time high in March, as reported by CoreLogic, opportunities for new home buyers to sidestep stamp duty (by buying under $650k, or with a reduced amount by buying under $800k) are dwindling in the harbour city.

Domain spruiked the benefits to first homebuyers of buying in particular lower cost Sydney areas. South West areas including Liverpool, Airds (Campbelltown), and North West areas around Box Hill / Riverstone were the top picks. The article also offers how much first homebuyers have accumulatively saved in these areas.

How long the discussion around stamp duty will last is also up for grabs as The Real Estate Conversation discuss that an important step in transitioning the NSW Government away from stamp duty is to concentrate on the end game; not to get bogged down in the transition. The article lists sound points and solid practical reasoning from HIA’s chief economist, Tim Reardon, in his submission to the consultation process for this change towards the more proposed land tax to replace it.

On the flipside, stamp duty is also being noted for the breaks and reductions that are possible with it. With the current Sydney housing explosion now being on the cusp of being described as a boom, Domain quotes AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver as saying,

“We don’t want a boom, then a bust property market because then the government will add more incentives and it will happen again,” Dr Oliver said. “We need something more sustainable.”

Dr Oliver says that macroprudential incentives need a rapid review in order to keep things contained, and incentives like stamp duty breaks may need to be reviewed.