Are SMSFs driving up property prices?

Are SMSFs driving up property prices?

Property has long been a popular investment strategy for Australians. However, increased investment activity in residential property by self-managed superannuation funds (SMSFs) is worrying regulators amid concerns it may be pushing up house prices.

In its just released Financial Stability Review, the Reserve Bank of Australia noted that SMSFs have become more active in the property investment market following changes in legislation since 2007 that have allowed the funds to borrow money to invest in property.

The RBA warned in the report: “One risk of the increase in property investment by SMSFs is that at least some of it is a new source of demand that could potentially exacerbate property price cycles.”

Who’s to blame?

If you are in the market to buy your first home, the prospect of rising property prices would be worrying. But are SMSFs to blame?

Helen Hodgson, senior lecturer at the University of NSW’s School of Tax and Business Law, said SMSFs are just one factor contributing to increased activity in the property market, which in turn drives up property prices.

For starters, historically low interest rates are encouraging more individuals – not just self-managed superannuation funds – to buy investment properties, she said. Another factor at play is the increase in foreign investors buying property in Australia – in the three months to the end of September, foreign investors snapped up 12 percent of property sales across Australia, while SMSFs account for about 10 percent of sales.

“Yes, we’re having a lot of activity in the property market. The question is what’s driving that activity,” Hodgson. “I’d be reluctant to say it’s driven by one group or another, but certainly the combination is heating up the market.”

SMSF remains a small player

The SMSF Professional Association of Australia has downplayed the role of SMSFs in heating up the market, saying that residential property is a minor element of the SMSF investment market.

Dr Andrew Wilson, senior economist with Australian Property Monitors, agreed. “There are significant obstacles to investment by SMSF in residential property and as such I believe it remains a niche segment of the current investment market,” he said. “However, there is no doubt that it’s a growing influence although currently minor.”

One third of all Australian superannuation assets are held in SMSFs. If you are a member of a self-managed super fund and would like to research SMSF loans to invest in property, you can do so on RateCity.com.au.

Where are prices rising?

According to Dr Wilson, house price growth due to increased investor activity is largely in Sydney’s western suburbs and some regional areas such as Toowoomba in Queensland. “Price rises in Perth, another recently popular investor market, appear to be flattening,” he said.

“The latest ABS [Australian Bureau of Statistics] investment loan data reports a drop in national investment activity over August to $8.9 billion, with only NSW recording a very small rise over the month,” Dr Wilson added.

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Usually, these loans have higher interest rates and a shorter repayment duration.

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A line of credit, also known as a home equity loan, is a type of mortgage that allows you to borrow money using the equity in your property.

Equity is the value of your property, less any outstanding debt against it. For example, if you have a $500,000 property and a $300,000 mortgage against the property, then you have $200,000 equity. This is the portion of the property that you actually own.

This type of loan is a flexible mortgage that allows you to draw on funds when you need them, similar to a credit card.

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Stamp duty is the tax that must be paid when purchasing a property in Australia.

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Pre-approval for a home loan is an agreement between you and your lender that, subject to certain conditions, you will be able to borrow a set amount when you find the property you want to buy. This approach is useful if you are in the early stages of surveying the property market and need to know how much money you can spend to help guide your search.

It is also useful when you are heading into an auction and want to be able to bid with confidence. Once you have found the property you want to buy you will need to receive formal approval from your bank.

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Equity refers to the difference between what your property is worth and how much you owe on it. Essentially, it is the amount you have repaid on your home loan to date, although if your property has gone up in value it can sometimes be a lot more.

You can use the equity in your home loan to finance renovations on your existing property or as a deposit on an investment property. It can also be accessed for other investment opportunities or smaller purchases, such as a car or holiday, using a redraw facility.

Once you are over 65 you can even use the equity in your home loan as a source of income by taking out a reverse mortgage. This will let you access the equity in your loan in the form of regular payments which will be paid back to the bank following your death by selling your property. But like all financial products, it’s best to seek professional advice before you sign on the dotted line.

How can I get a home loan with no deposit?

Following the Global Financial Crisis, no-deposit loans, as they once used to be known, have largely been removed from the market. Now, if you wish to enter the market with no deposit, you will require a property of your own to secure a loan against or the assistance of a guarantor.

What is appraised value?

An estimation of a property’s value before beginning the mortgage approval process. An appraiser (or valuer) is an expert who estimates the value of a property. The lender generally selects the appraiser or valuer before sanctioning the loan.

Do mortgage brokers need a consumer credit license?

In Australia, mortgage brokers are defined by law as being credit service or assistance providers, meaning that they help borrowers connect with lenders. Mortgage brokers may not always need a consumer credit license however if they’re operating solo they will need an Australian Credit License (ACL). Further, they may also need to comply with requirements asking them to mention their license number in full.

Some mortgage brokers can be “credit representatives”, or franchisees of a mortgage aggregator. In this case, if the aggregator has a license, the mortgage broker need not have one. The reasoning for this is that the franchise agreement usually requires mortgage brokers to comply with the laws applicable to the aggregator. If you’re speaking to a mortgage broker, you can ask them if they receive commissions from lenders, which is a good indicator that they need to be licensed. Consider requesting their license details if they don’t give you the details beforehand. 

You should remember that such a license protects you if you’re given incorrect or misleading advice that results in a home loan application rejection or any financial loss. Brokers are regulated by the Australian Securities & Investment Commission (ASIC), as per the National Consumer Credit Protection (NCCP) Act. 

What are the responsibilities of a mortgage broker?

Mortgage brokers act as the go-between for borrowers looking for a home loan and the lenders offering the loan. They offer personalised advice to help borrowers choose the right home loan for their needs.

In Australia, mortgage brokers are required by law to carry an Australian Credit License (ACL) if they offer credit assistance services. Which is the legal term for guidance regarding the different kinds of credit offered by lenders, including home loan mortgages. They may not need this license if they are working for an aggregator, for instance, as a franchisee. In both these situations, they need to comply with the regulations laid down by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

These regulations, which are stipulated by Australian legislation, require mortgage brokers to comply with what are called “responsible lending” and “best interest” obligations. Responsible lending obligations mean brokers have to suggest “suitable” home loans. This means loans that you can easily qualify for,  actually meet your needs, and don’t prove unnecessarily challenging for you.

Starting 1 January 2021, mortgage brokers must comply with best interest obligations in addition to responsible lending obligations. These require mortgage brokers to act in the best interest of their customers and also requires them to prioritise their customers’ interests over their own. For instance, a mortgage broker may not recommend a lender who gives them a commission if that lender’s home loan offer does not benefit that particular customer.

How to break up with your mortgage broker

If you find a mortgage broker giving you generic advice or trying to sell you a competitive offer from an unsuitable lender, you might be better off  breaking up with the mortgage broker and consulting someone else. Breaking up with a mortgage broker can be done over the phone, or via email. You can also raise a complaint, either with the broker’s aggregator or with the Australian Financial Complaints Authority as necessary.

As licensed industry professionals, mortgage brokers have the responsibility of giving you accurate advice so that you know what to expect when you apply for a home loan. You may have approached the mortgage broker, for instance, because you have questions about the terms of a home loan a lender offered you. 

You should remember that mortgage brokers are obliged by law to act in your best interests and as part of complying with The Australian Securities and Investments Commission’s (ASIC) regulations. If you feel you didn’t get the right advice from the mortgage broker, or that you lost money as a result of accepting the broker’s suggestions regarding a lender or home loan offer, you can file a complaint with the ASIC and seek compensation. 

When you first speak to a mortgage broker, consider asking them about their Lender Panel, which is the list of lenders they usually recommend and who may pay them a commission. This information can help you decide if the advice they give you has anything to do with the remuneration they may receive from one or more lenders.