The key word in the decision to invest in an Off-The-Plan (OTP) property for me is the word Plan.

Let me ask you, what does your Personalised Property Investment Plan (PPIP) look like?

See, before we get into the pros and cons of buying OTP, let’s just take a moment to discuss what your PPIP looks like?

Having spoken with thousands of investors over the years, I am staggered to see how few investors have a written PPIP, that clearly outlines their objectives, strategies and timelines effectively.

What this can mean is that you are not working your plan, you are probably helping someone else with theirs.

To me, creating a PPIP is perhaps the most important step towards ensuring your success as a property investor, and yet so few take the time to create their own PPIP.

But why is that?

Well, it probably comes down to just one of a small number of reasons.

  1. They don’t know how to create a PPIP. This is probably at the core of most investors failure to create a PPIP. Let’s face it this is a skill not commonly taught at home, at school, or in any workplace. So, without having an experienced investor to show you how to create your PIPP, chances are it will never get done, or if done, it may not be very effective.
  2. They don’t have time? Second on the list would be that most people think that they are too busy to create a PPIP. But busy doing what exactly? The old saying “ A stitch in time, saves nine” could perhaps be better translated into property investing parlance as “A PPIP in time, saves $9k, $90k or even $900k”. Careful planning upfront, really could save you both time and money in costly mistakes. Ask yourself what are the potential consequences of not planning your portfolio upfront?
  3. I don’t need any help? Many investors may erroneously let pride get in the way of optimal results at times. I am not saying that everyone needs help, but my experience has shown me that the vast majority of investors could have improved their results had they been open to working with an experienced mentor who could show them how to better fast-track their results and eliminate the costly errors ahead of time.

Did you relate to any of those?

Now having, gotten that important proviso out of the way, and assuming that buying OTP is a part of your PPIP, lets now take a look into the positives and negatives of buying OTP property.

When discussing OTP, property purchases we are referring to new dwellings that have yet to be fully constructed. That is they have a set of plans and development approvals to construct but the actual construction, and therefore certificate of occupancy, is yet to be finalised. Please, also be aware that there is a misconception that OTP purchases only apply to inner city high rise apartments. OTP purchases can occur in any location, and be applied to everything for a single house and land purchase, to boutique infill development sites in blue-chip suburbs, all the way through to inner city high rise apartments so it is important you understand that not all OTP properties will be equal.

PROS:

  1. STAMP DUTY SAVINGS…

Perhaps the biggest pro is the ability to save a significant amount of money on Stamp Duty. For example, in Victoria, Revenue Ruling DA.048, which came into effect in October 2008, allows for stamp duty concessions to be calculated based upon the type of dwelling being built, and how far along the construction of the dwelling is. Because these calculations can be a bit dry, let me illustrate this with an example. So let’s assume we had $100,000 saved and we had the ability to get a further $400,000 loan to purchase an investment property for $500,000 in Victoria (assuming this purchase is for investment purposes, you are an Australian resident for tax purposes, and you are not a first home buyer). If this property was fully built (new or existing) no stamp duty concessions would be available and Stamp Duty of $26,445.60  (http://stampduty.calculatorsaustralia.com.au/stamp-duty-victoria) would be payable.

Now let’s look at the various stages of OTP construction, and the various types of dwellings, and the concessions available for each.

There are 2 main methodologies for calculating Stamp Duty concessions, namely

  1. Fixed Percentage &
  2. Alternative Method (this requires a declaration of land values and the actual cost of construction and is therefore more complex and less commonly used and I will not discuss this further)

Additionally, there are 3 classes of buildings

  1. Single lot freestanding
  2. Multi-lot low rise – up to and including 3 levels (excluding basements)
  3. High rise 4 levels or above (excluding basements).

And to make it even more complex, there is:

  1. Single lot approach (used when the construction works for the property/lot is notdependent on the completion of construction works for all properties in that development and separate approvals including certificate of occupancy can be obtained for the individual lot/unit) &
  2. Whole of Project Approach (this approach should be used for multi-lot low rise or high rise developments but can also be used for a single lot development).

When using the Whole of Project Approach the following figures are allowed:

Class of Building works component (% cost of construction of contract price)

Single lot freestanding:  45%

Multi-lot low rise (up to and including 3 levels) 60%

High rise (4 levels and above)75%

Again, to try and keep this as simple as possible, and for the purposes of illustration, let’s just take a look at 3 basic examples.

Example 1. Single Lot. No Construction or improvements have occurred. Essentially, if you entered an OTP contract at this stage, you are only going to be paying Stamp Duty on the unimproved land value as at the time of entering into the contract of sale. So, if for example the finished OTP contract is for say a single lot valued at $500,000 and we assume that the land component is 55% ($275,000) and the building component is 45% ($225,000) then stamp duty is only payable on the land component (no construction has commenced) or $12,419.60. Compared with an existing (or 100% completed new dwelling) that is a stamp duty saving of over $14,000.00.

Example 2. Single Lot. Depending on the stage of construction different amounts of concession are available.

For a single lot, freestanding construction, (although the whole of project approach can be used at 45% of contract price) the following percentages for the various stages of construction may be used as a guide when determining the percentage of works carried out at the contract date:

  • 15 per cent for base (slab/foundations etc.)
  • 30 per cent for frame
  • 65 per cent for lock up
  • 90 per cent for fixing
  • 100 per cent for completion.

If construction, for a single lot was at say 37% complete (or a bit past framing stage), the ruling also allows that to be rounded down to the nearest 10. So in this case we could say that construction, was only 30% complete. Using the whole of project approach, deemed building works component is 45%, therefore 45% of $500,000 = $225,000. Therefore, the deemed uncompleted building works is 70% of $225,000 =$157,500.  The dutiable value would be $500,000 minus $157,500 = $342,500, or a total Stamp Duty payment of $16,627.60.

Example 3. High Rise. No construction has begun. Again, with a contract price of $500,000 the building works component of 75% can be used in the whole of project approach. In this case dutiable component is based on 25% of $500,000 = $125,000 or stamp duty of $3,248.60. That is a saving of $23,197.00 over waiting till the construction has been completed, or buying an existing dwelling of a similar nature.

In summary, the biggest savings on Stamp Duty, are achieved by buying higher density properties (> 4 stories), before any construction has commenced. Remember also that, Stamp Duty is paid over and above the purchase price of the property and is generally not included in your loan amount. In other words, to qualify for an 80% LVR loan on the $500,000 property illustrated above you would need to have the $100,000 deposit plus anywhere from $3,248.60 to $26,445.60 to cover the stamp duty component alone. OTP purchases may therefore, be best suited to those with either low equity / savings, or low Debt Servicing Ratios.

  1. LET TIME BE YOUR FRIEND…

Carrying on from point 1, OTP purchases may enable those with low savings or equity, to provide themselves with the time they need to secure additional funds that they may not have had access to when they entered into the OTP contract.

For example, imagine you only had $50,000 (10% of a $500k OTP purchase) in savings now, but knew that you had either for e.g. an inheritance, investment maturing, bonus, or the ability to save the additional monies to settle the property in the future. Given, that most OTP purchases will not be ready for settlement for 12 months or more, and commonly 18 to 36 months away, this is when with the right planning an OTP purchase can be beneficial to your portfolio growth.

According to the Reserve Bank of Australia’s Bulletin report in September 2015, the 30 years long term average Australian house price growth has increased on average by 7.25% p.a. Therefore, in rising markets, the actual value of your OTP property may go up during the OTP contract phase prior to you having to settle the OTP property.  So, for example we currently have a project we are developing over 2 stages, within 11km of Melbourne CBD, where 1 bedroom apartments were valued in September 2014 at $360,000 (valuation available upon request). Obviously, the Melbourne market has been rising strongly over the last few years, and given that these Stage 2 units have not yet commenced construction, and will not be settling till 2018/19 it is probable that by the time these units settle the value of the property will be greater than the current OTP contract price of $360,000. If you had paid a 10% deposit ($36,000) for e.g. the property is valued at $396,000 by the time settlement occurs, you have been achieved a $36,000 capital gain, or 100% Return on Investment during the construction process alone.

Additionally, locking away prices now, may be of benefit in economic times when rising construction costs mean that it is more likely that property prices are also likely to go up in the future. According, to the International Construction Market Survey 2016 which looks at labour and materials costs, across both commercial and residential projects, predicts that construction costs in Australia are expected to rise 2.5 per cent on average in 2016.

Also, our members will often benefit from our bulk-buying power, as being developers ourselves, we understand the critical timing issues developments face, and are often able to negotiate off-market discounts for our members when the right opportunities arise. For example, developers requiring pre-sales to enable construction funding, or those looking to move onto other projects quickly, are often far more agreeable to better terms or discounts for our members. Sometimes, rather than looking for discounts it is better to cherry pick the development. For example, the ability to have first choice could mean for e.g you get the place with the best view, or a northerly aspect, or the furthest from a busy street.

CONS:

  1. TIME MAY WORK AGAINST YOU

There are a couple of ways in which time may work against you, when buying OTP property.

  1. THE MARKET TURNS

In some cases committing to buy an OTP property at a certain price today, could be disastrous if the market turned, or you simply paid too much for the OTP property in the first place. For example, imagine if you committed to buying a $500,000 OTP property today and the settlement date was 24 months in the future. Unfortunately, if the market changed dramatically, by the time you need to settle the property it may be worth less than your contract price which could place unwanted financial strain on you to come up with the additional funds required to settle these properties.

Additionally, other factors such as conservative valuers, or changes in bank lending requirements could see many people buying OTP thrust into financial difficulty. This is particularly relevant given the current lending changes the banks have imposed on overseas investors for example. Right now, a lot of particularly inner city apartments have been signed up OTP by overseas investors who may no longer qualify for Australian bank lending. We are keeping a close eye on this as it may open up some opportunities for our bulk-buying model to swoop in on some serious discounts as developers and borrowers find themselves potentially in some real trouble. Several of my friends love predatory buying, and often quote “If they aren’t crying, I aint buying” as their mantra.

  1. SUNSET CLAUSES

Many OTP contracts, are commonly more heavily biased towards the developer because they are usually taking on more risk to complete the development that an individual purchaser is. In the case of a sunset clause, this is usually a timeframe (commonly 48 months) that the developer must complete the development. If for example, the development took longer than the sunset clause to complete, usually both the developer and the purchaser can exit the contract. So, whilst the OTP purchaser, is entitled to get their deposits back, there is an opportunity cost loss in this situation to also consider. That is by having that money tied up for many years, and with no investment at the end to show for it, what else could you have done with that money?

In recent years, there have been examples of developers deliberately stalling projects because the markets had moved so much that they were better off rescinding contracts under the Sunset clause, and then reselling the properties at higher prices. In NSW, new laws have been introduced to attempt to put an end to this behaviour.

  1. YOU MAY NOT END UP WITH WHAT YOU THOUGHT YOU WOULD…

One of the general rules of investment is that “They who can handle the most uncertainty, usually will get the biggest returns”. If you want to wait for the property to be fully built, so you can literally walk around and check out every nook and cranny of the property, you will generally be paying full retail for that sense of comfort.

If you can handle a bit more uncertainty, then buying OTP perhaps will allow you to reap the benefits of any uplift in value during the construction phase.

Obviously one of the greatest problems you may face is what you thought you signed up for, may not be what is delivered in an OTP purchase.

Sometimes the finished product will not look anything like the glossy sales brochures, or may be plagued with poor workmanship.

So whilst, a good property inspector should be able to pick up on any defects, and these will remain the responsibility of the builder to rectify, the hassle and inconvenience for the OTP purchaser, and tenants alike, may be more than what some people can emotionally handle.

In summary, as with many things in life, buying OTP is neither good, nor bad. It all boils down to your own PIPP and whether buying OTP is the right strategy for you, at this current stage of your investment journey. As always, we highly encourage you to outperform the market in every strategy wherever possible, by becoming highly educated, working with a great team, and taking action to secure the future you deserve.

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Matthew Bateman
Matt has successfully transitioned from establishing and operating a string a successful health & wellness businesses, to being a full time property investor & developer. Matt has been involved in the development of over $100M worth of real estate around Australia covering the residential, commercial and industrial sectors. As co-founder of www.thepropertymentors.com.au Matt is a sought after presenter, and educator, covering all areas of real estate & regularly wows audiences across Australasia with his knowledge and passion.
Matthew Bateman

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