Perth prices are quickly going up

Western Australia stamps its mark as a key investment market, writes Peta Tomlinson

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 July, 2013, 6:25am

A funny thing happened after Kevin Rudd ousted Julia Gillard to become Australia's prime minister again. In the 24 hours after the June 26 coup, the phones at Juwai.com a Hong Kong-based Chinese international property portal, rang hot.

Australian residential property searches on the site were already up by 61 per cent since the start of this year, and property viewings were up 162 per cent. But it was the return of the Putonghua-fluent Rudd, arguably more loved overseas than he is at home, which pushed potential investors off the fence, says Andrew Taylor, Juwai.com co-CEO.

Chinese investors are increasingly looking at Perth, in Western Australia, rather than the traditionally favourite cities of Sydney or Melbourne.

Perth is on the same time zone as Hong Kong and the mainland, which is a tick in its favour, Taylor says. But it is also a market on the rise. As recently reported by real estate property valuations firm RP Data, Perth is the best-performing Australian capital, gaining 7.6 per cent in the year ending June. According to its methodology, this is twice the growth of second-placed Sydney (up 3.9 per cent year-on-year), and well ahead of Melbourne, where values gained only 1.8 per cent.

Perth also has three of Australia's top five "housing hot spots", according to the latest annual report on key residential growth areas produced by national building body the Housing Industry Association.

A hot spot is defined as a local area where population growth exceeds the national rate, which was 1.6 per cent in the year to June 2012, and where the value of residential building work approved is in excess of A$100 million (HK$711.6 million). Victoria dominated the ranking, accounting for 10 of the national top 20 hot spots, followed by Western Australia with four in total.

The general area of Perth around Forrestdale, Harrisdale and Piara Waters, having experienced a "phenomenal" population growth rate of 23.5 per cent in the 2011/12 financial year, claimed second spot nationally (behind Bonner in the Australian Capital Territory).

Yanchep and Baldivis, also in Perth, placed third and fourth, with a population growth of 18.8 and 16.4 per cent, respectively. Ellenbrook, a northeastern suburb 25km from the central business district (CBD), came in 14th, with a population growth of 9.9 per cent.

Housing Industry Association chief economist Harley Dale says Western Australia's strong performance signals a recovery in the new home building sector, providing "an indication of the potential in the west".

Agents report that Chinese investors are increasingly looking to tap that potential. One has estimated that about one in 10 off-the-plan apartments in Perth are currently being bought by Chinese investors.

Mark Hay, principal of Mark Hay Realty Group, predicts that Chinese property investment in Western Australia will outstrip Sydney and Melbourne in the near future, led by several recent Chinese acquisitions of large farming land in the Ord River system, and large grain farming enterprises in the south and east of the state.

Hay says: "Coupled with the pronounced involvement of the mining and resource opportunities, I believe Western Australia is far more on the map now with specific Chinese interests than before, which will then obviously have a spin-off for further parties involved with those enterprises visiting West Australia and setting up more specific ties with West Australia."

Frasers Property Australia, which recently marketed its Queens Riverside project at roadshows in Shanghai and Hong Kong, expects several sales as a consequence, according to Lisa McCutchion, the group's marketing manager.

Four penthouses were pitched to potential investors as "simply the best residential apartments Perth has to offer, with panoramic views across the Swan River, Burswood Casino and golf course, W.A.C.A. [Western Australia Cricket Association] Ground and the Perth CBD itself". Yet a new report by SQM Research describes the Perth housing market as "relatively shallow", which can turn on a week-by-week basis.

Downturns can bring periods of very few buyers, but the market can also move quickly upwards when the economy is performing positively, explains Louis Christopher of SQM.

SQM's report notes that while the fortunes of the commodities cycle has a significant influence on Perth prices, "interest rate settings still can make or break it", as evidenced after the 2006/07 peak, when housing approvals fell by 18.7 per cent even before the financial crisis, and prices eventually dropped by 8.1 per cent.

Christopher expects that the Australian market nationally will have cooled but not collapsed by the year-end, recording a slowdown in house price growth from the levels achieved in 2012.

However, even though recent interest rate cuts and falls in the Australian dollar will provide a necessary buffer for Perth, the city's housing market is still tied to the wider fortunes of Western Australia, and correspondingly, the global commodities cycle, he says. Predicting that vacancy rates are set to rise as job lay-offs accelerate, and Perth rents may fall in the second half of this year, SQM concludes that, overall, Perth right now is a property market "only for the brave".



What you can buy for A$3.5 million

A 4,600-sq ft penthouse with a garden terrace at Queens Riverside, East Perth. Facilities include pool deck with heated pool, barbecue area, two Japanese-style hot tubs, residents' gym, concierge and security, and 24-hour room service from Fraser Suites Perth.

What you can buy for A$500,000

ZEN Apartments on Newcastle Street, 1km from Perth CBD. Apartments range from two-bed/one bath, to three-bed/two-bath, and feature balconies, European appliances, reverse cycle air-conditioning and an underground car park. Completion is expected around June 2014.