Renting Or Buying? The Big Housing Question
Does it make better economic sense to buy or rent a property now? According to Curtin University’s property guru, senior property lecturer Dr J-Han Ho, it’s an issue which requires careful research and consideration.
"Housing is the goto investment for many people," he says. "But unfortunately that well known saying 'as safe as houses' is not exactly correct.
"Houses don’t always increase in value. Some property in this current economic period has gone down in value. So, many people would be in negative equity right now because they put all their assets into their home. But it could be just a case of the wrong time and in the wrong location."
While Dr Ho acknowledges that interest rates have rarely been lower since the Reserve Bank Of Australia pruned the official cash rate to 0.1% with the promise that they will not rise greatly for at least the next three to five years, he believes there’s many other factors to consider.
"There’s still a lot of uncertainty around employment and the economy particularly in New South Wales, Victoria and now possibly South Australia with a recent Covid outbreak there," he explains. "And at the same time the cost of housing is just way more expensive especially in NSW and Victoria, so the risk of defaulting is higher."
Meanwhile, according to a 2019 study by EY (formerly Ernest & Young) those who rent properties may be better off than buyers. This is especially pertinent at the moment with rents falling in Sydney and Melbourne through less demand, especially from international students and also those who have found it safest to return to their family homes amid Covid.
In a detailed analysis on renting versus buying, EY reached a conclusion that, over a 10-year period, the renter comes out better off with more disposable income available.
And for the young, who wish to benefit from government initiatives including the First Home Buyers Grants, there’s plenty of risks in buying a property at this time, according to Dr Ho.
"Whenever we have job losses, the younger people with less experience and training are the ones in the firing line. Instead it’s the Goldilocks zones - those between 30 and 40 with at least 10 years job experience and training, who have a better chance of staying employed," he says.
Dr Ho further argues that millennials often go into the housing market blindly without thinking about their future mobility.
"They may consider moving interstate or overseas, he explains. "And their needs might also be very different as they mature, so they’re no longer interested in the ultimate bachelor pad but somewhere to bring up a family close to child care, shops, transport and schools."
And while lenders are currently more flexible when it comes to deposits, which helps to attract new borrowers, Dr Ho is also not convinced that this is a good thing.
"In their golden era, the banks preferred a deposit of 20%. This was not just about creating a good buffer against defaults but it indicated that the person applying for that loan had the financial control to manage their funds and save for that deposit. By these implications, they would also be good at paying off their mortgage," he says.
On the other hand, those hoping to take advantage of low interest rates with an investment property are also advised to spend time on research, according to Dr Ho.
"There’s a big difference in housing investments and other investments." he explains. "If you are clear about investing in the share market versus investing in houses, I would say invest in the share market because it’s what you understand Housing is the investment that most people will go into without doing as much homework. For example, before someone puts in $10,000 to buy BHP shares, they would put in 50 hours of research in understanding how to invest money in shares," he says. "But those same people might just spend a few hours looking for houses which are a much greater investment. It just doesn’t make any sense."
Dr Ho finally cautions that there’s no easy prescription to renting or buying in this climate with so many different factors involved.
"The best advice," he says, "is just not to rush into anything."
ABOUT THE WRITER
Ros Reines is a Sydney journalist and the author of four books. She is currently penning her fifth - a memoir of a life in the me