Puzzle Finance Blog


The ideal time of year to buy or sell property


 
If you're looking to buy or sell property, when's the best time to do it?

Views are mixed on this. Some put it down to seasonal factors, others say it becomes a market-by-market and personal decision.

Many homeowners choose to sell in spring to show off their property at the nicest time of year.  Photo: Graham Tidy Seasonal selling

Traditionally, autumn and spring are the two distinct periods for selling property. Both are defined by key Australian holidays, particularly autumn as people often use the summer to take stock of where their lives are going and indeed how on earth to get there.

Spring tends to do well as people generally see this as an opportunity to present property in the best light and it also allows them to get their affairs in order before Christmas. 

We certainly saw that with the slightly stronger price growth in spring 2016, over earlier in the year.

The tip here is that if you are selling out of busy areas, avoid peak periods as too much traffic or lack of parking can be a real turn-off.
Autumn, and particularly that pre-Easter Super Saturday auction weekend, is also when we see the largest number of property sale contracts, according to data company CoreLogic.

But Charles Tarbey, chairman of property group Century21, doesn't buy into the seasonal factors.

"In recent years the traditional seasons of real estate have been less pronounced and sellers may be better served by researching market dynamics in the area and making an informed decision on that information," Tarbey says.

"Winter is often overlooked as a good time to sell, however it may be possible to achieve great results in winter with [fewer] listings to compete against, which in turn may attract a greater proportion of interest compared to other seasons."

Investors tend to have a bit more flexibility deciding when they'll sell over owner-occupiers, depending on tenancy terms and property conditions of course.

"If you're an owner occupier, it's best to sell before you buy," says Jane Slack-Smith, director of Your Property Success.

"That way you know without doubt what money you have to spend and you don't have to get a bridging loan, which usually results in an ability to borrow less than you normally would.

"But often this means months of renting or a carefully orchestrated sale and purchase and in a fast-moving market most vendors don't need to accept your changes," she added. Seasonal buying

A buyers' market generally isn't a great time to sell because there are more properties available for sale relative to buyer demand and this can weigh on the asking price. 

The Perth housing market has been a good example of this.

"As a region it does well in favour of buyers, with historically high stock levels that has resulted in a very long average selling time and larger discounts from vendors," says CoreLogic research director Tim Lawless.

"But stock levels in Sydney are roughly half of what they were five years ago, and it is this shortage of advertised stock that is creating urgency among buyers which is contributing to the upwards pressure on prices," he said. Market predictions

In the year ahead, property price growth is expected to stabilise and Sydney and Melbourne are expected to see a strong shift back to there being just as many buyers as sellers, plus a pull back in investors.

Many economists believe that with the US raising rates in December this will keep the Reserve Bank of Australia on hold with rates a little while longer, but it doesn't rule out another rate cut in 2017.

Concerns have re-emerged of a recession in the first half of 2017, and that the major banks may also continue to raise interest rates independently of the Reserve Bank.

If this happens, the timing of selling property could be better suited to earlier in the year as buyer demand tends to weaken when consumer confidence suffers in times of economic hardship.

"It can be better to go earlier," says Andrew Wilson, senior economist with Domain Group.

"We have the prospect of perhaps a recession next year that is likely to be announced in March. This could affect market confidence but I don't think it will affect the housing market too much."

Bianca Hartge-Hazelman is the founder of women's money magazine  Financy.com.au.

Posted by Bianca Hartge-Hazelman - The Age on 19th January, 2017 | Comments | Trackbacks | Permalink
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Tips for buyers locked out of Melbourne’s seller’s market


WITH the limited supply of houses that defined last year’s market in Melbourne tipped to continue, it is set to be another tough year for those looking to buy.

While a smaller number of properties means increased competition between buyers, there are certain steps that can be taken to increase the chance of securing a dream property.

According to Harcourts Victoria chief executive Sadhana Smiles, these are the top five tips for those looking to buy in a seller’s market.

1. WEATHER YOUR EMOTIONS AND MANAGE EXPECTATIONS

“More often than not, buyers will need to attend several auctions before finding success and it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the process and variables before embarking on the home-buying journey,” Ms Smiles said.

“Auctions can be stressful, tedious activities, particularly when you’re emotionally invested in a property. You will lose several homes that you pictured a life in; be mentally prepared for this so as not to lose hope.”

Ms Smiles said it was important not to over-invest in a home and if nervous it may be a good idea to enlist family or friends to bid on your behalf.

2. KNOW THE MARKET YOU’RE BIDDING IN 

“The value of a house is what someone is prepared to pay on the day. Value comes down to how many parties are financially and emotionally invested,” Ms Smiles said.

“You may arm yourself with research and recent sales, but in today’s market this will only provide an indication of what the home could go for.”

She said to remember that while you’re buying a home, property is ultimately an investment, “so think about the long-term capital gains”.

3. CONSIDER ENGAGING A BUYER’S ADVOCATE

“If you feel engaging a third-party expert will help alleviate your stress on the day, consider engaging a buyer’s advocate,” Ms Smiles said.

“Buyer’s advocates will help make your auction experience and decision making on the ground based on logic.”

4. BE TACTICAL IN YOUR BIDDING APPROACH 

Be confident in your bidding.


“There are many opinions on what the ‘right strategy’ is to bidding at auction. My opinion is there are many that work, but again it all depends on who’s in attendance on the day and how invested they are,” Ms Smiles said.

“Always bid confidently. This shows the auctioneer and, more importantly, the other bidders, that you are here to buy and mean business.”

5. BE PREPARED TO SACRIFICE 

Don’t sacrifice a seaside holiday if it’s central to your happiness.

“To achieve a deposit that will allow for a manageable home loan, lifestyle sacrifices are necessary,” Ms Smiles said.

“As you’re in a bidding war for your ideal property, you’re going to run a list in your head of everything you would give up to be able to stretch your budget.

“This is fine, but know your limits and what lifestyle will truly make you happy. If a holiday, new clothes and two cars are part and parcel of you and your family’s happy life, don’t go there.”

Posted by Jordan Marshall - Herald Sun on 13th January, 2017 | Comments | Trackbacks | Permalink
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All at once or bit-by-bit? How to tackle your home renovation


If you’re considering renovating your home or investment property, you might be wondering whether to do it all in one go or whether to chip away at it over time.

Of course, getting it done all in one hit can be preferable; mainly to minimise the inconvenience a renovation can cause. But renovating over time has its advantages too. The most obvious reason being that financially you can stretch your costs over a period of time without needing all the money up front. Renovating area-by-area can also work well for families or for properties you don’t want completely out of action for too long.

The problem with renovating your home over time is that it can end up looking that way. Unless your reno is pre-planned for the entire home before you begin, the risk is that you’ll end up with a look that isn’t cohesive. Good renovation design and flow generally only happens when the modernising of your whole home is considered and planned right at the beginning.

I’ve seen many examples where homes renovated over a period of time appear a jumble of design styles. The kitchen; reminiscent of one year, the bathroom reminiscent of a few years later.

The contrast of design styles is even more apparent when the height of the fashion trend is used in each room. For example, the style or pattern of tiles, the taps or the colours.

Another compelling reason to pre-plan your renovation is because it’s a great way to keep your spending under control. If you can plan from the outset what you are going to do to your home and how much it’s going to cost (even if only an estimate of costs) that is a good way to avoid your renovation spiralling out of control, which often happens when renovating over time.

The problem? It’s likely you’ll over-capitalise on your property without even knowing it. Add that to a possible assortment of incompatible design styles and you can see why so often the renovation dream doesn’t quite go according to plan.

Many of my clients renovate over a period of time. In fact, I still have a client from nine years ago calling me periodically for advice on the renovation they started back then! I also have lots of clients who renovate all in one go. Both strategies work equally well as long as the pre-planning phase is done well.

My top tip? Create yourself a “Renovation Action Plan” that details what you are going to do in each room and how much those things are going to cost. Articulate your ideas as clearly as you know how and make sure your design gives a cohesive feel to the property so that it flows.

Head to my website for a sample that you can use as a template.

Jane Eyles-Bennett is renovation mad and has been a professional designer for 23 years. She was a renovation designer on the TV series Property Climbers, winner of several interior design awards and design consultant to over 600 property owners in the past nine years.

Have a renovation or design topic idea? Contact Jane at  jane @hotspaceconsultants.com or via  her website.

Posted by Jane Eyles-Bennett - Domain (The Age) on 10th January, 2017 | Comments | Trackbacks | Permalink
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Why so few of us fix interest rates at the right time


In the past month or so, the window to lock in ultra-cheap mortgage interest rates for the next few years may well have closed, as more banks have jacked up fixed rates.

But how many people do you think got their timing right, and managed to exploit the chance to guarantee cut-price loan repayments? 

 If history is any guide, very few will be patting themselves on the back for fixing at the right time.

Less than one in seven home loans issued in the past six months have been fixed-rates, official figures show, even though these have been the lowest rates on record. Brokers say this share is now ticking up marginally.

Yet when interest rates do inevitably rise, it's likely more of us will belatedly think about fixing the mortgage, as has occurred in previous interest rate cycles. It's just that by then, fixing will be more expensive.

The record for the highest proportion of borrowers fixing their loans, of more than 25 per cent, was in March 2008. Borrowers weren't to know it at the time, but in hindsight that was a terrible time to fix, because the cash rate was at a 12-year high 7.5 per cent, only to be slashed to 3 per cent over the next year in response to the global financial crisis.
 
So, why do few of us fix their mortgages at precisely the right time, while a sizeable chunk will lock in interest rates when they are higher?

Aside from the fact that it is very hard to pick a turning point in any market – that's just life – I think there's a deeper psychological reason why relatively few took the chance to lock in ultra-cheap debt.

Psychologists have found evidence most of us dislike missing out on a bargain more than we enjoy an equivalent gain. It's known as loss aversion – the idea that we are more annoyed about losing $50 than we are happy about getting a $50 windfall.

The principle applies equally in the mortgage market. When fixed loans are being advertised at just 3.5 per cent, many of us probably thought variable loans might get even cheaper (often because the media and people in the financial markets predicted they would).

"I think it's human psychology, I want to chase the absolute cheapest, and I'd feel more peeved about missing the cheapest than having to pay a little bit more," says Mortgage Choice chief John Flavell.

Now, the financial markets have abruptly changed their minds on the outlook for interest rates, and this has made fixing more expensive.

Five-year loans have gone up the most, by about 0.6 percentage points. The fact they have gone up this much means they may still look unattractive, until variable interest rates are significantly higher. But by this time, the cost of taking out a fixed loan will have gone up by even more.

The lesson?

Most of us, including many experts, struggle to fix turning points in financial markets, and that's probably not going to change. But "loss aversion" makes it even harder in the this particular market.

The advice from financial planners is that fixing a mortgage shouldn't be about bargain-hunting, but managing your cashflow and providing certainty.

If you like the idea of knowing what your repayments are going to be, or if money is tight, it can make sense to fix the portion of the loan that you're unlikely to pay off. Given how hard it is to get the timing right, it is common for people in this position to only fix part of the loan, not the whole thing.

Posted by Clancy Yeates - The Age on 13th December, 2016 | Comments | Trackbacks | Permalink
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Homebuyers warned of buyers’ agents pushing up house prices


BUYING property, especially in a heated housing market, can be a tough slog.

Enter buyers’ agents. Sort of like a real estate agent for the buyer, a buyer’s agent can give you advice, help you work out a budget, search for suitable properties, and make offers or attend auctions your behalf.

And in a market crazier than ever, buyers are appreciating the help. Rich Harvey, President of the Real Estate Buyers Agent Association of Australia (REBAA) said the popularity of their members is “absolutely” increasing.

“One [reason] is people are very time poor and just don’t have the time or inclination to go out every weekend and look for property,” he told news.com.au.

“Buyers get very frustrated when they can’t find the right property. We find that most people on their own take at least 12 months to buy a home but a buyer’s agent can speed up that process. Our average turnaround time is around 42 days from start to finish.”

The association, which was founded in 2000 with just six members, has grown to a network of 70 members and counting.

But as popularity increases along with prices, buyers’ agents have been called into question over a conflict of interest.

The CEO of ASX-listed online property agency iBuyNew, Mark Mendel, said buyers agents may play a role in pushing prices up because of the way they are remunerated.

“Buyers’ agents charge between 1.5 per cent and 2 per cent of the purchase price of the property if they find your home and negotiate the deal or secure the property at an auction, which means the fee they charge is linked to the price you pay for the property. That is the less you pay the less they make, which seems counter intuitive to me,” Mr Mendel said.
 
“Their fees can end up being very costly, especially for people who have struggled to save to get on the property ladder.”

Veronica Morgan, Vice President of REBAA, didn’t deny that this sort of bad practice does happen within the industry.

“I have been to auctions myself and I have had selling agents telling me that was a buyer’s agent that bought that property at that price,” Ms Morgan told news.com.au.

“I’ve got selling agents saying to me these buyers’ agents, these new people in the industry, they don’t get it. They think their only job is to secure the property ... They don’t get that they are meant to be advising their clients. But [the selling agents] are going ‘bring it on’. They are happy to deal with these people; they are opening up their clients’ wallets.”

It is the same as rogue operators arising in any industry, Ms Morgan said. And the reason it arises in the buyer’s agent industry is because of the pitiful education standards to become a licenced agent.

“The problem is in this industry that there is a very low barrier to entry and it does my head in. It is the reason I joined REBAA in the first place and the reason I became vice president.

“Unfortunately at the moment it is very easy to get a real estate licence or a buyer’s agent licence in pretty much every state of the country without having any experience whatsoever. You can an online licencing course in most states and you could knock it over in a week.”

As an industry association, REBAA advocates for higher standards and applies its own barriers to become a member of the association, including new-to-industry buyers’ agents having to go through compulsory mentoring as well as having to demonstrate adherence to the association’s code of ethics before they can become a full member.

REMUNERATION MISCONCEPTION

While there are instances of buyers’ agents pushing up house prices under a conflicted remuneration model, Mr Harvey and Ms Morgan said most of REBAA’s members — including themselves — operate on a fee-for-service basis.

“The reason for myself, why we use a fixed fee model, is we don’t want there to be any perception of bias when we’re negotiating for the property,” Mr Harvey told news.com.au.

This fee-for-service, or fixed fee, model means the cost is scaled according to the buyer’s price bracket or determined by individual search parameters. This fee is communicated to the buyer prior to engaging in the service and includes a retainer fee the buyer must pay upfront. It equates to around 2 per cent of the price expectation.

“Let’s say you are buying an apartment for $1 million, you’d pay around a $2000 retainer fee upfront and then the success fee would be around $18,000,” Mr Harvey said.

However, that fee is just for the full service — which includes finding a property, appraising it, negotiating it, and going to auction or making an offer.

If the buyer only wants an agent to attend an auction on their behalf, the fixed fee model has nothing to do with the property price at all. For Mr Harvey’s agency, the auction-only fee includes a $550 attendance fee and $550 success fee (or $950 success fee for a purchase over $1 million).

But whatever model a buyer’s agent uses — fixed fee or percentage of sale — he said it “needs to be in writing and made clear to the client upfront”.

But fees aside, Mr Mendel has also questioned whether buyers’ agents are even necessary for most ordinary homebuyers.

“For the buyer that is incredibly time poor or the buyer that is looking for something really, really particular and it doesn’t matter whether it takes them months or years to find, a buyer’s agent is a good option,” he told news.com.au.

“But for the regular mum and dad purchasing a home or an investment property, is a buyer’s agent really necessary? You need to pay them 1.5 per cent or 2 per cent to help you find a property that is 90 per cent of the time on market anyway? [It is] probably not.”

Posted by Julia Corderoy - News Australia Network on 24th November, 2016 | Comments | Trackbacks | Permalink
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Agents, sellers and buyers reveal the seven deadly sins of selling a home


EVERY homeowner wants to make the most of selling in a competitive property market. 

But with competition sizzling, making one of these easy mistakes could cost you thousands.

Research from online real estate comparison service, Open Agent, reveals the “seven deadly sins” a seller can make when putting their property on the market.

USING THE WRONG REAL ESTATE AGENT

Real estate agents are not a one-size-fits-all service.

Open Agent co-founder Marta Higuera said one of the most common mistakes sellers make is not doing their research properly when it comes to selecting a real estate agent to work with.

“We see a lot of people who end up going with someone they know, like a family friend, who actually operate a long distance from where their house actually is, and they are not the right person to sell the property,” Ms Higuera told news.com.au.

“That’s the most common thing; people making emotional decisions and not doing their research.”

As a seller, it is important to use an agent who operates locally and specialises in selling the type of home you are listing.
 
REMOVING ALL FURNITURE

Believe it or not, removing all your furniture and leaving a blank canvas is not letting the potential buyer be imaginative and creative.

“It allows people to be creative if you have something in place that is not too personalised. Empty houses look smaller,” Ms Higuera said.

“The reality of selling a home is it is a very emotional decision and people need to be able to see themselves living there and it is hard to visualise that if you walk into an empty bedroom.”

BEING AT THE OPEN HOUSE

Hanging around at your own open home telling buyers about the hidden values or sentimental values of the home isn’t adding a personal touch. In the same way it is hard for a buyer to visualise themselves living in the property if there is no furniture, it is hard to do that with the current owner there.

“People want to buy a house and see themselves living there. They don’t want to see the last person that lives in there.”

Ms Higuera said it is better to convey what you love so much about the property or neighbourhood to the real estate agent and let them do the job for you. 

GETTING EMOTIONALLY INVOLVED

Our homes may be a reflection of our unique personalities, but while this can make you feel warm and fuzzy, personal touches are a big turn off for buyers.

“You want [the buyer] to feel it is something they can own and move in to straight away,” Ms Higuera said.

This includes getting rid of personal artefacts around the home, such as photographs and collections, as well as some of the more personalised style elements of the home, such as bold feature walls.

HAVING YOUR DAY-TO-DAY LIFE ON DISPLAY

It seems contradictory to say buying a home is a personal process in the same breath as saying you have to make your home look impersonal. But showing any part of your day-to-day life in open inspections will dissuade buyers. This includes dishes and cutlery, toys, gadgets and clothes. You have to make your house look like a house but not lived in.

“You do need to manage selling with having a family life ... Having a few packing boxes ready [before an inspection] where you can hide these things can do the trick. You should wash and put away all dirty dishes before an open home. Just try to take those sorts of things away before an open home,” Ms Higuera told news.com.au.

OVERLOOKING SMALL AESTHETIC ISSUES

Something that seems insignificant and inexpensive, such as loose plug sockets or loose cupboard doors, can actually knock thousands off your sale price. Ms Higuera said that this is because it can make buyers assume there are deeper problems.

“We are not talking about big renovations but when people see those red flags, they extrapolate and wonder what else they cannot see, and if the house has been properly cared for and maintained.”

So just spend the few extra bucks fixing up those tiny aesthetic things, even if you think it is insignificant.

NOT UNDERSTANDING THE IMPACT OF DIFFERENT ROOMS

Understanding which rooms have the biggest impact on buyers and investing the most in making these rooms sale ready can have a big impact on your sale price. According to Open Agent’s real estate agents and sellers, investing in your kitchen and bathroom will see the biggest return.

“These are the rooms that will be most costly for the buyer to update,” Ms Higuera told news.com.au.

“What we are talking about here is not doing complete renovations yourself but to make it look like renovations are not needed in the buyer’s mind, such as changing the cupboard doors or updating the cupboard handles.”

Posted by Julia Corderoy - News Australia Network on 22nd November, 2016 | Comments | Trackbacks | Permalink
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Australian house hunters and sellers warned about using real estate agent comparison websites


Real estate buyers and sellers have been warned to be wary of online companies promising to connect them with the best possible agent in their area to help with their property transactions.

Most consumers assume the firms, once contacted, check all the agents operating in their suburb, carry out due diligence on them and then work out which ones best suit their needs. But sometimes they turn out to be simply computer programs aggregating agents in the suburb and passing their details and fees on with no checks or balances – and then claiming commission from any successful agents.

“Some of their claims are very misleading,” says agent Doug Driscoll, CEO of real estate agency Starr Partners. “To read their ads, you’d assume they do all the legwork for you as the consumer. But most of them don’t.

“They’re just automated systems that, once you’ve put in your details, spit out agents and then demand to be paid from the agents – who have often already been in touch with those vendors — and threaten legal action.”

One of the services, Local Agent Finder, says they’re in the process of improving their operation. Chairman and one of the founders Rupert Greenhough says more information will be provided to consumers, with endorsements from other customers later this year or early next.

“And on the agent side, a new agent portal is being progressively rolled out at the moment,” he says. “From time to time, we’ll inevitably have disagreements but over time we’re working to increasingly reach out to our customers.”

But NSW Fair Trading is now monitoring operators after being notified about their actions. A spokesperson said they’ve been alerted to the business model used by “various real estate aggregator services”. 

“Enquiries to date have not identified any breaches under the Property Stock and Business Agents Act or Australian Consumer Law,” she said. “[But] as this business model is relatively new in the property sector, Fair Trading is continuing to monitor operators.”

In Victoria, some companies have been sending out emails and then demanding that agents pay it commission.

Ash Marton of Ash Marton Realty in Frankston was so outraged by the demands of Local Agent Finder, he refused to pay, despite threats of court action.

“They’re trying to make money from jam, from doing nothing,” says Marton. “They’re preying on people who are too busy to do the searches and instead just send out a batch of automatic emails and then think they can charge us a 20 per cent referral fee.

“They said they’d given us 200 ‘leads’ in the last 12 months but, of course, they were only able to supply us with the consumer’s details with 55 and of those only nine were serious and most of those we knew the people anyway, and had been already talking to them. We call it the ‘bottom feeder’ model of business.”

Local Agent Finder then took action in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal against Marton, on five claims, totally $11,000. Marton decided to contest all five.

“I thought I have to fight them on principle,” he says. “It’s not fair to either estate agents or to their customers that they operate this way.”

At the Tribunal, on the day of the hearing, Sellmycastle Pty Ltd, trading as Local Agent Finder, suddenly withdrew all its claims. When Marton posted his victory on his agency’s Facebook page, it received 423 ‘likes’ and comments from a variety of both consumers and fellow agents, outlining their outrage after also having dealt with the company.

Greenhough says his company is now working with franchise groups to see how they can address such problems. Currently, if an agent hasn’t conducted an appraisal on a property within the last 60 days, it’s considered that the agency doesn’t have a prior relationship with a customer. That’s now being increased to 90 days.

“There have certainly been situations where we have ended up taking recovery action because we can’t reach agreement with an agent,” he says. “There is tension, but we try to strike a balance. Over time, we’re increasingly reaching out to our customers and, as a growing business, I can’t say we don’t have disagreements along the way, but we are very attuned to them and are finding ways to improve our service.”

Driscoll, however, says that outrage is now being voiced around the country about Local Agent Finder. “I’m all for disruptive business models entering the real estate industry but when they run on an automated system that doesn’t take so many factors into account, it can be very  deceptive,” he says.

“I think a lot of consumers are being misled.”

NSW Fair Trading says that anyone who has a complaint about vendor listing agencies can contact them at fairtrading.nsw.gov.au or phone 13 32 20.

Posted by Sue Williams - Domain (The Age) on 21st November, 2016 | Comments | Trackbacks | Permalink
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Recent Puzzle Finance Blog Posts

19 Jan 17: The ideal time of year to buy or sell property   If you're looking to buy or sell property, when's the best time to do it? Views are mixed on this. Some put it down to seasonal factors, others say i... [More...]
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10 Jan 17: All at once or bit-by-bit? How to tackle your home renovation If you’re considering renovating your home or investment property, you might be wondering whether to do it all in one go or whether to chip away at it ... [More...]
13 Dec 16: Why so few of us fix interest rates at the right time In the past month or so, the window to lock in ultra-cheap mortgage interest rates for the next few years may well have closed, as more banks have jacked up f... [More...]
24 Nov 16: Homebuyers warned of buyers’ agents pushing up house prices BUYING property, especially in a heated housing market, can be a tough slog. Enter buyers’ agents. Sort of like a real estate agent for the buyer, a buye... [More...]