TIM MCINTYRE NEWS CORP AUSTRALIA
IS now the time to buy the dirt-cheap American dream? Australian real estate agents will have you think so, offering local investors guided property tours of the US.
As parts of the United States moves into economic recovery mode, more Australian investors are eyeing its real estate sector, lured by the combination of a strong local dollar, affordable properties and overblown home prices in own capital cities.
While the pitfalls of buying into the dirt-cheap US market have been well documented in recent years, some agents believe the benefits now outweigh the risks with double-digits rental yields in some cities.
Ray White Surfers Paradise has earmarked Atlanta as the place to buy, taking local investors on buying tours in coming months.
A recent advertisement for its tours says Atlanta house prices start at $75,000 so “buy one or buy in bulk”.
The agency says Atlanta was chosen after research into capital growth potential. The city was the fastest growing in the US between 2000 and 2010 with 24 per cent value growth and was rated the number one rental market in the country by Forbes.
“We opened an office in Atlanta because it ticked all the boxes,” said Ray White agent Simon Worthington. “A lot of the Fortune 500 companies are there, it has 31 universities and the busiest and largest airport in the world.”
For the past 12 months, the Ray White Atlanta office has been selling around 20 properties a month.
“The rental returns are high and we are offering a tenant guarantee,” Mr Worthington said.
“The homes have been foreclosed, then when bought, they are given a full renovation and within 30 days, we’ll have a tenant in there for the investor.”
Mr Worthington said a number of vendors that had properties foreclosed after the GFC were still living and working in the area, but were renting; a cheaper option than paying rising interest rates. Limited recourse loans in the US mean people only lose their house when defaulting on a mortgage, unlike in Australia, where lenders can access other assets to cover the costs.
“There is a lot of employment in the city,” Mr Worthington said. “There are low tax and union rates there so multinational companies like Coca Cola and Home Depot are based there.”
Australians have been inundated with advertisements for US property investments in recent years, after house values plunged 33 per cent from their 2005 peak, before bottoming out in 2012, according to figures from data company CoreLogic.
Beware of the risks
However, not all opportunities have been sound investments. Some investors reported being sold bad properties then left to fend for themselves on the other side of the world when issues arose.
“The fact that we have an office over there to manage the property addresses those concerns,” Mr Worthington said. “We help them set up a US bank account and hold their hands throughout the process.”
The tours will involve four days of seeing Atlanta, inspecting infrastructure and meeting developers and property managers. Any investors that decide to go ahead with a purchase will have their plane ticket refunded by Ray White.
Ray White Surfers Paradise will take groups of investors to Atlanta, Georgia, on February 22nd and March 22nd, to view homes ranging between $75,000 and $150,000 in price.
Tips for investors
Opening your wallet to the US property market comes with many unknowns. There is the juggling of exchange rates, navigating a different tax system, and the logistical challenges of managing a home from the other side of the world.
Ensure that the location of your intended purchase is a popular spot for renters and has shown a good rental return in the past.
Avoid areas that have historically experienced frequent inclement weather conditions. These locations could increase the repairs needed to your property.
If you decide to go through an international buying agent, take care to make substantial enquiries to ensure legitimacy before transferring large sums of money to an offshore party. Always choose an agent who is accredited and comes recommended.
Consider all the additional charges that will be associated with buying a property in the US, such as travelling offshore, legal advice both in Australia and abroad and the costs of a buyers’ agent.