5 things buyers need to be aware of when taking advantage of the HomeBuilder package

There are so many brand-new designer homes now selling around Australia, and let’s face it, for many of us, the thought of living in a property that has not been lived in by others, or being able to personalise the design of your own home, is appealing.

As consumers, we can choose from many different types of new properties available to us, including a unit, townhouse, duplex or even a house-and-land package in a new estate.

But it is important to be aware of the pitfalls of brand-new properties before jumping in and committing to a new home purchase, especially in the instance where the federal government is incentivising buyers to purchase these types of properties over established properties.

Here I explain five reasons why building a brand-new house to take advantage of the HomeBuilder package may not actually pay off over the longer term.

1. You are paying for someone else’s profit

The property development process involves a number of steps to deliver the end product to the market. Usually, from the time a site is acquired by a developer to the time a property is completed ready for sale to the consumer, the steps include obtaining council approval, obtaining building approval, construction, marketing and sales. Every step in this process involves a cost, and every consultant, contractor or company engaged along the way will usually make a profit. 

This accumulative cost resulting from the development process is built in to the purchase price for a new property, so despite the benefits of a government grant, you will still be paying a premium. Think about this: engineers, building designers, certifiers, surveyors, builders, project marketers, sales agents and the developer themselves will all be making money, and this is always reflected in the listing or offer price for the new property. These are all “hidden” costs, and they could be equivalent to a number of years’ worth of capital growth, which will be putting you behind right from the outset.

Remember, if someone is helping you with the process of purchasing a new property, but their service is “free”, then it is likely that they are being paid directly by the developer. Ultimately, this means that you are paying for their services anyway, because it will be built in to the purchase price.

2. You are likely to experience low capital growth

When we look at new house and land properties, we generally find that the location of these new estates is on the outskirts of our major capital cities. This is usually where there is an abundance of land available, and therefore an almost endless supply of new housing may be possible. We also usually see with these types of new estates that the land is released in stages so that as Stage 1 is nearing completion, the Stage 2 land is released and so the pattern continues. 

The problem lies in the fact that, in most cases, the value of the building depreciates at a faster rate than the value of the land appreciates. Property investors who buy brand-new have the ability to write off the value of the property through depreciation, as the value of the building and its fixtures and fittings reduce. However, home owners do not have this benefit. 

The relationship between the declining value of the building and the slower increase in the value of the land has an effect on the capital growth for a property soon after purchase. Think about this: when Stage 1 within a new estate is sold out and Stage 2 is starting to sell, the price of the Stage 2 properties is generally the same as the original price of the Stage 1 properties. But the Stage 1 properties are now second-hand, so buyers will no longer pay the same price for a second-hand property, when they can buy a brand-new one just around the corner! 

3. There may be uncertainty about the quality of finishes and other building issues

Display homes that are used to demonstrate the brand-new homes that can be built in a new estate are often fitted out with superior finishes and many “extras” that do not form part of the standard inclusions on a new house and land contract. Many buyers can be confused about what they are actually getting, and in some cases, even basic features such as driveways, fencing, a mailbox and a clothesline may not be part of the standard price. Getting the contracts reviewed by a professional before signing up for these types of opportunities is critical so that there are no costly surprises along the way.

Furthermore, just because a property is brand-new does not guarantee that it will be completely free from faults and issues. It is always a good idea to perform your own due diligence on the builder and find out from previous customers if the after-sales service of the builder and developer lives up to their promises. This is especially true now when the industry is being incentivised through government grants. You need to be sure you select a quality builder!

4. You don’t know what the surrounding neighbourhood will look like

One thing often overlooked by people buying in brand-new estates is that you have very little control over what the surrounding neighbourhood may look like. At the time of purchase, for example, you may have a lovely outlook, but that may be impacted by the future development that is underway in the immediate area. 

You also have no control over what the neighbouring homes may look like. In an established area, it is not unusual to consider the appeal of the street when making a purchasing decision. But when all of the homes in the street are not yet constructed, then you are at increased risk of the area being different to what your vision may be.

Another big unknown when buying a new house-and-land package is that it is likely that you will not know the demographic information of the other residents buying in the same area. This is something that is already known in established areas, so property buyers can get a feel for the suburb and who lives there. You also have no control over whether your neighbours are likely to be predominantly owner-occupiers or whether the area will be dominated by tenants. 

5. You increase the risk of settlement default

There is a possibility that the value of a new house-and-land property may decrease between the original contract date and when construction is completed and settlement is due to take place. This has certainly been the case in some instances over recent years where property values have fallen in some areas throughout Australia. If a pre-settlement valuation is less than the original value when finance was first set up, then there could be a shortfall in funds to complete the sale. This may leave some buyers scrambling for cash to make up the difference.

No one wants to be in this position, so it is important that you understand this risk and have a financial buffer in place to cover any shortfall, in the event that the market value falls during the construction period.

There are plenty of reasons why building a new house may appeal to property buyers, and there are obviously some lifestyle elements that will contribute to this decision as well for home buyers. Government incentives such as the HomeBuilder package as well as other incentives, including First Home Owners Grants and Transfer Duty concessions, when combined, provide big benefits to buyers wanting to enter the property market. Many developers use these incentives as a lure to attract buyers to their brand-new properties. It is important that buyers are aware of this and make sound decisions based on what is right for them over the longer term, and not what will give them the greatest short-term benefit.

The HomeBuilder stimulus has been designed to help stimulate the construction industry and encourage buyers to fast-track their building decisions. But it is important to be aware of the pitfalls to prevent your home purchase from becoming a financial drain or a lifestyle burden. A home purchase should be planned as part of an overall property investment strategy, so if your goal is to build equity and focus on sustained capital growth, these things need to be considered. No one wants to have sleepless nights because of the decisions they make about where and how they want to live.