IF you’re worried about the price you’re likely to achieve for your home in a sluggish market, the last thing you’ll want to be doing is invest more money in it before you sell.  So is it worth styling a property for sale?

Yes say the property stylists, is exactly what’s needed.As Richard Armstrong, director of Melbourne’s the Makeover Group, puts it: “There’s a popularity contest held every week in the suburbs. They’re called auctions.

“In any market, whether it’s booming or on its knees, if you have genuinely comparable properties sitting next door to each other, then the one that is done well is always going to sell for more and faster.”

Michele Ardon of Michele Ardon Interior Design, a property styling specialist in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, says in a small market vendors simply need to spend money on some degree of property styling.

“They are simply not going to get the return they want if it [their home’s presentation] is average,” she says. “If it doesn’t stand out from the crowd, what is there to attract the prospective buyer?”

In the US they call it “home staging” and the queen is Debra Gould (aka the Staging Diva) who writes endlessly on the subject and runs training programs for people looking to set themselves up as professional home stagers.

As Gould puts it: “A house is a product that has to be packaged and marketed to the right target audience at the right price.

“In a slow or buyer’s market, any house is just one of many for sale in a neighbourhood. Real estate agents may say the only way to sell is to drop the price, but this ignores the positive sales impact of improving the product.”

How to improve the product and how much to spend doing it depends on the particular property, but there are some basic rules.

Ardon says the minimum spend is about $6000 and up to “$30, $40, $50,000”, depending on the value of the home, balanced against the possible return.

Armstrong puts the figure you should fork out at “between 0.5 and 2 per cent of the property’s value”.

“I would say 25 per cent of homes in the Sydney metropolitan area are being styled,” says John McGrath, chief executive and founder of McGrath Real Estate.

“People are wanting a one-bedroom flat styled right through to a four-bedroom house.

“We think there are three key pillars to selling a property and they are pricing, marketing and presentation.”

A lot of properties only need a few thousand dollars spent to get them right, says McGrath.

“Most people spend between $3000 and $8000, and my gut feel is that it adds between 5 and 10 per cent sale value.”

He says it can be as simple as removing or adding furniture.

“An agent should be able to give you advice but we do use outside style consultants, too. At the very least re-styling your property will make it sell a lot quicker,” McGrath says.

“The amount you may need to spend – and the possible return you can hope to get – depends on the value of the home we’re talking about,” says Armstrong, who believes – for the purposes of property styling guidelines – you can divide the Australian market into three broad categories: houses up to $800,000; houses between $800,000 and $2 million; and the $2 million plus property.

To ensure a house, in any category, has the best chance of achieving the best price, the minimum that a vendor should do to their property is “make sure everything is finished”, says Armstrong. “That’s [property styling] at the barest, most basic level. It’s things like cracks in walls, broken windows, broken handles.”

The next things that need to be done with all properties is to de-clutter and decorate in colours that are “warm, neutral and light”, he says. “Make it inviting so that people walk in and imagine themselves living there.”

Sometimes a stylist may go as far as a complete strip out of a client’s possessions.

“If I’m going to be a client’s style police,” says Ardon, “then we need to clear the place out, make it look empty and put in some good quality pieces. Sometimes it’s just a case of de-cluttering and renting a little bit of furniture, putting a few things in that make the place stand out.”

Also crucial is the property’s presentation to the street.

“What people experience at the front of the property will always set their expectations of what they are going to get once they walk in the front door,” Armstrong says.

This can mean giving the front yard “good crisp lines”, tidying, pruning and-or replanting garden beds, not to mention modernising the property’s exterior colours.

Armstrong had a client repaint the outside of a worker’s cottage in Melbourne’s Fitzroy.

“I honestly believe it added 30K or 40K to the property,” he says. “The heritage colours that were popular 20 years ago – the soft yellow and the Brunswick green – getting rid of that sort of stuff and working to a more modern colour palette says to everyone doing a drive-by: ‘We’ve got modern colours on the outside because we’re modern on the inside too.’ ”

Once inside (at least for homes worth more than $1.5 million) Armstrong advocates spending money on a “lifestyle” revamp to give it the contemporary feel that will appeal to most possible buyers. “You have to make sure the door handles are updated, light fittings are updated and things like dishwashers, stoves and that sort of thing are updated as well,” he says, adding that this stage might also include investing in a stone benchtop in the kitchen or “significant amounts of landscaping”.

Armstrong maintains that for every $1000 spent the vendor can look to add an extra $3000 on the total price achieved.

Ardon is more upbeat about the rewards of giving a property a makeover. “At the bottom end, if you spend $5000, then you can expect to get $15,000 to $20,000 [more],” she says. “At the top end I think [the return] is in the one to five or one to six ratio.”

That said, she also believes the sluggish market means vendors must make sure their home is memorable.

“You use elements of surprise,” Ardon says. All the basic principles of making your home attractive apply, but in a particularly slow market (not to mention one that already may be more property styling savvy, such as Sydney’s upmarket eastern suburbs) you also need to add “something prospective buyers will remember when they walk out”, she adds.

Perhaps a bright colour for the kitchen bench’s splashback or “wallpaper on a wall as you walk in the entrance”, Ardon says.

“They will have seen six or eight houses and they’ll remember the one with the red splashback.”

Gould, the Staging Diva, has likened the process to speed dating. You may see eight houses one weekend but “you’ll reject most and possibly choose one property to go back to for a second look”, she says.

“Home staging or house fluffing is all about creating the best first impression, paving the way for potential buyers to fall in love.”

Source : Guy Allenby, The Australian Newspaper 30 July 2011

A professional buyer’s agent should find out as much as possible about a property and it’s surrounds for their clients before their client exchanges contracts to purchase. An important part of the due diligence process is investigating whether there are any issues with the local council.

The purchaser’s solicitor or conveyancer will examine the Contract of Sale, and review the 149 Certificate that is issued by the local council. However from my experience many solicitors and conveyancers do not have the time or inclination to thoroughly check all of the issues with the local council, and therefore it is incumbent upon buyers’ agents to do those extra checks.

As buyers’ agents, we should independently call the local council and speak to the Duty Planner or Duty Surveyor to enquire whether there are any past or current Development Applications (DA’s) on the property to be purchased, and also for the surrounding properties. Information received may have a negative impact on the property of interest and may affect whether your client is still comfortable to proceed with the purchase.

Previously rejected DA’s may contradict what a selling agent has advised on what is possible with renovating or extending a property. Other issues that may be disclosed are: unauthorised building works, Construction and Occupation Certificates not issued, and also demolition orders.

Many council websites have a DA Tracker section, where you can see a history of Development Applications on any property within the area of that council.

Some recent examples of issues that I have uncovered from local council checks have been:

A federation house was in a Roseville street that the Kuringai Council had recently re-zoned to Residential 2(d3), allowing multi-storey developments. My enquiries through council disclosed that a large new six-storey development would be built behind this house. The client still proceeded with the purchase but the sale price allowed for this issue.
A house in Fairlight was affected by road widening. The client’s conveyancer ran a check through the RTA that stated that there were no road widening issues for this property. However my enquiries through Manly Council revealed that there was a Road Widening order on this property, that had been issued by the council independently of the RTA. The land resumed would have taken half of the lawn and garden space of the house. Our client decided not to proceed with this purchase.
A Maroubra unit, with open views to the city, was to lose those views due to a new development directly in front of this building. We checked the plans of the new development, and the client then decided not to proceed with the purchase.
In summary, it is very important that council checks are done on prospective properties as part of a buyers’ agent’s professional due diligence. Failure to do so could potentially expose you to litigation and liability with clients if adverse issues are uncovered following their purchase.

By Henry Wilkinson – Principal, Homesearch Solutions, for the NSW Real Estate Institute 2011

Awards for Excellence Homesearch Solutions

The REINSW Awards for Excellence gives recognition to the real estate industry’s top performers. The most prestigious awards of their kind in NSW.

For the second successive year, Henry Wilkinson of Homesearch Solutions has been nominated as a finalist for the 2011 NSW Real Estate Institute (REINSW) in the Buyers Agents Category. The award winner will be announced on Saturday, 15 October 2011 at the Sydney Convention & Exhibition Centre.

 

The question everyone is asking – what will happen to Sydney property prices in 2011? Before we make some predictions for 2011, let’s take a look back at what happened in 2010.

2010 proved to be an interesting year. Until around April/early May 2010, buyer activity was very strong in the inner/middle ring suburbs, with auction clearance rates regularly over 70%. Many of these suburbs showed significant price growth (some areas at as much as 15% in the first 3-4 months). Around early May 2010 however, the market began to soften, influenced by 3 subsequent interest rate rises (in March, April and May), international debt concerns, and a strengthening Australian Dollar deterring overseas and expat buyers. This weakening continued through to the conclusion of 2010, and with clearance rates trending significantly lower, the market was officially off the boil.

There has been a lot of anticipation with the start of 2011. How was the year to begin after the conclusion of 2010, where many properties had failed to sell and were still on the market?

Early indications are that the market has regained some strength after the Christmas break. Auction clearance rates, off to a slow start at 48% for 5th February auctions have improved with the next weeks recording 69% and 63% clearance. We have noticed large numbers at open for inspections of properties up to around $1.5m with good buyer interest for quality properties.

The high $AUD has continued to deter overseas property buyers. As buyers agents we have found that overseas buyers are sitting and waiting for a return to a stronger $USD. This has particularly impacted high-end properties and has presented some good buying opportunities, in some cases more than offsetting the poor conversion rates. This situation is unlikely to continue indefinitely and when rates return to more usual levels, we are predicting the return of overseas purchasers and higher premium property prices.

For investors, rental vacancy rates remain low at 1.4% for December 2010, with inner ring suburbs facing the greatest shortages with a 1.1% vacancy rate. Rental price rises are evident, as a result improving yields for investors.

We do believe that the market indicators are strong. Australia has high employment, historically relatively low interest rates (with no major changes expected in the short term), high levels of population growth and insufficient housing development, which will all ensure that the market will continue to growth however we believe it will do so at a modest rate. As always with Sydney property, there may be some troughs, but history has proven time and time again that the only way has been up, so if you are in the market for the medium-long term, you will find it hard to lose.

World-class price tags on Wolseley Road

Wolseley Road, Point Piper, ranks as the world’s 10th priciest residential street, says the latest Dow Jones Financial News index.

Europe property prices are in turmoil, and the priciest street was in Hong Kong. Australia’s representative held its ground, and might edge higher after the recent $52 million sale of Villa Veneto.

The price reflects about $38,000 a square metre, higher than the $US28,000 ($30,000) a square metre given in the index for Wolseley Road.

Australia’s robust economy and the strength of the local currency helped Point Piper hold its spot on the list, according to Dow Jones.

Severn Road on Victoria Peak in Hong Kong ranks as the most expensive residential street in the world, according to the third annual survey.

It costs $US70,000 for one square metre of real estate. Severn Road jumped from eighth place to overtake last year’s No. 1, Avenue Princesse Grace in Monte Carlo.

About 15 per cent was wiped off the value of the world’s 10 most expensive streets in the past year. The worst fall was on Avenue Princesse Grace, from $US120,000 a square metre to $US65,000.

The next biggest decline was Chemin de Saint-Hospice in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat in the south of France, where values tumbled from $US100,000 a square metre to $US55,000. The only places where prices rose were Severn Road and Moscow’s Ostozhenka.

Kensington Palace Gardens in London and Fifth Avenue, New York, ranked equal second at about $US65,000 a square metre, according to the list compiled by agents Knight Frank, Savills and Chesterton Humberts along with local independents.

It appears it took a Double Bay dentist, David Penn, and his wife, Linda Mueller, to consolidate Point Piper’s spot in the prestige stakes.

After their bullish $52 million purchase last month they will have the Lowys, of Westfield fame, as their neighbours.

Villa Veneto, the home of Andrew and Andrea Banks, had been on and off the market for three years. The Penns made their initial inspection two years ago.

Mr Penn heads clinical and technical research at Southern Cross Dental Labatories, which he founded in 1983. The Penns sold their Michael Suttor-designed home at Bellevue Hill for about $23 million to Tom and Lilly Haikin, owners of the Australian franchise of the Max Brenner chocolate shop, which recorded sales last year exceeding $20 million.

Mr Haikin, a former dental technician, has a $2 million house in Maroubra.

The listing agent of both properties, Bill Malouf of LJ Hooker Double Bay, will not confirm any sale details. But the reputed $52 million price trumps the $45 million – $11,250 a square metre – paid in 2008 by the expatriate foreign exchange dealer Ivan Ritossa for the Vaucluse residence, Coolong, currently rented to Lachlan and Sarah Murdoch.

After the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy in September 2008, which sent sharemarkets into a panic, the highest Sydney sale has been $26.75 million in Vaucluse, at $16,700 a square metre.

In Perth, a 7500 square metre residential compound with three houses on the Swan River at Mosman Park fetched a record $57.5 million in 2009. But it is hardly comparable, at $7666 a square metre and three houses.

The next Wolseley Road test will be the sale of property developer Nati Stoliar’s non-waterfront penthouse through Mr Malouf. It comprises 322 square metres on one floor, and a 280 square metre roof-level terrace with jacuzzi and barbecue.

Mr Stoliar, who once called as home both the record-setting Boomerang in Elizabeth Bay and Villa del Mare in Point Piper, is seeking more than $9 million.

It is in Pacific Point, in which was set a Sydney record off-the-plan apartment price of $3.8 million in 1988. But the apartment was sold again for $2.51 million in 1993, which indicates that prices do not only ever rise on the street paved in gold. Phil Green, of Babcock & Brown, then made money on it by selling it for $3.66 million in 2000.

The ground floor apartment in Pacific Point – which has 277 square metres of internal space, plus terraces – remains unsold after being scheduled for June auction with $5 million hopes through the McGrath agent Alan Waitsman.

It was listed by the Schwartz family executor after the death in 2000 of the long-time BRW Rich List dentist Bela Schwartz, who started investing in property after immigrating from Hungary in 1940, and his widow, Eve, who died in 2005.

The highest sale price at the weekend was $2.54 million for a terrace in Darlinghurst. Two pricier listings, at Balmain and Wollstonecraft, failed to find buyers.

The overall clearance rate from 243 listings was 57 per cent, 10 per cent weaker than the 67 per cent August average, according to Australian Property Monitors.

Source
Jonathan Chancellor
Sydney Morning Herald
September 6, 2010

Sydney Rental Vacancy Rates 

Source: Press Release 25 June 2009, REINSW

Sydney’s rental vacancy rate is at its lowest level in 12 months, according to the latest data released today by the REINSW.

In May 2009, the percentage of available rental properties across Sydney slumped by half a percent to 1.0%.

“This is the lowest result recorded since May last year and is extremely disappointing,” said REINSW President Steve Martin.

In May 2009, the percentage of available properties in suburbs more than 25 kilometres from the CBD fell 0.4% to 1.0%.

In Sydney’s ‘middle’ suburbs, between 10 and 25 kilometres from the CBD, rental vacancies fell 0.2% to 1.5%.

The only parts of Sydney not to record a fall in available rental properties were suburbs within 10 kilometres of the CBD, which recorded a vacancy rate of 1.4% – unchanged compared to the previous month.

“These results are a double-edged sword: great news for landlords but grim news for tenants,” said Mr Martin.

New Unit Depreciation?

Many financial planners and investment property “experts” advise people to buy brand new units so that they can get the tax depreciation benefits, which can be offset from their personal income for their annual tax return.
However from what I have seen from many of these brand new “generic” units over the past 10 years, particularly ones in medium to large complexes, is their relative lack of capital growth compared with say older style art deco units or even 1960/70’s buildings that are in a better location (for Sydney – near beaches, inner city, harbour etc).
A new investment property buyer claims depeciation expenses on an annual basis, but when eventually selling the property they have to add back in the total of those benefits claimed for capital gains tax calculations anyway, thus negating the benefit in the overall property transaction.
The bottom line is that the tax depreciation benefits gained by buying new units will rarely equal the extra capital growth achieved with buying an older style unit in a better location.
Many new unit complexes tend to be built in former industrial areas or on the city fringes because the land is cheaper, and are often not close to amenities.

Auction Procedures and Powers of Attorney

The alternative to Private Treaty is sale by Auction.  This is where a property is offered for sale to the highest bidder on Auction Day. The property will usually be open for inspection for around 3-4 weeks before auction day. It is important that all due diligence (ie. Checking the contract, building and pest inspections, strata reports etc) be carried out before the auction day, as unlike Private Treaty, once the hammer falls, the property is sold and there is no cooling off period. A deposit, usually 10% is payable after the auction at the time of signing the Contract of Sale.

If a property passes in at auction and you are the highest bidder, you normally have the first right of negotiation with the vendor (or agent).

It is also possible to buy a property prior to auction, simply by getting “Offer & Acceptance” and following the due diligence procedures as shown above in Purchasing by Private Treaty. After successful exchange the property auction will then be cancelled. Remember also that there is no cooling off period if you buy pre-auction.

Auction Bidding Register & Confidentiality Issues

There were substantial changes brought about in relation to dummy bidding & auction bidding registers by the reformed Property Stock & Business Agents Act (2002).

These New South Wales laws now allow for only one dummy (vendor) bid at a property auction, which must be announced when made, and in practice is usually done by the auctioneer. When introduced there were fears that instead of the selling agent’s past practice of employing professional dummy bidders to go from auction to auction, vendors would continue to have family, friends & associates to do the dummy bidding for them, as they also have in the past. However the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) has since stepped in and added weight to banning the practice of dummy bidding across Australia, by promising fines of up to $1.2 Million for real estate companies, and up to $220,000 for vendors and individuals. The combination of these laws appear to have made a marked difference to the performance of auctions.

A major concern from buyers about the new Bidding Register is that of confidentiality. Regardless of the Privacy Act regulations prohibiting selling agents from using the register information for future marketing, they will have records in their office of the auctions that a buyer has attended, and therefore a clear idea of their budget and other information.

One way around having your name disclosed on the bidding register is to employ a Homesearch Solutions to do the bidding on your behalf, by giving us a strictly limited Power of Attorney. Under these circumstances we will only have to put our name on the register and not the actual buyer’s, which will maintain confidentiality.

The terms of the Power of Attorney can be as specific and limited as the buyer wants, such as keeping it to a particular property on a set date, and also be subject to a separate letter which states the bidding limit.

People that may be inclined to use this system are: buyers who have made rejected pre-auction offers and who want to remain anonymous to the selling agent at the auction, high profile community members, those intimidated by the auction room, and also people concerned about selling agents having access to the register.

What is Private Treaty?

A Private Treaty sale is where a property is listed with a purchase price and is not subject to an auction. It is up to the purchaser to negotiate a mutually acceptable price with the selling agent or vendor (owner of the property).  When a price & the sale terms are agreed you are said to have “offer & acceptance” to buy the property. The purchaser is then usually given a short period of time in which to conduct “due diligence” (unless done prior to the offer), which includes checking of the Contract of Sale by a solicitor or conveyancer, conducting building and pest reports, and undertaking strata inspections (for apartment purchases). When the purchaser is satisfied it is time to sign a copy of the Contract of Sale and pay a deposit (usually 10%, but can be negotiated) for the property. The vendor also signs a copy of the Contract of Sale after which “exchange” occurs. This basically means forwarding the purchasers signed Contract of Sale to the vendor’s solicitor or conveyancer and the vendors signed Contract of Sale to the purchaser’s solicitor or conveyancer. Once this has occurred the property has been officially sold, and until this has occurred there is always a risk of gazumping taking place (where another purchaser offers a higher price for the property which is accepted by the selling agent or vendor).

There will usually be a cooling off period during which time the purchaser can effectively terminate the Contract of Sale. This is usually 5 days after contract exchange, but the purchaser must pay the vendor 0.25% of the agreed purchase price as a penalty. If the cooling off period is agreed to be waived at exchange then the solicitor/conveyancer must sign the 66W Certificate and attach it to the contract.

Settlement will usually occur 42 days (6 weeks) after exchange, but this is negotiable between the vendor and the purchaser.  At settlement all remaining monies are required (ie, purchase price less deposit & other adjustments).It is important to take into account other “hidden” costs of purchasing a property which may be required prior to settlement, at settlement, or shortly afterwards.

Bidders guide

Residential and rural property auctions

You will not be able to bid at an auction of residential and rural property in NSW unless you give the selling agent your name and address and show proof of your identity. Your details will be recorded by the agent in the Bidders Record and at the auction you will be given a bidder’s number. Registering for an auction does not mean you must bid. Registering simply gives you the right to bid.

Who needs to register?

If you are bidding to buy the property jointly with another person, for example, a spouse or partner, only one of you needs to register.

You need to register if you are bidding for another person or a company, and you need to show the agent a letter of authority from them, authorising you to bid on their behalf. This also applies if you are bidding on behalf of someone on the telephone.

If you are bidding for another person the letter of authority must include the person’s name, address and the number on their proof of identity (eg. driver’s licence).

If you are bidding for a company the letter of authority must be on the company letterhead and the ABN will be recorded in the Bidders Record as the company’s proof of identity.

Proof of identity

To register, you must present a card or document issued by government or a financial institution, that shows your name and address, for example:

  • driver’s licence or learner’s permit
  • vehicle registration paper
  • council rates notice.

If you do not have this kind of proof of identity, you can use two documents that together show your name and address.

One must show your name and be issued by a government or financial institution, for example:

  • passport
  • Medicare card
  • ATM/Eftpos card
  • credit card or store card
  • birth certificate
  • citizenship papers.

The other must show your address, for example:

  • utilities bill (eg. gas, electricity, telephone)
  • real estate rental agreement
  • statutory declaration stating your address.

When to register

You can register with the selling agent at any time prior to the auction, such as when you inspect the property, or on the day itself.

If you pre-register, you will still need to show the agent your proof of identity on auction day. The agent will then give you your bidder’s number.

What happens at registration

The agent will write your name, address and the number of your proof of identity in the Bidders Record and, if you are bidding for someone else or a company, their name, address and proof of identity details. The agent will then give you your bidder’s number, which must be displayed when you bid.

What if I arrive at the auction late?

If you arrive after the auction has started and wish to bid, you will need to quickly find the agent and register or present your proof of identity, if you have pre-registered.

If you need to make a bid immediately, hold up your hand to let the auctioneer know you are going to make a bid after you have registered.

As soon as you have a bidder’s number, the auctioneer can accept your bids. Return your bidder’s number to the agent after the auction.

Your privacy

The agent is not permitted to show the Bidders Record to anyone, including the property owner. Only an authorised person from the Office of Fair Trading is permitted to see the Bidders Record.

The agent must store the Bidders Record securely and cannot use it for any purpose.

Auction conditions

This auction is being conducted under certain conditions that are set by law.

The auctioneer will have these conditions on display before the auction so that you can read them. The auction conditions include:

  • the highest bidder is the purchaser, subject to any reserve price
  • the auctioneer is entitled to make one bid only on behalf of the seller
  • before the auction, the auctioneer must announce that the auctioneer is permitted to make one bid on behalf of the seller
  • the auctioneer must announce immediately before, or in the process of making the bid, that he/she is making a vendor bid
  • the auctioneer can refuse a bid that is not in the interests of the seller
  • the auctioneer has no authority to accept a late bid, that is, a bid after the fall of the hammer
  • if there is a disputed bid, the auctioneer is the sole arbitrator and makes the final decision
  • the successful buyer’s name must be given to the auctioneer as soon as possible.

Successful bids

If you are the successful bidder, you must sign the sale contract and pay a deposit on the spot, usually ten per cent of the purchase price. There is no cooling-off period when you buy at auction.

After the exchange of contracts, your solicitor or conveyancer will carry out various searches on the property. Your solicitor and the seller’s legal representative will then arrange for settlement at which time you must pay the balance of the purchase price.

Dummy bidding and collusion

It is illegal to make dummy bids at an auction.

The seller of the property is entitled to have one bid made on their behalf by the auctioneer. When the seller’s bid is made the auctioneer must announce it as a vendor bid.

If you make dummy bids for the seller, you may be prosecuted and fined up to $55,000. The property seller who asked you to bid can also be fined up to $55,000, as can the agent and the auctioneer if they were involved in the arrangement.

It is an offence to collude with someone to interfere with free and open competition at the auction. This offence carries a maximum fine of $55,000.

Co-owners and executors

A co-owner, executor or administrator or someone bidding on their behalf, may make more than one bid to purchase the property as long as:

  • this is outlined in the auction conditions
  • the auctioneer has announced this before the start of bidding at the auction
  • the auctioneer announces before the start of the auction, the bidder registration number of any co-owner, executor, administrator, or someone bidding on their behalf.

From NSW Office of Fair Trading Website www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au