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From first to last: How to buy property at three life stages

by Rachael Whiteley-Black | Apr 15, 2019
Whether you’re starting out or set to retire, investing in property is a major move. We investigate strategies for various life stages.

Our investment needs change with every stage of our lives. While there’s always a strong focus on building wealth, our appetite for risk shifts as we grow older and this impacts investment choices.

First-home buyers, empty-nesters and retirees not only have very different lifestyles, but very different bank balances, too. Here’s how to buy an investment property to suit your life circumstances.

First-home buyers

For many home buyers across Australia, a first property will be a place to call home. While the average age of the first-home buyer remains at 32, in Sydney, where price houses have risen astronomically over the past decade, the median is closer to 38, shattering the image of first-home buyers being young couples just starting families.

However, some shrewd investors will make their foray into the housing market with an investment property. Given that affordability becomes easier outside of the eastern-state capitals, they will be searching for a low-maintenance property with high-yield potential.

An investment property with inherent land value would be ideal, says Cal Doggett, managing director of Properties and Pathways, a Perth-based property investment firm. 'When you’re looking at a property to purchase, the property itself decreases in value as it ages – it’s the land component that has the propensity to increase in value,' he says.

'So I wouldn’t be going for a luxurious 5000 square-metre home on a big block of land 50 to 70 kilometres from the city. I’d be looking for the opposite – for land value, closer to the city, in pockets that are known and have great accessibility to the beach or arterial links, metro locations, cafes and bars.'

 

Empty-nesters

When the kids have flown the coop, empty-nesters find their disposable income suddenly spikes. They often have well-established careers with healthy incomes. But retirement is on the horizon and they are mindful of creating investments that will provide good returns into the future.

Sam Gawenda, senior lending specialist at Melbourne financial planning firm Rising Tide, says downsizing is commonly on the agenda. 'They’re in this big family home, which is no longer required, and there’s also all the maintenance that comes with it,' he says.

'So when people are still working, but not ready to retire, what we often see is them buying property they will eventually downsize into.'

Empty-nesters commonly opt for low-maintenance city or inner-city apartments where they can lead a “lock and leave” lifestyle. Plenty of research is key to getting this right. Take a close look at the building’s architect and builder/developer, researching their previous projects and even trying to speak to residents.

And if they decide to sell or lease the property in the future, they should get a handle on capital growth and vacancy rates.

Retirees

After decades of hard work, retirees are ready to lead a lifestyle that may involve travel, indulging in a hobby or spending quality time with the grandkids. Their finances may be in the family home, superannuation and an investment portfolio.

Instead of eating away at their savings, retirees can leverage their equity to purchase property, Doggett says. 'Rather than spend your capital, jump in and use that capital to purchase income-producing assets,' he says.

Investment properties need to return a steady, stable income not just for the next 10 years, but as improvements in healthcare mean we’re living longer, possibly the next 30.

Ideally, they should aim for a low-risk investment in an area with low vacancy rates and reliable infrastructure such as roads and public transport.

Attention: Investment is subject to DHA’s lease terms and conditions of sale. Investors retain some responsibilities and risks, i.e. rent, restoration and market fluctuations. Prospective investors should seek independent advice. See dha.gov.au/lookforward for relevant information.

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