THE FEDERAL Government has made a very significant change to capital gains tax (CGT) affecting ex pats, but it’s likely there are many Australians living overseas who are still completely in the dark about it.
Put simply, the change entails the CGT exemption for the Australian family home, which has been in existence for 35 years, being taken away from expat – or non-resident – Australians if they sell the property while living overseas.
Currently the exemption applies so long as the home was rented out for no more than six years at a time, but from July 1 this year the new changes will take effect. =
What are the changes?
The change to CGT means expats seeking a principal place of residence exemption must sell before June 30 or hold the property and wait until they return home to live in it again before selling. If they don’t, they risk paying a potentially hefty CGT bill on their home.
If the property was purchased before May 9, 2017 expats can sell before June 30 this year and avoid CGT, but if the property was purchased after May 9, 2017 and sold while living overseas CGT will still have to be paid, as there is no principal residence exemption.
The legislation, which seems to have been rushed through after both political parties previously promised they would exclude expats from the changes as it was unfair, will also apply retrospectively.
That means capital gains will be taxed for the entire time the property has been owned, rather than just for the time the occupant has lived overseas, which could become very expensive for those that bought their properties as far back as 1985, with property prices having risen very significantly.
The changes to CGT will also affect migrants who buy a home in Australia to live in while they are here, and then sell after returning home.
What impact will the change to CGT have on expats?
The change will only affect expats who sell a home in Australia they have previously lived in while they are living overseas.
It’s difficult to determine exactly how many expats will be impacted, but it could be tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands.
And then there is not only current expats to consider, but those moving overseas in the years to come, particularly in an increasingly global economy where many people are going abroad to work.
Those that are affected will be significantly disadvantaged. Experts agree it’s an unfair tax to drop on Australians who have purchased in good faith, believing their home would be exempt from CGT, and continued to contribute to the Australian economy through taxes on their homes if they are rented out.
It should be noted that there are some concessions for the application of CGT to the homes of expats selling while overseas, with an exemption applying for life events such as a terminal medical condition, death or divorce.
What should expats do?
It appears this change to CGT has been brought in without much fanfare to even alert expats of its existence.
There will likely be many people caught unawares and potentially sell while overseas without realising the tax laws have changed, incurring a significant CGT bill.
If you’re an expat, the first thing you need to do is get educated on the change in the CGT rules, and then determine the best course of action for your circumstances.
You’ll need to do so quickly, with the deadline to sell (the contract date) being June 30 this year.
It’s a good idea to seek professional advice on the costs involved in your circumstances and whether you’re better off holding or selling.
Impediments to waiting until you return home include that your move may be permanent, you may be unable to hold the property financially, or you may be returning to a different city than the one which you left.
For those returning, you must be genuinely returning to Australia and can prove that you have quit your overseas job, cancelled a property lease and taken your children out of their overseas school, for example.
For those who do have to pay CGT, there could be issues in determining the correct tax liability because those who have purchased up to 35 years ago may not have kept proper records.
Capital gain is calculated using the original cost base, which includes expenses related to the property purchase such as buying costs, holding costs and renovations, as well as the cost of the property itself.
This may lead to expats selling their home while overseas being charged more CGT than they would have, if the proper records had been retained.
I was about 25 years old (a long time ago!) when I did my first property deal. I was the quantity surveyor on a project converting the Balmain RSL in Sydney into residential apartments.
I approached the developer and told him I was interested in buying an apartment. I did not have a lot of cash, so I had to go halves with a friend. We put in $1,000 each as a holding deposit to secure a one-bedroom unit, with a loft, for $220,000. It was a good start – we didn’t even need to fork out the 10% deposit.
Then the builder went broke halfway through the construction. It was a nightmare. It took another 3.5 years to finish the project. What a headache, for me the QS and more so for the developer!
In the meantime, however, while construction was being delayed, the value of the property almost doubled. So, our $220,000 one-bedroom plus loft apartment was now worth around $400,000. We had signed a contract on the original price which meant our $1,000 initial deposit returned quite a handsome profit for my friend and I.
WHAT A rollercoaster the past year has been for property!
We saw a lacklustre start to 2019 largely due to apprehension around last year’s Federal Election and particularly proposed housing-related tax policies from the ALP.
Activity was also subdued due to the fallout from the Banking Royal Commission and tightened lending restrictions imposed by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority.
However following the Federal Election in May and confirmation the status quo would continue the market slowly started improving as confidence returned, and now it’s firmly in recovery mode.
The difference between the start of 2020 and the same time one year ago is like “chalk and cheese”, says Hotspotting.com.au founder Terry Ryder.
“One year ago everything was super negative but now things are much more positive,” he states.
But just how positive is the market? Will the price growth that started in 2019 continue this year, and if so, will it be at a strong pace?
Let’s first look at why prices have started to rise again…
In the wake of the uncertainty in the property market over 2019 many sellers decided to hang onto their homes, fearing they wouldn’t get the desired price, and construction also eased.
This led to a lack of available stock for buyers to choose from, which Ryder says was one of the several factors contributing to the price growth that started towards the end of the year and has continued into this year.
“One of the factors in the escalation of prices, particularly in bigger cities, was that at a time when demand recovered quite strongly, there was very little supply and vacancies were generally low in most locations around Australia,” he says.
“There was a lot of competition for good properties available, which was a big factor in price growth last year.”
Now, in 2020, there are signs supply is starting to rise, with sellers more confident in testing the market, and more construction in the pipeline, so price inflation that occurred due to a lack of stock will likely be tempered moving forward.
National residential property listings increased in January by 2.2%, according to the latest data from SQM Research. All capital cities saw a rise in listings, but the largest rise was in Sydney of 5.1%, followed by Hobart at 4.9%.
Sydney’s listings are still 24.8% lower than 12 months ago, while nationally listings are 10% lower than a year ago. But there are likely to be further increases in the coming months.
Dwelling approvals are also improving, with annual growth lifting to 2.7%, the first positive since June 2018.
“Markets are rising and people can get pretty good prices for their properties if they’re willing to list them,” says Ryder.
“Consumers were a bit battered and bruised after a period of negativity, including fears of the Federal Election, but since the middle of May last year there have been a series of fortunate events.”
These events include an easing of lending restrictions, tax cuts, three interest rate reductions and more positive media coverage on the market.
“There are always multiple factors in why the market rises and these factors are all part of the equation,” says Ryder.
“But with more supply coming to the market this year, it will take some pressure off prices, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne.
“The market will settle down a bit and be what you might call a ‘normal’ market.”
Indeed, the latest CoreLogic Home Value Index found that while property prices rose across every capital city in January, the rate of growth had slowed in recent months.
Over the past year prices have grown by 4.1%, which is the fastest pace of growth for a 12-month period since December 2017, but in January the index was up by a total of 0.9%, down from its recent monthly peak of 1.7% in November.
Growth markets are aplenty this year
With Sydney and Melbourne likely to take a backseat this year, smaller capital cities are set to come to the fore, including Brisbane, Perth, Canberra and Adelaide.
“Sydney and Melbourne have had substantial and lengthy booms, and the increase in supply and the affordability factor will tend to suppress the level of growth in those cities,” says Ryder.
“Cities that haven’t had a big run but have the right dynamics in play will have a strong year.”
Brisbane is overdue for growth, and all the ducks are starting to fall into line for the city to do much better this year, explains Ryder.
“All indicators are that Perth has finally moved into a recovery after five years of gradual decline and Canberra looks solid, underpinned by one of the steadiest economies in the country.
“Adelaide is always underrated; it’s got a lot more going for it than people realise and it will have a good year as well.”
Hobart has had a good run and is likely past its peak, and Darwin is still struggling, adds Ryder.
He points out that regional areas also have the potential for growth this year, with the strongest market being regional Victoria, with parts of regional New South Wales also looking promising, including Orange, Wagga Wagga, Goulburn and Dalby.
In regional Queensland the Sunshine Coast offers some of the best growth potential, with a strong economy, while some parts of Central Queensland are also recovering, including Mackay.
Thinking back, I now realise I was motivated to succeed from an early age. I saw my father work hard all his life to support 5 kids and then lose all his superannuation in the late 1980’s when he invested it all in a company called Estate Mortgage.
They proclaimed to be “safe as a bank”, but in reality were just lending to developers and offering a slightly higher interest rate on deposits. So that extra 1% or 2% my dad was supposed to get cost him his life savings. It shattered him.
I guess part of me wanted to make him proud and prove that I could “make it”. By the time I was 30, when he passed away, I had my own business and he saw that I was doing OK and I know he was proud.
Nowadays, I get inspired by meeting incredible people.
Whilst there are shonks in the building industry, there are also some creative and passionate people out there too.
Most successful developers don’t do it for the money, so what drives them? It’s generally the challenge that they love, the creativity and the ability it gives them to leave their mark on society.
Classifying repairs and improvements can be tricky enough at the best of times, but what happens when a repair and improvement occur together?
Let’s look at the following example. A rental property’s 25-year-old fence has been slightly damaged during a thunderstorm. A carpenter assesses the damage and advises that repair work will cost $7,000. However, due to a special offer, a brand new colour bond fence can be provided for $11,000. The landlord proceeds with the new fence.
Can the owner now claim the $11,000 as a repair?
In simple terms, the answer is no. This is because there is no separately identifiable repair involved.
A deduction may only be claimed to the extent that the repair can be separately identified from improvement at the same time
In summary, because repair work to the wooden fence (which would have been deductible) did not in fact occur, it is a ‘notional repair’ which cannot be deductible as part of the $11,000 capital cost of the new fence.
The owner may be able to claim the fence over a 40 years period at 2.5% per annum, but that’s a far cry from a $7,000 outright deduction they may have claimed if they only fixed part of the fence.
I wanted to spread some Christmas Cheer and mention the 5 little-known things you CAN claim on if you’ve purchased a property built after 1987. This season is about giving and I hope the below gives you some further insight on how to maximise your Tax Depreciation deductions.
1. A Capital Idea
Many investors do not realise that even if the property is not brand new, they can still claim on the Capital Works/Improvements or Structural aspects of the property. If the property was built prior to 1987, you cannot claim on the original structure but you can claim on the structural portion of any renovations/improvements that have been done by previous owners. Kitchen, bathrooms and Outdoor improvements typically have a higher structural component.
2. Fees Incurred
For any significant renovation or improvement, its is likely that council fees were incurred along with Architect and maybe even Engineer’s costs. Whether incurred by yourself or a previous owner, these expenses should be factored into your depreciation report.
3. Many Parts to the Whole
So you’ve purchased a second-hand property and you can see that previous owners have installed a ducted Air-conditioning system. Air Conditioners are categorised as plant & equipment by the ATO so you cannot claim anything, right? Well, while you cannot claim on the mechanical components, the ducting is considered structural, or capital, in nature and you are able to claim deductions on this.
4. Just Cosmetic?
Painting (both internal and external) is considered to be a capital improvement and can therefore be claimed by subsequent owners. The same is true for Floor Sanding or Polishing. Whilst these are typically not HUGE amounts, they are claimable and help to reduce the investor’s taxable income – “every little bit helps”
5. The Common Good.
Did you know that when buying into most Strata Titled complexes, you are actually taking ownership of a portion of the common areas and facilities? If you have purchased a second-hand property in a Strata Titled building or community, you are eligible to claim your portion of deductions on the capital works items/assets. This often includes things like swimming pools, lobby upgrades and basements etc.
As accredited Quantity Surveyors with over 40 years’ experience, Washington Brown are recognised by the ATO as having the necessary skills and experience to estimate the cost and dates related to previous renovations or improvements.
If you’ve purchased an “older” investment property and have not had a depreciation schedule prepared, get in touch via the link below. We’ll happily provide you with a free estimate of the likely deductions available.
With so much going on in the Property and Finance space currently, I thought that now would be a great time to catch up with my friend and leading property analytics researcher Terry Ryder (Owner and Creator of Hotspotting).
I was able to speak with Terry recently to ask his opinion on investment and the current climate. I wanted to share the content of our discussion with you all and hope you find it both interesting and insightful.
Terry – in your opinion is it a good time to invest in property now?
It’s time for investors to get off the fence and start taking action in real estate markets.
The revival in major city markets since May has been largely driven by owner-occupier buyers, with investors sitting on the fence and watching events unfold.
Investors exited the Sydney and Melbourne markets in droves last year as it became evident that the boom in those cities had expired.
The first half of 2019 was a perfect storm of negative factors for real estate – the lead-up to the Federal Election put a brake on decision-making, finance was hard to obtain, big city prices were trending south and media was largely pessimistic.
There’s certainly been a turnaround since then hasn’t there?
The turnaround since May has been profound. The Federal Election result led “a series of fortunate events” which unfolded in rapid succession: an easing of lending restrictions, a series of interest rate reductions, lower taxes for many Australians and a change in the tone of media coverage.
Initially, we saw an improvement in sentiment. Then, as that translated into action at street level, the real estate data started to improve. Sales activity picked up, auction clearance rates improved and price trends improved.
Terry – have you got any data to back up this improvement in sentiment?
Real estate data is now positive for most markets. Here’s what the indicators are telling us:-
Vacancy rates: Vacancies are low in most cities. Sydney is the only capital with a vacancy rate above 3%. Vacancies are much lower than last year in Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Darwin and Hobart. Melbourne is a little higher but still only 2%. Canberra vacancies are up but remain just 1.2%.
Rentals: Residential rents have risen in all capital cities except Sydney in the past year. Figures from Domain and SQM Research confirm the biggest growth has been in Hobart, which has the lowest vacancies. Rents are up 3-4-5% in Canberra, Adelaide and Perth, while Brisbane and Melbourne are up slightly.
Clearance rates: Throughout August, September and October, Sydney and Melbourne have been recording auction clearance rates above 70%, compared to 45-50% a year earlier. Buyers are competing for good properties and listings are relatively low.
Prices: August and September both delivered positive price data in most cities, notably in Sydney and Melbourne. SQM’s Prices Index early in October recorded monthly price rises in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and Hobart. In annual terms, there’s evidence of price uplift in Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra, Hobart and even in Darwin. Sydney and Melbourne remained down in annual terms, but only by 1-2%, much better than six months earlier. There have been strong rises in many regional markets also.
Investors drifted away from real estate in 2018 and early 2019 because it seemed the growth party was over. Now, all the evidence points to recovery.
The latest lending figures showed the first signs of investors returning to the market. I expect subsequent months to show investors coming back in greater numbers.
Thanks Terry I look forward to chatting with you more in the upcoming months.
It’s no secret that there are different strategies when it comes to investing in property. Some people prefer to invest in brand-new properties, while others opt for older property that they can renovate and resell for profit. Whilst depreciation should never be the reason behind an investment decision, recent legislative changes have altered which types of properties are eligible for depreciation deductions.
What does this mean for investors? Let’s look at this in context. If you look at the table below, you’ll see a simplified net effect of the cost of owning an investment property broken down into three generalised scenarios:
A brand-new property;
A second-hand property built between 1987 and 2018; and
A property built before 1987.
1987 – 2018
@ $700 Per Week
Interest @ 4% of
@ 1.5% (Rates, levies)
Cash Surplus/Outlay Before
Year 1 Depreciation Deduction – Building
Year 1 Depreciation
Deduction – Plant & Equipment
Total Taxation Position
Tax Refund @ 37%
(Net Outlay + Tax Refund)
Cash income Per Week
(If a Positive Number, the Property is paying you)
The assumptions are the same for each scenario: each property will generate a weekly rental income of $700 over a 52-week period, which works out at $36,400 per property.
Furthermore, the interest rate is 4 per cent for each property. Each scenario incorporates an LVR of 80 per cent of the purchase price ($750,000) – This equates to an annual interest expense of $24,000.
Each property will have other expenses – Assumed at 1.5 per cent of the purchase price, which is $11,250 annually. Granted, you could argue that property built before 1987 could have higher expenses, but for ease of comparison, we’ve kept the same rate.
So, it’s the same scenario for each property with the net outlay before depreciation of $1,150.
Now, here’s where things get interesting! What about the depreciation?
In a brand-new property, the total depreciation deduction in year one is $15,000 (Building Allowance + Plant & Equipment).
For the second-hand property built between 1987 and 2018, the total depreciation deduction is $4,000. This is due to the fact that the property is not brand new and the Plant and Equipment component is seen as previously used and cannot be claimed on. The only deduction available here are against the original structure and the structural component of any previous owners’ improvements/renovations.
For a property built before 1987, the depreciation is $0. It is important to note here that, if the property has had improvements/renovations done by a previous owner, you are eligible to claim on the structural component of this. As accredited Quantity Surveyors, it is our job to estimate the date and costs of these previous works.
Note: Recipients of this email are entitled to a FREE estimate of the depreciation deductions available. If you own an investment property, new or second-hand, and haven’t had a depreciation schedule prepared, click here to request an estimate.
Depreciation on a brand-new property
You can see that the total tax loss on the brand-new property is quite high at $13,850. If you are an investor who is paying tax at a marginal tax rate of 37 per cent and you’re making a loss of $13,850, you will receive a tax cheque back from the ATO to the tune of $5,125 – and that’s cash in hand.
This amount, plus the $1,150 (Cash Surplus Before Depreciation) is $6,275. In this example, the property has been paying you $6,275 a year to own that property – so the net return is $120 a week positive cash flow.
Depreciation on an old property
Next, let’s look at the property built before 1987. Again, there is a $1,150 cash surplus before depreciation. In this example, you cannot claim depreciation on the previously used Plant and Equipment or on the original structure. So, here, you’ve actually increased your taxable income by $1,150. If you are in the 37 per cent income tax bracket, this equates to you paying an additional $426 in tax.
Given that you’ve made $1,150 and have then paid the additional $426 in tax for this, you are roughly $724 up per year. That’s around $14 per week you are making to own a property built before 1987.
Depreciation on a second-hand property built between 1987 and 2017
Using the same variables, if you bought a second-hand property built between 1987 and 2018, your annual tax loss would be $2,850, so you would receive a tax refund of $1,055 (providing you are in the 37 per cent bracket). Your cash surplus before depreciation was $1,150, so your annual surplus for owning the property is $2,205. That means your weekly cash flow a positive $42.
As you can see, from a depreciation perspective, there are pros and cons of buying brand-new vs older or almost-new properties. Again, whilst a property’s likely depreciation deductions shouldnt be the main reason for a purchase decision, depreciation certainly has a significant impact on an investor’s cashflow equation.
Remember: To receive a FREE estimate of the likely deductions available to you on your investment property, whether new or old, click here!
The recent depreciation changes have the greatest impact on the types of property you may choose to invest in. Some people prefer to invest in brand-new properties, while others opt for older property that they can renovate and resell for profit. So, which is the better investment strategy? Let’s look at this in actual finite details. If you look at Table 5.1 below, you’ll see the net effect of the cost of owning a property broken down into three examples:
a brand-new property;
a property built between 1987 and 2016; and
a property built before 1987.
At the time of writing this book in 2017, the middle column is 2016 because it’s one year prior to the current year. This highlights that the property is second-hand and you will be acquiring previously used assets if you purchase it now. If you’re reading this in 2019, the middle column will be 1987 to 2018; one year less than the current year.
Depreciation on three types of residential investment property
The assumptions are the same for every property: each one will generate a weekly rental income of $700 over a 52-week period, which works out at $36,000 per property. Furthermore, the interest rate is 5.5 per cent on each property on borrowings of 80 per cent of the purchase price – that’s an annual interest bill of $33,000 which is the same to illustrate the net effect on depreciation. Each property will have other expenses at 1.5 per cent of the purchase price, which makes $11,250 annually for each property. Now, you could argue that property built before 1987 could have higher expenses, but for ease of comparison we’ve kept the same rate. So, it’s the same scenario for each property with the net outlay before depreciation of $7,850. Now, here’s where things get interesting, what about the depreciation?
In a brand-new property, the depreciation in year one is $15,000;
For the property built between 1987 and 2016, it’s $4,000 because all you claim there is the structure of the building; and
For a property built before 1987, the depreciation is $0.
Depreciation on a brand-new property
You can see that the total tax loss on the brand-new property is quite high at $22,850. If you are an investor who is paying tax at a marginal tax rate of 37.5 per cent and you’re making a loss of $22,850, you will receive a tax cheque back from the ATO to the tune of $8,455 – and that’s cash in hand. However, you have physically paid out $7,850, remember? You’ve been paying $605 a year to own that property – so the net return is $12 a week positive cash flow.
Depreciation on an old property
Next, let’s look at the property built before 1987. Again, you have physically paid out $7,850 over the year to hold the property. You can’t claim any depreciation on your investment, so the total tax loss continues to be $7,850. If you are in the 37 per cent income tax bracket, there will be a tax return of $2,905. Given that $7,850 has been paid out and there’s a tax cheque of $2,905, it’s cost you roughly $5,000 per year to own. That’s just under $100 per week to own a property built before 1987.
Depreciation on a second-hand property built between 1987 and 2017
Using the same variables, if you bought a property built between 1987 and 2017, your annual tax loss would be $11,850, so you would receive a tax refund of $4,385 (providing you are in the 37 per cent bracket). Your cash outlay was $7,850, so your annual cash outlay is $3,465. That means your weekly cash flow is negative $66, but you’ll still eventually realise a capital gain over the medium to long term. As you can see, there are pros and cons of buying brand-new and almost-new properties, depending on your investment strategy. Furthermore, buying brand-new property often carries the developer’s profit, which you pay for in the purchase price. If you buy something ‘newish’ – say a five to ten-year-old property – there is a fair chance that it has been bought and resold a few times. Therefore the value is now reflected in a more realistic way on the open market.
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