Is the new HomeBuilder grant scheme enough?
IN THE AFTERMATH of COVID-19, things are changing all the time, including restrictions and the impact these are having on a range of industries, including property.
So far the property market seems to be holding up pretty well, with minimal falls in values. But it’s a different story for the construction industry (a huge source of employment for Australians), which faces a steep drop in home building after September this year.
In light of this the Federal Government recently announced a new $25,000 property grant called HomeBuilder, to be handed out to eligible people building or renovating a home, which is designed to boost construction activity and stimulate the industry.
This $688 million housing stimulus package aims to build 30,000 homes by Christmas and is predicted to generate over $15 million in national economic activity, lead to $10 million in building projects and support more than 1 million jobs.
Details of HomeBuilder are still evolving, and there may be other assistance on offer in the months to come (particularly from state and territory governments) to stimulate the housing market – we’ll have to watch this space.
In the meantime, however, here is what we know about what’s currently on offer.
What is HomeBuilder?
The scheme offers a $25,000 grant to owner-occupiers substantially renovating their home or building a new home between June 4 and December 31 this year.
It comes with restrictions though – for new builds the home cannot be priced at more than $750,000 and renovations must cost at least $150,000 and up to $750,000 for a home valued at $1.5 million or less, but the work excludes sheds, pools, tennis courts, granny flats or any other structure detached from the dwelling.
The grant is also means tested, with income caps of $125,000 for singles and $200,000 for couples.
Contracts must be signed within the next six months and construction must start within three months of the contact date.
The program is expected to be up and running within a few weeks, with applications able to be backdated to June 4 so contracts can be entered into right away.
It will be implemented via a National Partnership Agreement with the federal, state and territory governments.
At the time of writing applications for the grants were not yet open, but Australians could register interest in the scheme through the Government’s official website.
The $25,000 HomeBuilder grant is designed to complement state and territory housing assistance programs, including grants and stamp duty discounts, to encourage more people to undertake building work.
Since the Federal HomeBuilder announcement, some states have offered further stimulus, with Tasmania offering $20,000 for any owner-occupier to build a house, while Western Australia is offering owner-occupiers and investors a $20,000 grant.
What are the pros and cons of the HomeBuilder grant?
Some argue the money offered by HomeBuilder would be more effective in achieving its aims of stimulating construction if it was given for the provision of social housing instead.
While the HomeBuilder grant will encourage more people to undertake a building project – either through a renovation or new build – which will stimulate the construction sector, inevitably it will also be given to those who were already planning a project anyway, which is one of the program’s criticisms.
Other criticisms are that it’s too restrictive due to factors such as the large outlay required (particularly for renovations), property value caps, means testing and timeframes – particularly to get approvals and plans – which may lead to a low take up.
It could also inflate prices for houses or trades, as grants often do, but the short timeframe for the scheme is expected to counteract this.
Despite all these potential drawbacks it has been reported that there has been huge enquiry – numbering 8000 as at June 8- about the program in the days following the announcement. This indicates interest – and potential take up – is high, and the program could be the catalyst for people taking action after sitting on the sidelines due to Coronavirus.
In particular it could be a great incentive for first home buyers, who will also be able to take advantage of state and territory grants, but it’s also a good opportunity for existing homeowners to upgrade to a new homes or update their current home.
What to consider
You should do you own research and seek expert advice before rushing in to take advantage of this grant, despite time being of the essence.
Ensure you are making a prudent investment decision and either buying a new home that will increase in value or ensuring you are adding value through a renovation and not overcapitalising.
Chris Gray of YourEmpire.com.au says in the past property grants have often created a short-term bubble in the market, and quite often it can be a “false economy”.
Home buyers, he says, are often better off buying a mainstream existing house in a well-located suburb with no grant rather than buying a new one with a grant, as the underlying investment in the most important thing.
He warned homebuyers taking advantage of HomeBuilder to do their numbers, and determine if they would actually still do a renovation and spend the money if they didn’t have the grant.
“The grant should be the bonus rather than the reason for doing it,” he says, adding that having to spend the extra $25,000 on a higher-value renovation means overcapitalising is a real risk.
“You might spend money on things that actually devalue the property such as gold-plated taps or diamond encrusted something else. You can spend money upscaling to satisfy the requirements of the grant and it doesn’t suit the area or the type of property.
“Get a fresh pair of eyes to look over your property and determine what it is worth now and what it will be worth after so you make sure you add value and know how much to spend on a renovation.”
Do we need more property grants to stimulate the housing market post COVID-19?
At this present time, it doesn’t appear that the housing market needs propping up via other grants or handouts.
According to CoreLogic Head of Research Tim Lawless property values have been quite insulated from a downturn to date, with CoreLogic data to the end of May showing home values were down less than half a percent.
The HomeBuilder grant is more about jobs than housing, he says.
“(It) is more about shoring up jobs in the residential construction sector, so it is rightly targeted towards incentives to build or renovate, rather than stoke demand for established homes which could have an inflationary effect on prices.”
Mr Lawless explained that housing construction has been in a broad downturn over the past year and a half, and will likely slump further through the year.
“Nationally dwelling commencements peaked in the first quarter of 2018 and by the end of last year had declined by around one third to be 14 per cent below the decade average,” he says.
“Considering housing construction typically provides a strong multiplier effect on the economy via the scope of the supply chain and array of trades and industries involved, a stimulus package for the sector makes sense.”