Thursday, August 29, 2013

Own your home sooner

Are you aware that paying $100 extra per month saves $43,000 and almost four years off the life of an average $300,000 loan?

Far too many homeowners are missing out on opportunities to pay off their loans sooner, new research shows.

Which is bizarre, since the same research shows that ‘owning a home’ or ‘paying your home off sooner’ are the top priorities for 57 per cent of the respondents, while having children or getting married rated at 8 per cent and 5 per cent respectively.

The Westpac Home Ownership Report* also found that the majority (77 per cent) of people surveyed believe that ‘home ownership’ is only achieved when their home loan has been paid off in full, as opposed to when they first purchase a property and take out a loan.

Gai McGrath, General Manager of Retail Banking at Westpac, remarked that the research showed that Australians need advice to help them own their home sooner.

“Our research indicates that many features designed to help pay off loans quicker are not fully understood, meaning Australians are missing out on opportunities to pay off their home loan faster”, she said.

Small steps such as setting up a home loan with a 100 per cent offset account, accelerating the frequency of payments to fortnightly rather than monthly or making additional repayments, can reduce both the term of the loan and save thousands in the long-term, Ms McGrath suggested.

“For example, more than one in three (37 per cent) Australians with a home loan have an offset account”, she said.

“However, more than one in three (36 per cent) of those didn’t actually understand how an offset works so I doubt they are using it to their full potential.

“To help our customers Westpac has specially developed an offset calculator which allows Australians to work out how much time they can reduce on their home loan term and money they can save by using an offset account.”

According to (benchmarking firm) Comparator's Quarterly Market Diagnostics for the Home Loans Report representing ten of the nation’s largest home loan lenders, there is around $59 billion in offset balances.

"What is remarkable is if you were to use these figures as a base and then look at the average discounted interest rate across all Banks at 5.35 per cent, those Australians are making an estimated annual savings of $3 billion ($3,131,151,647) on their offset accounts," Ms McGrath observed.

She added that there seems to be a lot of confusion about the types of home loans available in the market.

“One in five (20 per cent) of those intending to buy in the next 12 months had no idea what type of loan structure they should take up when they go to buy and of those who already had a home loan, over one in five (22 per cent) didn’t even understand what a variable rate was”, said Ms McGrath.

While confusion exists, the general sentiment amongst Australians with a home loan is positive; with three quarters (76 per cent) stating they believe now is a good time to be paying above their minimum repayments.

* The survey researched the priorities of Australians who either have a home already or are planning to buy within the next twelve months.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Thinking of buying off the plan?

We are seeing a lot more people buying off the plan in Wollongong. I believe this has come about due to a shortage of up-market units combined with the social shift from the suburbs to central or lifestyle locations. This is a recent article in The Domain.

Thinking about buying off the plan? Here are six items you must cover first.
Off the plan apartments have some great advantages such as locking in a price to safeguard against rising values and tax advantages like claiming depreciation on fittings and fixtures.
However, you still have to carry out your fair share of due diligence on the building complex to ensure you are getting exactly what you pay for.
Brad Porteus from BSP Construction Consultants has listed six essential items to tick off your list before committing to purchase.
1. Have you received a full set of detailed drawing plans for the unit?
The building plans should show the full dimensions (in millimetres) of all rooms including bathrooms, laundry, kitchens, bedrooms; show all door sizes and locations, show all window locations and sizes, show cabinet layouts, wall and floor tiling layouts and the plans should be to scale.
2. Have you received a full building specification and addenda?
You should receive a full building specification and addenda for your unit and the common areas to the building if applicable.
The specifications for your unit should include the cabinet materials and finishes, including robes and linen cabinets, appliance models and makes, wall and floor tiling, tapware models and makes, floor coverings, window makes, doors and door furniture, electrical fittings including switches and outlets, air conditioning unit type/model and maker, door furniture, garage door model and make, alarm systems make and models.
The common area specifications should include the lift make and model (very important), the window and door makers, wall and floor tiling, carpets, light fittings, air conditioning unit type/model and maker, ventilation systems, the car park entry gates both pedestrian and vehicle make and models and security systems including entry doors.
3. Ensure the building plans dimensions and layouts are fixed
The building plans supplied must be fixed and not be open to amendments during construction including window and door sizes and balcony sizes. This must be documented on your sale contract.
4. Has a strata management company been selected?
The strata management company will be very important to the building once completed, to ensure it is maintained and managed efficiently. If the strata company has been selected then you can do some due diligence checks on the company.
5. What are the annual strata fees?
This should be set prior to making your offer to purchase. You do not want this to be a hidden cost once the unit has been purchased.
6. Who is the building company?
This is a very important item to the quality of construction of the building or unit complex. Once the builder has been identified you need to check some of their past projects.
Visit some of their finished sites and even try to talk to some of the owners.
Look at the finished properties for the quality of the building finishes. What you see at their past projects will be what you see at your proposed new building or unit complex.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013 would I define the real estate market in Wollongong at the moment?

Let me lead into this article with some interesting numbers:
Real estate agents identify market activity with a few metrics:

1.     Auction clearance rates: Sydney has seen an extraordinary rise in clearance rates since November last year. I would regard a sustained clearance rate above 60% as progressing towards an active market. Clearances have been above 80% in Sydney for the last 3 weekends. As a matter of interest, Wollongong has seen a greater number of properties going to the market via auction in the last 12 months and although I don’t have the clearance statistics for our area, you can be very sure the largest real estate market in Australia ‘just up the road’ is having an influence on ours!

2.     Listed properties: this is an influencer on the supply and demand equation. The lower the supply combined with increased activity translates into property demand. There was just over 12% less properties listed January to June 2013 compared to the previous year.

3.      Number of Sales: Generally speaking with an increased sale number comes greater activity. There was a 17.2% increase in sales for the corresponding period year on year.

4.     Days on Market (DOM): This is based on the date the property is listed for sale compared to the date of contract exchange. The lower this number then the greater buying activity appears in the market place. There is an interesting trend here with DOM actually increasing for January to June 2013 compared to the previous year. I believe this is due to older listings selling more readily this year - that is, properties that were on the market for a long time have sold due to reducing stock levels and increased demand bucking the normal statistical trend.

5.     Vendor Discounting: The difference between listed price and exchanged price. Again, the lower the number, the more activity is present. Year on year January to June, seller negotiation difference has reduced by 55%! Anecdotally I have noticed an increase in properties that sell very close to the listed price. We have also been involved in a recent sale that sold over the originally listed price due to demand.

6.     Crane Count: this is my own measure and it’s indicative of the development activity in an area = the confidence investors/developers have to spend their money...and get a return. As little as 3 years ago, Central Wollongong had zero cranes above the building line. There are now 4, down from a peak of 7 cranes earlier this year. I am aware of at least 1 new crane due on the skyline this year.

Statistics Source: EAC Redsquare Data

What does this mean?

The Wollongong real estate market has remained remarkably resilient.
June, July and August 2012 were seen as the bottom of the market with sale numbers down 30% on normal trading. This is when ‘across the board’ First Home Buyers funding ceased, combining with the traditional winter slowdown and the world news dominated by financial issues in Europe. Buyer confidence plummeted. Balanced against longer term statistics, this short term drop then united with a cautious recovery in Spring 2012 when world financial news improved and local interest rates dropped. The Wollongong numbers have generally been on a long slow positive trend since then supported by a strong winter selling season in Sydney (this is atypical in itself).

Stock levels are still down, with sellers waiting for a) Federal Election b) Spring c) End of the Financial Year to put their property on the market. We have also seen over 100 new residential units built in Wollongong/North Wollongong with many now ready to be occupied. Most of the new occupants will have a property to sell. Buyers however are out there now and complaining about a lack of choice.
Longer term prospects appear very positive, with the University of Wollongong thriving, visitor numbers up a staggering 12.4% (and therefore tourism income) from the previous year and investment and projects in the area close to ½ billion dollars either planned or underway. In addition, the NSW Government’s $100 million from the sale of the Port Kembla lease will come on line over the next 12 months.

I have every reason to believe Wollongong is travelling well.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Secrets to The Block success

They were apartment number one, the first to auction their property and now the twins from Adelaide have continued their winning streak by taking out Channel 9’s The Block Sky High.
Alisa and Lysandra were the big winners in last night’s auction show when their ground floor luxury apartment sold for $1.435 million, $295,000 over the reserve. This meant they were awarded an extra $100,000, bringing their prize money to a huge $395,000.
However, all five couples were winners on the night, signalling more confidence in the prestige property market according to the twins' real estate agent Anton Wongtrakum, managing director of Dingle Partners.
“The prestige market is one of the areas we work in most,” he told Real Estate Business.
“And over the last year, I have seen a lot more confidence return to the market and this project just highlights that.”
Mr Wongtrakum worked weekly with Alisa and Lysandra throughout the competition to ensure their property was customised to a prestige market.
“In this luxury market, people are fairly precise with what they are after, so we worked very closely with the girls to give them advice to make sure the property would appeal to the right audience,” he said.
“They brought us on very early and then we would meet weekly to make sure the apartment was heading in the right direction.
“The apartment was custom built for what we believed to be the prestige market, and from the results at the weekend, the advice paid off.”
In just a few short months, the five couples took a run-down apartment complex on Park Street in south Melbourne and renovated it, transforming it into luxury apartments. Each couple had to renovate eight bathrooms and four bedrooms.
In second place was the youngest couple on the block, Maddie and Jarrod. Their level four apartments sold for $1.601 million, $291,000 over the reserve price.
Western Australian couple Matt and Kim were $250,000 over their reserve, going under the hammer last but still selling their level two apartment for $1.455 million.
Crowd favourites George and Bec came in fourth, selling their property for $1.507 million, $242,000 over the reserve price.
Meanwhile, the penthouse apartment sold for $1.605 million, earning Brisbane parents Trixie and Johno a cool $205,000.
According to RP Data, the average sale price of a south Melbourne house is $900,000 and $520,000 for a unit.
Gerald Betts, director and auctioneer at RT Edgar Albert Part who represented fourth-placed George and Bec, said last night’s auction results were not a surprise as they were always destined to do well.
“Good properties will always sell, no matter what market you’ve got,” he told Real Estate Business.
“But you get worldwide marketing with a television show like The Block, where other luxury properties couldn’t possible get such attention.”
According to Mr Betts, George and Bec’s apartment was designed with neutral tones and thus appealed to a larger audience. However, he admits they would have preferred to have been second in the auction order.
“The first auction sets the price for the day,” he explained.
“While the second auction still has great buyer interest, we would have preferred to be second.”

Source: Stacey Moseley - Real Estate Business

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Sydney continues record streak

Sydney has again recorded auction clearance rates that have not been seen since mid-2009, according to RP Data.
RP Data recorded a preliminary clearance rate for the city of 79.1 per cent, up from 77.4 per cent last week, and an increase in auctions from 378 to 410 this week.
Similarly, Australian Property Monitors (APM) recorded a strong rate of 81.1 per cent, which followed on from last week’s result of 81 per cent.
Senior economist for APM Dr Andrew Wilson said the Sydney market was continuing to strengthen towards record levels with its year-high weekend auction clearance rate.
“Buyer momentum in the Sydney auction market is currently almost irresistible, with the market at levels not experienced at this time of the year since the house price boom of 2002, 11 years ago,” he said “Listing numbers this weekend were also similar to last weekend, with 306 properties auctioned compared to 268 over the same weekend last year.”
In Melbourne, the auction clearance rate fell from 67.3 per cent last week to 62.8 per cent, with 486 auctions held across the city this weekend.
APM recorded an auction clearance rate of 69 per cent for Melbourne across 426 auctions.
Dr Wilson said it was another solid result for the city, which would continue to see strong house price growth.
“The Melbourne market has been characterised as remarkably consistent this year, not only in regard to clearance rates but also with the mix of sales between buyer types, regions and price ranges," he said.
“Higher auction listings reflect increased confidence from Melbourne sellers, as clearance rates continue to track at the highest levels recorded for over three years.”
RP Data recorded a slight fall in the auction clearance rate across the capital cities with a result of 65.4 per cent this week, down from last week’s 67.7 per cent. However, auction volumes increased compared to last week, rising from 984 to 1,131.
Both auction clearance rates and volumes remained high compared to last year, when the capital city auction clearance rate was recorded at 52.1 per cent across 880 auctions.
According to APM, over the weekend the most expensive and most affordable properties were in Brisbane with a value of $5.2 million and $195,000 respectively.

Source: Real Estate Business Bulletin

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Commentary by Harold Hanson AM regarding the establishment of the Wollongong City Art Gallery

"During the period 1969 to 1979 I was an Alderman on Wollongong City Council and in 1974 also Chairman of the Council Finance Committee.

I had been interested in art, especially paintings, since my schooldays and the opportunity was then available to do something really constructive and worthwhile by establishing an Art Gallery in Wollongong. There was no Art Gallery in the City or the Region and it was firmly on my priority list as a prime objective after being elected to Council.

Wollongong had the perception of being an industrial city, with the steelworks and its smokestacks as a backdrop, the coalmines and strong Union reputation.

To my mind that did not mean that the community and particularly the children did not deserve to have access to a cultural facility such as an Art Gallery and be encouraged to become involved in art and music.

Many of the migrants who settled in the Illawarra from a broad spread of other countries had a strong interest in art and music and their talents were becoming more and more evident locally.

A strong supporter of the Gallery was John Richardson the active and energetic Editor of the influential Illawarra Mercury. I had established a strong friendship and respect for John and we talked together often. He was determined to put the resources of the paper behind supporting a vision and future for the City. He was as committed as I was to support the establishment of an Art Gallery.

The first step of course was to raise the necessary not-insignificant funding, not only to acquire a Gallery site and building, but also to make sure that there was adequate Federal, State and local support for the on-going running costs, including acquisitions.

A small informal steering committee was formed consisting of myself as Chairman, John  Richardson, Max Syer, the General Manager of the Illawarra County Council, Coralie Barr, an artist in her own right and a very efficient Secretary to the committee, and Nadia Crittenden, an experienced journalist with the Mercury.

The Committee decided to inaugurate fund-raising by preparing and contacting a list of prospective donors particularly from the large commercial industries in the area to first gauge the extent of interest

The Art Collection in 1974 was minimal, mainly comprising local works, although there were some good paintings from the Annual Art Prize. There was nothing however which could be said to be an icon.

All of this changed in 1975. I happened to be at a Public Meeting at the (old) Town Hall when I met up with Father Michael Bach, the Administrator of St. Francis Xavier’s  Roman Catholic Cathedral, and a person for whom I, and others in the City across the board, had a great deal of respect. He said that he wanted to introduce me to a gentleman who wished to donate some paintings to the City. I had been approached by people previously on this sort of basis and generally the paintings had been either by themselves or of doubtful quality. I was then introduced by Father Bach to Bob Sredersas, a lovely, very modest gentleman, who explained that he lived on his own at Cringila, right next to the Steelworks, and he had collected some paintings which he wanted to donate to the “children of Wollongong”. Bob always spoke so quietly in his broken english that one had to listen very closely. His house was not suitable to preserve paintings properly and he was worried about having them stolen – in fact his house had already been broken into and some pieces taken.

I was very interested in what he said, his general description of the paintings, so was anxious to follow up as soon as possible. It was arranged that I would go round to the Cathedral Presbytery the following day where the paintings were stored to have a look at them. Father Bach with Mr. Sredersas took me upstairs to a storeroom which turned out to be a veritable treasure chest.
There was a large collection of paintings by most prized Australian artists – Lindsay, Cossington-Smith, Buckmaster, Heysen, Fullwood, Ashton and the list went on. A wonderful collection which would propel Wollongong into the position of having one of the best Regional Galleries in Australia.
Bob very quietly, in his usual very modest way, told Fr. Bach and myself how he came to acquire the paintings and what he wanted to do with them.
He told us that he had arrived in Australia from Northern Europe. He was very reticent about his upbringing but Lithuania did get a mention. He was single, worked as a crane-driver at the Steelworks, just down the road from his house at Cringila, wasn’t interested in sport, horse-racing, or going down to the pub, and his life-style requirements were simple. He spent very little on himself.
Some years before he had acquired an Encyclopaedia of Australian painters.
He was so interested in what he read that he decided as his hobby to go up on the train to Sydney during his time off, to the auctions at Sothebys and Lawsons and check out any paintings coming up for sale.  He personally had no knowledge of Australian painters except from what he read in his book.

What he did do after finding out how the painting auction system worked was to bid for any paintings reasonable priced where the painter involved was mentioned in his book.

He said that he didn’t need to know anything himself about the quality or the subject-matter of the painters or paintings provided that they were listed creditably in the Encyclopaedia.

And so his collection started.

At that time during the 1950s and 1960s Australian painters were not highly regarded and most paintings in that category could be obtained for very few pounds.

 Bob wanted to show his gratitude to Wollongong for giving him a home, by donating his collection to the City to be available to be seen by the children. He knew that he was getting older and he wanted to make sure that the gift was in the care of the City before he died.

He also wanted to be sure that they, or at least a rotating selection of them, would be put on permanent display so that the children of his adopted City would be able to see them whenever the Gallery was open.

His collection and magnificent donation – worth a very substantial amount of money indeed – was the catalyst on which the Art Gallery and its collection were built.

With his consent the fund-raising Committee was able to publicise the donation and use it as a platform to launch a much larger fund-raising project.

The Mercury gave Bob Sredersas and the collection a tremendous amount of publicity in support of the Gallery project.

Publicity was not limited to local cover - the national media was equally interested in the quality of the paintings and the modest and shy migrant donor.

I remember that the Woman’s Weekly gave the event front cover.

The fund-raising committee was given a tremendous boost by the donation and the list of contributors began to grow.

Wollongong City Council was prepared to throw its support behind the Project and on March 1st. 1977 City Council approved calling tenders for the establishment of the City Art Gallery in the old Paddy’s Market Building standing on the corner of Keira and Burelli Streets. The building was owned by the Illawarra County Council which was prepared to negotiate with Wollongong city Council to transfer ownership.

The story was not quite finished with the Council resolution.

I was told one day that the County Council had decided to sell the Keira Street property to the City Council for about $200 thousand. I immediately rang Max Syer, the County Council Manager, and a strong supporter of the Art Gallery project and arranged to go over straightaway to talk with him and Ald Tobin the Chairman. Ald. Tobin confirmed the proposed sale. I said “Rubbish, they (the County Council) will give it to us. He said that County Council could not do that under the relevant Act of Parliament as the County Council was a commercial entity and must deal commercially.

I said “We will get the Act changed”.

I rang the Premier’s Department and arranged to send a letter from Wollongong city Council setting out the facts and requesting a meeting with the Premier. I was well aware that the Premier was a strong supporter of Galleries, and it must be said, aware that at that time Wollongong did not have a great deal in the way of cultural outlets.

A meeting was arranged quite quickly with Premier Wran – within three weeks - and I drove up to his office in Macquarie Street in company with the Town Clerk.

When we walked into his office, he said immediately “I am aware of why you are here. I am in agreement with what you are proposing. The Government will change the Act to allow the donation of the property to proceed. In addition we will donate $50 thousand to the Fund-raising Appeal plus there will be another $50 thousand if you can match it dollar for dollar.

Not too long after that the funds had been raised, stimulated by Bob’s unexpected magnificent gift, and work started on the Paddy’s Market Building to renovate and equip it as Wollongong’s first Art Gallery.

In order to acknowledge the substantial moneys donated by local companies and private citizens a plaque with a list of names was placed near the door of the new Gallery. It was moved to the old Council Chambers to where the Gallery was transferred after Council built its new office block. Unfortunately the plaque, an important part of Wollongong’s history and self-help progress, appears to have been taken down and now cannot be located.

A room in the newer Gallery was named the Sredersas Room to commemorate Bob’s name where his paintings were intended to be put on permanent display as he had asked “for the children of the City”.

And so the Art Gallery came into being, in large part thanks to Bob Sredersas, a modest new-comer to the City from the far side of the world, thankful for how he had been welcomed in his new country and who wanted, in his own special way, to express his appreciation."

Harold Hanson AM