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What’s the best investment strategy: positively or negatively geared property? Mark Armstrong

The federal election has be run and won and with the Liberals getting a clear majority the uncertain political outlook has been put to bed. Property investors are timid beasts by nature and they want to know everything is safe before they make a move and a stable government will help with this psychology.  

Also helping investors feel comfortable is the fact ME Bank announced yesterday their three year fixed rate has been cut to 4.69%, the lowest level for 23 years.  

Property investors have already begun to re-enter the property market but these two events are only going to add to the momentum. They will begin to change their thinking from ‘if’ they should buy property to ‘what’ they should buy and will be torn between the logic of two radically different investment strategies.  

One says it’s always best to buy property that’s positively geared. This means that holding costs like council rates, insurance, maintenance and interest on the loan are less than the rental income received.  

The second argument says it’s better to buy property that’s negatively geared, meaning that holding costs are greater than the rental income received. You fund the shortfall from your own pocket, giving you a negative income which you then claim as a tax deduction.  

In reality, these arguments are doomed to go around in circles. There’s no one right or wrong answer that applies to every investor. Each purchasing strategy has its upside and downside; both of which should be considered before making a decision.  

Let’s start by looking at positively geared property. Generally speaking, the high-buy in price of most properties in capital cities means that to buy a positively geared asset, you must purchase in a regional or rural area where prices are lower. This may leave you with a relatively modest mortgage, making it easier to enter the property market, and easier to fund the holding costs from rental income alone.  

The downside, however, is that positively geared property may have a lower capital growth rate. Every property’s value is determined by the ratio of two components: the land and the building. Land appreciates, or grows in value, whilst buildings depreciate or fall in value.  

In regional and rural areas, land values per square metre tend to be low because there’s plenty of land available compared with the level of buyer demand. This means the building accounts for most of the asset’s value. The building may lose value faster than the land can gain value—hampering long-term capital growth.  

Let’s compare this with buying negatively geared property. When the buy in price is high, the land value probably is. This is the upside of negative gearing; you’re more likely to have purchased in an area with a limited supply of land relative to buyer demand. The land component makes up a higher proportion of the property’s overall value, giving the asset strong capital growth potential.  

On the downside, buying a negatively geared asset means that whilst your long-term risk may be lower, your short-term risk may be higher because you have to find a way to fund the difference between holding costs and rental income from your own pocket. This can create cash flow pressure, particularly if you incur an unexpected expense such as an interest rate rise or urgent repair.  

In short, it’s a case of short-term gain and possible long-term pain (positively geared property) versus short-term pain for possible long-term gain (negatively geared property). To decide which is right for you, it’s important to assess your financial circumstances.  

First, consider your level of disposable income. If you have spare cash to cover the difference between your holding costs and rental income, buying a negatively geared property may be appropriate. On the other hand, if your budget is tight, negative gearing may be too hard an ask and a positively geared property may be a better way to go. The capital growth won’t be as strong, but at least you’ll be in the market.  

Second, consider how long you’ll be earning a good income. To ride out market fluctuations and recoup purchasing costs, property should be viewed as a long-term investment; at least seven to 10 years. If you’re close to retirement and a substantial drop in income isn’t far away, adopting a negatively geared strategy may not be viable. In this case, you should consider investment options that don’t require you to contribute funds from your own pocket. By contrast, if you’re many years away from retirement, you may have enough income over the long-term to fund the shortfall from your wage or salary.  

Whichever gearing strategy you choose, go into it with your eyes open.  

Mark Armstrong is a director of iProperty Plan, which provides independent analysis and tailored advice to investors and home buyers.



Mark Armstrong

Mark Armstrong

Mark Armstrong is a director of, Australia's number one real estate agent rating website.

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