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Three tips to increase rental returns in older apartment blocks: Cameron McEvoy

As investors, sometimes the most efficient unit buying strategies for some locations is to consider or favour older developments. In highly renter-desirable locations purchasing older apartment stock usually come with a few advantages, such as:

- A more cost-efficient buy-in rate than new stock;

- Locations that newly built blocks just cannot compete with (such as unobstructed ocean views, or the quietest streets in a suburb otherwise full of noisy, congested arterial roads);

- Oftentimes larger apartment square meter space;

- Opportunity for renovation and modernisation to both add capital value and also increase rental return.

This is not to say that buying new or near-new stock does not have its benefits. In many instances, you will be better off in your selected suburb or street to purchase newer stock. Depreciation schedules look much more tax advantageous, unit layouts are usually more befitting a 21st century lifestyle and this is attractive to would-be tenants, plus features and facilities are usually far superior than older blocks.

However, I’ll focus entirely on older blocks and ways to add value to them. Some of the ideas I have successfully implemented myself, whilst others I’ve observed peers and colleagues who have had positive rental return knock-on effects from such renovations. Some elements are things you can do within your own unit, whilst others are things that can add value to the entire block, but as such require voting-majority agreement in strata committee sessions.

Adding secure entrance doors to the block

This is a project I am actually in the middle of, with one of my investment properties. Older blocks, say those of circa 1950?s through to 1990?s, are almost always your usual apartment block affair; being typically a three-floor ‘walk-up’ brick block.

Most blocks will have anywhere from four to t12 units, across two or three floors. These kinds of blocks would have originally been fitted with a basic wooden entrance door to the building. Some buildings do not even have a lock feature on these doors, and some in especially poor states disrepair do not even have a door at all!

Tenants value security when it comes to apartments and units, especially in inner and middle ring suburb locations in cities. Adding a modern, intercom-connected, secure aluminium-and-glass door system will add peace of mind to tenants living in that block. It will also add value to every unit in the block for this reason.

The challenge with implementing this of course is that being a shared problem; it is a strata solution. This means that there needs to either be enough money in the sinking fund to pay for it, or a special levy will need to be raised to pay for it. In either scenario, the strata committee and members must vote on such an addition to the building and a majority must indicate their preference to have the project done.

To give you an idea of scope, the property I referred to at the moment has been back-and-forthing the security door installation issue for over twelve months. First, the vote had to occur and be won. That took time. Next, multiple contractor quotes were required for submission, again taking more time. The strata committee had to then agree a candidate contractor. Finally, the contractor is still yet to commit to starting the work. Due to this issue affecting all tenants, we also must advise tenants well in advance of the works to be carried out.

Secure letterbox installation

This is a less labor-intensive renovation than a security door, but still it requires the agreement and funds allocation of the voting strata committee. Just like their personal security, tenants are increasingly valuing more secure letterboxes in older building.

Why? Because the fastest growing ‘category’ of crime in the world is not murder, traditional kidnapping, armed robbery and so on. Instead, it is a far more profitable and lower risk crime:  identity theft and digital theft of bank accounts, data, and personal information.

And it is happening all over the world. Russian organised crime and mafia families for instance, are transitioning from being leg-breaking, murderous, threatening gangsters to digital, thieving, and threatening gangsters. Identity theft via the hacking of social networking data to illicit sensitive personal banking and financial data, is becoming more and more common.

So is the instance of letterbox-raiding. This is because the letters you get from banking and financial institutions contain the ‘missing link’ information that, when combined with hacked digital data, adds up to be an almost-complete profile of a victim. From here, criminals are able to connect the data types and contact institutions, enabling them to steal money and other sensitive data from the victim.

Older blocks have decaying and easily breakable letterboxes where data thieves can access your information, so by having a modern secure letterbox be built, it gives renters a further comforting peace of mind. Usually these are built directly on top of an old brick wall style letterbox. The old letterbox holes then get a metal sheet covering them, which usually spells out the block number and building name too. These look quite nice and add a modern touch to older units; making them easier to see from the street and identify, when visitors are trying to find the place.

Maximising common property space to fit more parking

This is a much less common strategy but one worth mentioning. Take for example an older 1970?s, three-floor walk up block. Let’s say there are 12 units on it, with uncovered parking lines that can fit eight cars in it.

Usually in these instances, the eight parking spaces are not ‘on-title’ belonging to any unit. That effectively means that the 12 occupants must randomly share the eight spaces. It also means that when selling a unit in this block, the owner cannot sell the unit stating that it comes with its own parking space. In some suburbs in inner-ring areas of cities in Australia, a unit with dedicated parking can be as rare as hen’s teeth.

Typical in these older blocks too, are large clothes line areas (the old ones that screech when the wind blows them around in circles). If you are able to get the agreement of the strata committee to fund the investment; some blocks are converting the clothes line areas into extra parking spaces – enough to make a spot for each unit. The clothes lines are then replaced down the side of the building with modern space saving wall-mounted fold up clothes lines. The lawyers then draw up a new strata plan that allocates on title one car space per unit. This is the most expensive part. The valuers are then brought in at the end to assess each unit value now that it features a dedicated on-title car parking space.

This strategy will not be right for many blocks. In fact, in some suburbs, the costs involved above to add the improvement, may not be returned in terms of the value-add that on-title car parking spaces, per-unit, will give. However, the value-add will occur both in rental return increase of some degree, and capital growth over all of every unit value.

Cameron McEvoy is a NSW-based property investor and maintains a blog, Property Correspondent.


Cameron McEvoy

Cameron McEvoy

Cameron McEvoy is a NSW-based property investor and maintains a blog, Property Correspondent.

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