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BFCSA: Triguboff’s warning must be heeded with more Migrants needed to buy oversupply of property

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Triguboff’s warning must be heeded
1 December 2015

Australia’s largest apartment owner and developer, Meriton’s Harry Triguboff, has issued an Australia-wide danger alert to all those involved in the dwelling market including owners, buyers, banks and politicians at the local, state and federal levels.


If the Triguboff warning is not heeded, there could be some nasty losses, including in bank loans.  What makes the Triguboff alert so significant is that he links the current softness in the dwelling market and Australia’s economic prosperity to our rate of migration. Inevitably this will create deep controversy.  I returned from Newfoundland at the weekend. In Canadian cities like Vancouver and Toronto, the price of houses is higher than Australia, partly because of heavy Chinese buying. Triguboff does not endorse widespread fears that the Chinese will retreat from Australia, but more of that later.

For a decade or so, Harry Triguboff has been criticising local councils and state governments for the long delays in gaining approvals, which has created shortages and boosted prices, particularly in Sydney. But there is now a money squeeze on local councils as salaries of non-public servant Australians are not rising, so local councils are being forced to limit their rate and tax increases.  To raise some of the extra money they believe they need, local councils are approving more dwelling developments. Triguboff tells the story this way:

“I will tell you what worries me. If we don’t increase migration, many councils around the country are approving too many apartments.  “I believe that the country’s future depends on achieving growth, which requires building accommodation. We are an empty continent.  “But we suddenly have many projects approved by councils who realise that this is the only way they can collect great sums of money. The land set to be approved for development was often purchased by people who have been unable to start building because of the earlier approval delays.

“But what happens when they get approvals and start to build like mad? We don’t have enough builders, and the supplies are strained. More importantly, our population is not keeping up with a big rise in new approvals. If we want to succeed, we must bring in more people. Unless we increase immigration we will fail, and I see is this as our greatest potential problem because big increases in approvals depend sooner or later on an increase in population, which can only happen if we have more migrants.  “As we are approving more buildings, we must simultaneously increase migrants.  If migration is held back and we return to a modest number of approvals, then we will suffer because the country and the councils cannot survive without more housing.”

Clearly Triguboff has a vested interest in that conclusion, but Victoria, which looked like being savaged by the closure of the motor industry, has prospered because of the large number of building approvals that were issued two years ago. But if the population, including the overseas students, does not keep rising, there will be surpluses and values will fall. As building slows, the current prosperity will decline.

It is clear that NSW and other states are now catching up but face the same danger because Triguboff is right that any big rise in the building rate will be followed by a severe slump if the dwellings are not sold and occupied.  We had thought that the mining investment boom might deliver widespread prosperity, but its benefits were isolated and are now disappearing rapidly. 

There is currently a strong anti-migration push in many parts of the country. If that takes hold and there is a big rise in dwelling approvals, then we will have a glut of apartments and perhaps outer-suburban houses.  Yet there is no shortage of people wanting to come here and bring skills. What is required is a willingness of politicians to allow them to come, given the community attitudes. Maybe we need to promote more widely the benefits of more migration, particularly skilled migration.

Until this sudden increase in new approvals, the biggest threat to the Sydney and Melbourne apartment markets was the possibility that the Chinese, who have purchased apartments on 10 per cent deposits, might walk away and not pay the balance of the purchase price when the apartments are completed. Triguboff has been watching trends in the Chinese market closely and says this:

“At the moment, people in Australia and internationally fear the Chinese will not settle their purchase contracts.  “I don’t believe that this will happen. Similar stories were written one year ago and some did not buy property because of the stories. The properties went up in value.  “Our interest rates are low, currently supply is still behind demand. Our Prime Minister correctly says that we live in the best country. The future is bright.  But if we don’t bring migrants in bigger numbers as we build more apartments, we will have trouble.”

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