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Can Brisbane property prices maintain pace with Melbourne and Sydney?

Brisbane property

I hosted a seminar in August 2018 where I presented an investment case for (investment-grade) houses in Brisbane in the $800,000 to $1m price range. It was my thesis that they represented excellent value and had a high probability of delivering above-average returns in the medium term. An investment grade house that sold for circa $800,000 in late 2018 would be worth well over $1 million today.

Depending on your financial position, existing assets and investment strategy, an investment-grade property in Brisbane might still be an excellent investment. I set out some pros and cons to consider in this blog (in no particular order).

Pro: Overseas and interstate migration

The chart below sets out interstate migration for NSW, Victoria and Queensland. Sydney’s interstate migration has been negative for many years (as a Melbournian, I’ll resist the temptation to disparage Sydney). The clear trend over the past 5 years is that a growing number of people are moving from Victoria and NSW to Queensland. However, historically, almost all interstate migrants move to the Sunshine and Gold Coast, not Brisbane. However, I suspect that Covid might change that trend.

Interstate migration

This next chart sets out net overseas migration since 2004. Overseas migration declined significantly between 2008 and 2015. It was starting to recover but of course Covid has interrupted that. Unlike interstate migration, almost all overseas migrants move to Brisbane.

Overseas migration

Interestingly, New Zealanders tend to represent around half of the total permanent migrants. But fewer New Zealanders have been moving to Queensland in recent (pre-covid) years. The number of New Zealand migrants between 2017 and 2019 ranged between 1,500 and 3,000. By comparison, in 2008 over 16,000 New Zealanders moved to Queensland. A rebound in New Zealand migration could have positive consequences for Brisbane and its property market.

I suspect that Covid has highlighted how attractive Australia is as a designation for overseas migrants. And, for some of the reasons highlighted below, Brisbane is well positioned to attract a large share of these immigrants.

Pro: Large infrastructure spending

Brisbane is in the midst of a $20 billion infrastructure spend including major projects such as Cross River Rail, Queen’s Wharf Precinct, Showgrounds Masterplan, Brisbane Live entrainment precinct and so on.

Last year, the Queensland government completed construction of a second runway at Brisbane airport at a cost of $1.4 billion. It is projected to generate $5 billion of economic benefit over the next 10 years.

And of course, Brisbane will host the 2032 Olympic games. KPMG projects that it will deliver $4.6 billion in economic benefits.

These infrastructure projects contribute positively to Brisbane’s ability to attract a growing number of overseas and interstate migrants.

Con: Smaller city (population)

Brisbane’s population is almost half the size of Melbourne and Sydney, which means there are fewer high net worth persons that are willing and able to drive blue-chip property prices higher. As I have written before, property prices will continue to rise in blue-chip locations as long as the demand from a cohort of wealthy individuals outstrips supply. The larger a city’s population is, the more likely that demand will persistently outstrip supply.

StatePopulation nowABS projection by 2060
Brisbane2.3 million4.8 million (1.65% p.a. growth rate)
Sydney5.3 million9.75 million (1.36% p.a. growth rate)
Melbourne5.1 million10.1 million (1.53% p.a. growth rate)

Pro: Better affordability

Buying a family home in a blue-chip suburb (i.e. located 5-12 kms from the city in a good school zone) is still relatively affordable in Brisbane compared to Melbourne and Sydney. A property of this calibre can typically cost in the range of $1 million to $1.5 million. However, in Melbourne and Sydney you need to spend more than double that amount.

I think this is a big attraction for overseas migrants, particularly New Zealanders.

Con: Job opportunities

One of the Brisbane’s downsides is that it doesn’t have a lot of corporate head offices and therefore, attract fewer high-paying executive roles. From a list of 265 notable large Australian business (many of them listed), only 27 of them have head offices in Brisbane (compared to 94 in Sydney and 84 in Melbourne). A city really needs to be large enough to attract a large number of employers that earn substantial salaries.

The ‘work from home’ movement might go some way to alleviate this. Depending on the industry and occupational role, it may not be necessary for key employees to live in the same state as the company’s head office.

Pro: Lower stamp duty than in Victoria

Investing in property in Brisbane attracts lower levels of stamp duty than in Victoria. The table below compares the upfront stamp duty cost and ongoing land tax for a property worth $1 million.

 QueenslandVictoriaNSW
Initial stamp duty$41,500$57,500$40,500
Ongoing land tax$1,500$1,475Nil

It is noteworthy that NSW charges the lowest amount of Stamp duty. However, of course, you are not going to find an investment grade property for $1 million in Sydney, so the comparison is theoretical only. The reality is that purchasing in investment grade property is either Melbourne or Sydney will give rise to a much higher stamp duty bill.

Pro: Higher rental yield

Investment-grade house rental yields in Brisbane range between 2.5% and 3.5%, with the typical yield being close to the midpoint i.e. 3%. This yield is much higher than in Melbourne and Sydney where investment-grade houses are lucky to generate a rental yield of 2%.

Based on current fixed interest rates, the annual after-tax holding cost for a $1.5 million property is likely to be less than $10,000.

Think long term

Currently you can buy an investment-grade property in Brisbane in a blue-chip suburb such as Toowong, Ashgrove, Paddington for between $1 and $1.5 million. The house will be located on a 400-500 sqm block of land (land value will represent 60-70% of the property’s total value). You will receive a 3% rental yield.

I ask myself, what will this property be worth in 20 years? It is certainly not inconceivable that a $1.5m property today will be worth over $4 million in 20 years’ time (which is only a growth rate of 5% p.a.). If so, I have accumulated $2.5m in equity and it won’t have cost me very much money to pay for its holding costs.  

Conclusion: Could be a good addition to your portfolio

For the reasons discussed above, investing in Brisbane property does have a lot of merit. Of course, whether it suits your circumstances is something I cannot comment on. However, it is important to consider the benefits of geographical diversification. Therefore, if you already have investment exposure to the Melbourne and/or Sydney property markets, then investing in Brisbane could be a good addition to your portfolio.

Of course, it is paramount to buy the right property i.e. one that is investment-grade.