Beware the lure of the ‘sexy’ investments

Wednesday, 2nd Oct 2013


In Greek mythology, there lived a beautiful but dangerous creature known as the Siren. This femme fatale would supposedly lure nearby sailors with an enchanting song, causing them to shipwreck and ultimately perish.

For property investors, there are modern day equivalents of the Siren that need to be resisted at all costs. I am talking about the types of property that look unbelievably good – sexy even – but that don’t particularly make good investments. For those without the right knowledge or cool head, the consequences can be disastrous.

Here are some of the common culprits…

Culprit #1: Brand new house and land packages

Let’s face it, we all love shiny new things, which is why it’s easy to see the appeal of investing in a new home and land package.  Not only does this type of property look amazing in the brochures, but it is loved by tenants and can even be tailored to suit your specific needs.

The tax benefits of new property, with its depreciation, are well-documented, plus there should be no maintenance, at least for the first few years. Clearly, investing in a beautiful house and land package is an easy option.

Like so many things, however, what looks good isn’t necessarily good for you. And when it comes to house and land packages, there are a few reasons why they often let investors down.

Firstly, when you buy new property, you’re not just paying for the building and land. Factored into the price are also the developer’s profit margin and a proportion of the marketing costs that come with selling this type of property. These hidden ‘costs’ could be the equivalent of a few years of capital growth, putting you behind the eight ball from day one.

Secondly, the superficial appeal of these properties is often enough to distract investors from the fact that the location of the property is less than ideal. The majority of house and land packages are located on the outskirts of the city in areas with abundant potential supply.

The bottom line is that while investing in new property can seem appealing, it often proves unsatisfying over the long term due to poor capital growth.

Culprit #2: Off the plan apartments

Like a brand new house and land package, a stylish off the plan apartment can seem an attractive option. The innovative architecture, modern interiors and funky inner-city location can make any investor weak at the knees. Add into the mix potentially strong rental yields and great tax benefits and you have one pretty package.

Sadly, however, the reality rarely lives up to the fantasy. Low valuations and finishes that don’t meet expectations are common outcomes after settlement. Worse still, investors later realise that their property is one of hundreds of similar properties all competing for tenants and buyers, driving values down.

When it comes to off the plan apartments, you must not be distracted by the glossy brochures, incentives and promised rent returns. In the cold light of day, these investments just don’t deliver the capital growth on offer with other types of investments.

Culprit #3: Holiday homes

Who hasn’t been on holiday, fallen in love with a place and thought to themselves ‘I should buy an investment property here so I can enjoy it while also earning an income’.

Holidays have a wonderful way of distorting reality – making everything seem better – and this can lead a normally astute investor to make extraordinarily bad decisions.

There are certain types of holiday investments, such as short stay apartments, that are particularly risky. But even a regular type of property in a holiday location can seem a far better investment than it actually is.

Holiday destinations typically have a very transient population, which means that demand for property can fluctuate immensely. Property investors often have to put up with massive vacancy periods, putting a major dent in their wallet. Also, a holiday home investment can require many additional costs to furnish, maintain and manage the property, which investors fail to take into account.

Selling a holiday home investment can often be tricky and take far longer than an equivalent property in the city. Property values in holiday destinations are notoriously vulnerable to changes in the economy. It’s an asset that quickly gets offloaded when times are bad, which drags down prices. Holiday destinations were some of the hardest hit during the GFC and many have yet to recover.

Competition with your future self

Why are so many investors lured in by these seemingly attractive investment options? I think it comes down to the fact that when faced with certain decisions, especially involving your future, it can be hard to put the needs of your future self ahead of your present impulses.

Some investments look good and might even seem satisfying at first, but they are ultimately not good for your future self. And making the wrong investment decision can cost you.

Ugly is often the way to go

If you care about building wealth and retiring wealthier or sooner, you need to beware of the types of investments I have mentioned. This advice applies not only to investors but also to home buyers who want to build equity and upgrade their home down the track.

There is always a compromise with ‘sexy’ investments. You’re paying for all the ‘gloss’ and in most cases sacrificing important aspects such as location, which inevitabley leads to poor growth. They may offer short term benefits because they are ‘easy’ and immediately gratifying, but the lure quickly fades.

Sometimes the best property investment option is the ‘ugly’ one. Picture an old house needing renovation, sitting on a large block in an established suburb. It might not look that great to the eye, but it could offer an exceptional opportunity for the investor who can see its true beauty – potential for strong capital growth.

Unglamorous properties don’t attract a lot of attention, which means you can often secure them at a great price. Plus, they allow you to manufacture growth by making them a little sexier.

The bottom line is that before entering the market as an investor, you need to be absolutely clear on why you are investing. Is it to show-off to your friends and family? Is it to pay less tax? Or is it to build serious wealth that provides you with a financially secure future? Keeping your eye on the prize will help you stay on course for the long term, even if you encounter many distractions along the way.