Australian housing slows as Chinese investors forced out of market
Soon after Australia's New South Wales state announced it was doubling the tax for foreigner home buyers earlier this month, calls started flooding in to Sydney-based real estate agent Shan Lin.
"My phone never stopped, I charged my phone three times, no kidding - overseas clients, overseas agents, my channels in China," said Lin, who deals mostly with Chinese-based investors.
"They definitely feel the pressure. They say, 'Shan, look, I will not consider investing in Australia or investing in Sydney'."
Chinese property investors are turning their backs on Australia as a series of measures designed to cool one of the world's hottest real estate markets targets foreign buyers, raising the risk of a damaging correction in house prices.
Australia's latest move follows similar measures imposed in Vancouver, Singapore and Hong Kong.
But there are fears the Australian measures have been introduced into a frothy market already showing signs of stress.
Sutono Pratiknya, a Sydney-based sales consultant, said the changes sent a clear signal to his overseas investors they were not welcome.
"We used to do five property tours a month, picking up a dozen investors from the airport and showing them our latest offering," Pratiknya said. "Now, there's nothing."
With Australian banks heavily reliant on mortgages, economic growth slowing, and the Reserve Bank warning about households groaning under record amounts of debt, any sharp fall in house prices risks derailing Australia's record 26-year recession-free run.
New South Wales' new tax arrangements will see duties from home sales to foreigners rising to 8pc of the purchase price, taking total taxes on overseas buyers to more than 13pc.
While Australia is not alone in introducing foreign property taxes, the number and speed at which new policies are being imposed is spooking foreign buyers.
In just over a year, all major east coast cities have introduced and, in the case of Sydney, expanded foreign duties; the country's biggest banks have stopped lending to overseas buyers; and the government has introduced punitive measures for foreigners who leave properties vacant.
Foreigners will also lose a capital gains tax exemption for their primary residence in changes unveiled in last month's national budget.
Foreigners account for a quarter of new housing sales in New South Wales, with Chinese investors by far the biggest buying group.
Sydney home prices, after doubling since 2009 to top A$872,000 (€592,000), recorded a rare fall in May, according to property consultant CoreLogic. Auction clearance rates - a key indicator of demand -have also been slipping as an abundance of new homes hit the market.
Meriton Group, Australia's largest apartment developer, is expected to be impacted given it has a cluster of new Sydney developments targeting Chinese buyers.
Janice Jiang, a Meriton sales consultant in Sydney, said the company made about half its sales to foreigners, and that the extra taxes would have little impact in the long run.
"It seems like the tax increases are never-ending," said Esther Yong, a director of Chinese property agencies Sodichan and ACproperty. \
"I have buyers who were looking at Australian property and agents in China convinced them to buy in the UK instead."