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McGrath slams ‘short-sighted’ foreign buyer tax

by Francesca Krakue11 minute read
The Adviser

Real estate mogul John McGrath has called out “hefty” taxes on overseas buyers as “one of the most short-sighted initiatives” that he’s seen in his 35 years of real estate.

In his message to the real estate industry in The McGrath Report for 2017, John McGrath emphasised that the decision for three state governments to impose “hefty taxes” on overseas buyers seems “one of the strangest” he’s seen.

Last December the Australian government introduced fees for foreign real estate acquisitions starting at $5,000 for purchases below $1 million.

In June, the NSW state government introduced a 4 per cent stamp duty surcharge for foreign buyers, followed by Victoria who raised their stamp duty surcharge for foreign purchasers from 3 per cent to 7 per cent. The Queensland government followed suit last month by introducing a 3 per cent stamp duty surcharge on foreign purchases.


“This tax could only have been imposed for one of several flawed reasons in my opinion,” Mr McGrath said in his message. “Was it to allow local buyers to get into the market? Or was it simply to raise more revenue?”

Mr McGrath highlighted that the overall percentage of property in Australia sold to foreign buyers is “minimal”, and that the reason that prices in Sydney and Melbourne have risen has little to do with overseas buyers but is rather a supply issue.

He referred to Sydney and Melbourne as the “New York’s of Australia” and believes there will be “huge demand” in these markets for years to come.

“With several billion people on the doorstep of this lucky country, many with a huge opportunity to enjoy the lifestyle that we have, it would be far easier to mount a sensible argument that both the big cities will look incredibly cheap as we look back in a decade or so,” he remarked.

“That is assuming that we manage our growth well and find a way to sensibly welcome immigrants and overseas investors into the country,” he concluded.

‘Even more hurdles for foreign buyers to jump’

In his report, Mr McGrath highlighted that with Australian banks tightening their lending criteria and the Chinese government limiting the amount of capital exiting the country “there are even more hurdles” for foreign buyers to overcome.

In late April, CBA became the first major bank to change its non-resident lending policy, followed by ANZ, Westpac and NAB.

“While it’s too early for official numbers, anecdotal evidence from our agent suggests mainland Chinese investors have pulled back,” Mr McGrath said.

The report concluded that the effect of the lending curbs and government fees on foreign investment won’t be fully realised for another 12-18 months, but will be “largely limited to the new apartment market”, with some impact also felt in the mid-priced house market.

[Related: Lending curbs, taxes cut Chinese property investment by 50%]