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Another fractional property investment platform emerges in Australian market

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Skyrocketing house prices, stagnant wage growth and disillusioned young adults unable to compete with experienced investors have created the perfect breeding ground for platforms offering first-home buyers a way onto the property ladder.

In 2016 two start-ups that allow investors to buy a share of a home with as little as $100 emerged in the Australian market. Last week a third company, CoVESTA, announced its arrival on the scene.

These companies attract those who are interested in the property market and have some money to invest, but perhaps not enough for a 20 per cent house deposit.

Since they emerged two years ago, these fractional property investment platforms, BrickX and DomaCom, have signed up 9500 investors across 62 properties worth more than $40 million.

Legal recruiter Wenee Yap, 31, believes it’s a good way to invest the $190,000 she has saved since she began working full-time a decade ago. 

She plans to buy a share of a Sydney property through CoVESTA because it will also give her the option to live in the home she will co-own.

“I’m happy to co-invest with other people given what the household debt is like in Australia,” Ms Yap said. “I was interested because it’s a debt-free option and that’s how I’ve lived my entire life … and because I will also secure a five-year tenancy.”

Ms Yap will select a property and then pay a minimum of 5 per cent of the purchase price to start an invest-and-rent syndicate – either with friends and family or through the website.

Once purchased by CoVESTA, the property will be held in a trust for five years. During that time Ms Yap will be able to trade shares to other investors. On the fifth anniversary, 75 per cent of investors vote to either retain or sell the property.

BrickX and DomaCom are more flexible, allowing investors to not only sell their shares but also sell a property at any time if all investors agree.

“My only concern at this point is if the group votes to sell after five years and I’m the primary tenant, I could be left without a home to live in,” Ms Yap said of the scheme.

But as Sydney’s house prices start to slow, some experts say using a platform that restricts an investor’s agency to make decisions about their investment is not advisable.

David Johnston, managing director of Property Planning Australia, said it was a risky business when you relied on strong rental yields and capital growth in short time frames at a time when the market was predicted to slow even further.

“The same investment principles would apply if you want to go down the fractional investment route. You have to be in a position to hold that asset class for seven to 10 years to allow compound interest to take effect and to ride out the property cycle because you can’t avoid the costs of getting in and out of property, like government taxes,” Mr Johnston said.

Economist and managing director or Market Economics Stephen Koukoulas echoed similar concerns, saying investing over a short period when the property market was cooling down in Sydney could be precarious and the expectation to make capital gains was unrealistic. 

“Your residential property has got to have at least a 10-year time frame and it’s not a big leap to make a forecast that the next five years will be softer than the five years that went before it where property prices almost doubled in Sydney,” Mr Koukoulas said. This would be a problem if other property investors in a syndicate wanted to sell the property.

He said while fractional property investment carried a risk like any other investment, having co-owners added another element of uncertainty that could leave you at the mercy of the other investors.

In the case of CoVESTA’s invest and rent model, disputes around “fair” rent, when to sell and the tangible emotional attachment by the tenant could also complicate things when there are multiple owners.

“You could be forced to sell when you might be happy to retain the property and the vote doesn’t go your way,” Mr Koukoulas said.

While being the sole owner of a property lets you make autonomous decisions on renovations and the cost and choice of repair and maintenance, co-owning takes that out of your control too – handing it over to property managers.

But CoVESTA CEO David Noble said his model was meant to solve problems in a meaningful way and was designed around existing behaviour, claiming 80 per cent of properties are held for five years. 

“Investing-renting lets you lock in a place to live, get exposure to capital gain and allows you better cash flow,” he said.

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