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9 ways to invest in real estate

9 ways to invest in real estate

Whether you have a little money or a lot, there are numerous ways you could invest in real estate.

28 January 2020 · 9 min read

If nothing comes between you and your avocado toast, you can rest easy.

Whether you have a little money or a lot, there are numerous ways you could invest in real estate while still partaking in your favourite breakfast/brunch sandwich.

With as little as $50, you might be able to buy a "brick" in a house. (Seriously.) Beyond that, if you have more to spend, you could think about investing in a real estate-centric ETF (exchange traded fund) or buying an apartment or house. And then there’s all the other options that fall onto the spectrum.

Let’s explore some of the weird and wonderful ways to invest in real estate, shall we?

  • Buy a “brick.”
  • Invest in a real estate-focused ETF.
  • Invest in a real estate investment fund (A-REIT).
  • Buy with a friend.
  • Buy an apartment.
  • Buy a house.
  • Buy a piece of land.
  • Flip properties.
  • Find something wonderfully wacky.

Remember: it is a good idea to always seek independent financial and legal advice before investing.

1. Buy a “brick”

What if you could get into the real estate game by purchasing just one "brick"?

That’s the concept behind Australian property startup BrickX.

The company, which was founded by Anthony Millet in 2014, has purchased various properties across Australia. You’ll find a range of properties — from a three-bedroom house in Ballarat to a one-bedroom unit in the trendy, inner-city suburb of Darlinghurst in Sydney.

While you can’t see the property’s specific address, you can see its general location and view pictures of the property. BrickX also provides stats on the estimated net rental yield, the historical suburb growth (over 20 years) and the property’s current number of investors.

This is where the fun begins. When you see a property you like, you can choose to buy one or more bricks in that property. (Every property is divided into 10,000 bricks.)

To buy a brick, you’ll first check the price. (Bricks start at around $30). The lowest available brick price is front and centre, but you may find (once you sign up) that brick prices are variable.

In some cases, you’ll see that the lowest available brick price is more or less than the latest brick valuation. If the brick price is less than the valuation price, that means you could potentially buy a brick for, say, $133 and it would immediately be valued at $135 (as an example). On the flip side, if the brick price is more than the valuation price, you could buy a brick for $133, despite the fact that its current valuation is at $130. Sad face.

Once you’ve bought your brick, you are essentially an investor in a property. The properties owned by BrickX are rented and you will receive portions of any rental income (less fees) proportional to the amount you have invested in the property.

You can also choose to sell your share at any time, but you’ll have to find a buyer, just as you would if you actually owned (or part-owned) an investment property.

And that leads us to the most salient point of all. While BrickX seems as though it’s a simple and easy way to get into the real estate market, you do assume some financial risk by buying bricks, so you’ll need to do your due diligence and consider whether it is right for you, just as you would with any financial investment.

2. Invest in a real estate-focused ETF

If you know anything about exchange-traded funds (ETFs), you know that no ETF is created quite the same. Each and every ETF generally has a different objective (even if only slight), and for some ETFs, the focus is real estate. And this is where you come in.

We find that a real estate-focused ETF will generally track the performance of an index of publicly traded companies that, in one way or another, own and/or operate commercial and/or residential real estate.

As an example, some ETFs might only invest in real estate investment trusts (REITs), while others might track an index of real estate holding companies or property groups. Some other ETFs might include both types within their index.

If you invest in a real estate-focused ETF, you will be investing your money in real estate without (in most cases) going out and viewing and buying property for yourself. The value of your investment will rise and fall in sync with the value of the ETF’s underlying assets.

3. Invest in a real estate investment fund (A-REIT)

We just learned about investing in real estate-focused ETFs, but that’s not the only way you can invest in real estate without actually holding physical property. It’s time to introduce you to Australian real estate investment funds (A-REITs), which is what we call a real estate investment fund (REIT), as touched on in the previous section, here in Australia.

So, how does an A-REIT work, exactly?

We find that an A-REIT is pretty similar to a managed fund. Generally, when you invest, your money is pooled with the money of the other investors and it all sits in an investment trust. That trust owns (and commonly operates) a portfolio of income-producing property. (We find that the income is normally rental income.) The trust itself is generally listed on the Australian stock exchange.

Overall, we find that investing in an A-REIT is one way to invest in property without the day-to-day hassles of being a property owner or landlord.

We find that it can also be a handy and quick way to diversify your overall investment portfolio.

4. Buy with someone else

Let’s say you have some money, but not enough money to buy an apartment or house on your own. But the property market is looking real good — too good to ignore. One option that may be available to you is to invest in a property with someone else, if you dare.

If this is a track you’re considering going down, we believe that there are a few things to consider.

Numero uno on our list, though, is what you’ll do if/when the shit hits the fan. Consider the answers to these questions. What will be the consequences if disaster strikes and one of you can’t make the investment payments? What will happen if one of you wants to sell the property and one of you doesn’t? What will you do if you want to renovate? What will you do if one of you wants to live in the property and the other doesn’t? Or you both do, but not together?

There are so many questions that need answering before you go down this route. We find that it's also important to know the difference between joint tenancy and tenants-in-common.

When two or more persons in Australia take an interest in a property, the certificate of title for the property must state whether the persons are to hold as joint tenants or tenants in common. If they hold the property as tenants in common, each person gets a share in the property and must declare what that share is.

If you are joint tenants, you are essentially the owner of the whole property because of the rules of survivorship (once any mortgages on the property are discharged). Those rules provide that if one person dies, their half of the property is immediately transferred to the surviving party, even if their estate bequeaths all other property to another party. Most couples will choose joint tenancy when they invest in a property together.

Here’s an example: Nick and Chris are brothers who buy a property together as joint tenants. Nick is married to Julia. Nick’s will states that his entire estate is to go to Julia upon his death. Sadly, Nick dies. While Julia receives the majority of his estate, his entire share in the property he bought with Chris goes to Chris automatically, by virtue of them being joint tenants.

When you choose to be tenants in common, you each have a share in the property; this could be 50/50, 30/70, or 10/90, etc. When you are tenants in common, you can each choose what to do with your individual share. So, if Nick and Chris had actually chosen to be tenants in common, Nick’s share could be bequeathed to his wife Julia if he was to die.

The point is that if you plan to invest in a property with someone else, you need to do all the regular due diligence you would do when buying a property and you need to make some pretty serious decisions (and potentially lay out a separate legal contract) for if/when things go awry.

5. Buy an apartment

Yay! You’ve saved enough money for a down payment on a property. Now you may decide between buying an apartment and a house.

Let’s take a look at why you might (and might not) buy an apartment.

To start, depending on where and when you buy, an apartment is generally cheaper than a house. According to the latest Domain House Price Report (September 2018), the median apartment price in Sydney, as an example, is $734,775, while the median house price is $1,101,532.

Another possible perk is that you won’t usually have to deal with the more boring household tasks such as lawn mowing and gardening. We find that in many cases, the basic maintenance tasks that uphold the entire property development (i.e. the complex) are looked after by strata management. This is particularly great if your building has a shared pool or garden — you get all the benefits of swimming in that pool, but you don’t have to be the one to maintain it. Win!

Another underrated perk of apartment ownership is that many apartments are in secure buildings, so you’ll need a pass or key just to get into the building and then another individual key for each apartment. You can’t put a price on personal safety.

With that said, there are downsides to living in an apartment building, not least of which is common walls. (The horror!) If you have particularly loud neighbours, you could find yourself spending a large amount of time researching the latest noise-cancelling headphones. If you have particularly nosy neighbours, the consequences might be even worse!

You also need to keep in mind the fees that apartment owners are faced with. We find that you will generally pay strata or owners corporation fees and you may need to contribute to a maintenance fund, which helps to cover the shared maintenance costs and bills (such as water).

So, now you know a little bit more about the pros and cons of apartment ownership. Now let’s chat about why you might want to invest in a house instead.

6. Buy a house

Owning a house was once the Australian dream — and maybe for you, it still is. If so, you need to get a general idea about what home ownership is all about, right?

One of the biggest benefits has to be all the space. Unlike an apartment, where you might be lucky to have a balcony or patio, most houses have at least a little garden for you to play with. You can also, potentially, build up and out. As in, if you find yourself running out of room, we generally find that in most cases you could add extra rooms or even an entirely new floor.

That leads us to flexibility. With a house, we find that you generally have a little more flexibility than an apartment. You’re not beholden to strata management. If you want to renovate, you may need to adhere to council or building regulations, but outside those, we find that you're generally pretty free.

And the final perk is privacy. While houses don’t necessarily seem as secure as apartments, we find that having your own house means that you’ll generally know who is coming and going and when.

7. Buy a piece of land

Buying property doesn’t necessarily include a physical structure. Some people start by buying a piece of land — big or small — and work towards building the house of their dreams.

There is a lot to love about buying land, especially out in the country. You might have so much space that there are no signs of life in any direction. You can see the stars at night. You can smell the fresh air. You can get in touch with nature and the native wildlife.

So, what’s the catch? Maintaining a property can be costly and time-consuming. Even if you don’t run a working farm or keep livestock, just maintaining your boundary fences could be an expense you didn’t account for. Never mind the constant threat of snakes and bushfires — or how isolated you might find yourself if something suddenly does go wrong.

And we don’t want to panic you, but what if your piece of land has no Internet coverage?

8. Flip properties

Some people invest in real estate with a single intention: to improve the property and then sell it on. This is called house-flipping and, if done right, we find that it can be lucrative. The key phrase there is “if done right,” as realistically, we find that there is a lot that can go wrong.

The point to house-flipping is to add value to the house. This might mean revamping the kitchen, freshening the paintwork, replacing the flooring — or anything in between. The problem is that making these improvements will likely cost money, and you will likely want to recoup that.

So, let’s say you buy the property outright for $300,000. You make $50,000 of improvements. Unless you sell it for more than $350,000 — and that’s if we ignore all fees, taxes and stamp duty that you will generally have to pay yourself — you haven’t made a profit and there you haven’t successfully flipped the house.

Some people hack the house-flipping process by making the improvements themselves, which is great if they are minor things such as paintwork and landscaping. But if you need to hire construction companies (and the like), you need to be sure you know exactly what you’re doing, exactly what you’re spending, and how much you think you can get back.

9. Find something wonderfully wacky

We’ve covered the basics, but there are still some wonderfully wacky ideas that can help you get into the property game. Here are a few options that gave the Spaceship team a chuckle:

The information in this article is prepared by Spaceship Capital Limited (ABN 67 621 011 649, AFSL 501605). It is general in nature as it has been prepared without taking account of your objectives, financial situation or needs.

Bryna Howes is the Head of Content & Brand at Spaceship. She's equally obsessive about cinnamon donuts and scouring the web for great reads.

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