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Tax and planning reform key to bringing build-to-rent to the mass market

Jess Freeman • 30/03/2023
March 2023 – As national residential vacancy rates touch all-time lows, potential housing supply delivered through build-to-rent developments is being held back.  

In its latest report, Removing the obstacles to BTR growth in Australia, Cushman & Wakefield confirms that while build-to-rent units are typically premium offerings, removing a unique tax impost for the sector can reduce rents without compromising the hurdle rates needed to attract investment.  

Currently, build-to-rent investors cannot claim GST rebates already applied to other ‘commercial residential’ assets like hotels, while foreign investors are not eligible for Managed Investment Trust (MIT) concessions that benefit other asset classes, such as offices. Lengthy planning approval processes add to the time and cost. 

The resulting cost burden is being partly passed onto tenants through higher rents, significantly narrowing the potential tenant pool for build-to-rent projects. Cushman & Wakefield's modelling of a ‘standard’ build-to-rent development in a Sydney fringe suburb, such as Alexandria or Zetland, shows a base case where rents are 20% higher than the median to meet internal yield targets. This is the result of both higher quality development and premium positioning and the taxes applied. 

However, if GST and MIT concessions were applied, the rental premium could fall by 5% and still meet investors’ hurdle rates. Based on analysis of household incomes in these suburbs, the rent reduction would mean a one-bedroom unit becomes affordable for more than 20% extra households in these suburbs. 

Cushman & Wakefield’s Research Manager, Sean Ellison, said, “Although the Australian residential market has been traditionally skewed towards retail investors, tightening yield gaps between residential property and offices is attracting institutional interest.”  

“However, tax settings remain a challenge for the sector, limiting its market size and restricting overseas operators from bringing their valuable experience onshore. Defining build-to-rent in the tax code as ‘commercial residential’ could attract investment and expertise and improve project accessibility for more households.” 

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