INVESTORS own around two million homes in Australia and every year thousands claim deductions they’re not entitled to and fall foul of the Australian Taxation Office.
The result can be a kindly warning or a significant fine and large interest bill.
The tax office says it is investors’ responsibility to get their tax returns right and they can’t blame their accountant or plead ignorance if they get it wrong.
One of the most common mistakes investors make is claiming items that should be depreciated over several years.
According to the tax office, initial repairs to fix damage, defects or deterioration that existed when a property was bought are capital expenses that should be claimed as capital-works deductions over either 25 or 40 years.
Capital improvements such as re-modelling a bathroom or adding a pergola should also be claimed as capital-works deductions.
Other mistakes include:
Taxpayers sometimes use loans for investing and private purposes — for example, to buy or renovate a rental property or to buy a motor boat.
The interest expense on the private portion of the loan (the boat) is not deductible.
Conveyancing expenses incurred when buying and selling a property are not deductible. These form part of the cost for capital-gains tax purposes.
If you take a holiday and visit your investment property while you’re there, you cannot claim a deduction for the full trip.
The tax office says you may claim only those expenses that are directly related to the property inspection and a proportion of accommodation expenses.
What will happen if rates go up? In today’s low-interest-rate environment one of the common questions property investors ask is, “What happens if we buy now and interest rates skyrocket, like back in the 1980’s?”
An understandable concern and today’s historically low interest rates can’t be sustained forever because at some point the economy will begin recovering, inflation will grow and rates will rise!
That’s part and parcel of the economy’s cyclical nature.
When rates do rise it’s doubtful they’ll hit the dizzying heights of the late 1980s. The major lenders certainly don’t think so; they’re setting their 10year fixed rates about 7per cent.
With vast resources and access to the world’s top economic minds, it’s highly unlikely that major lenders will make the wrong call about the future direction of interest rates.
But for argument’s sake that they do and rates climb back to the heady levels of 20 years ago.
If interest rates go up that far it’s a sign that business and consumer confidence is high. When rates go up so does inflation. And when inflation rises, so do property values. Yes, your holding costs will be higher because of higher interest rates but as an investor you will benefit on three fronts.
High rental returns
First-home buyers won’t be active because property is less affordable in a high-interest-rate environment. This will keep them in the rental market, put pressure on the available rental accommodation and drive up asking rents. The higher the interest rates, the higher the investment yield.
Negative gearing benefits
If your expenditure on the property exceeds your rental income, you’ll be able to soften the impact and increase your cash flow by claiming the difference as a tax deduction.
Substantial sale proceeds
If you can’t afford to hold the property you can sell it. While this isn’t an ideal scenario, your property will have grown substantially in value during the time of high inflation so you’ll be better off than when you purchased it and that is the aim of investing!
It’d seem the stars are aligned: low rates, population growth, low vacancy rates, strong rents and a shortage of housing in most capitals.
Since late 2008, the number of loans to first home buyers has outweighed substantially those to existing owner-occupiers and investors as first-time buyers rush to take advantage of the increased government grant. These numbers are set to surge in the next two months after the Prime Minister indicated that the increased grant will end June 30. In previous interest-rate cycles, lending to investors and existing home buyers increased alongside that to first-home buyers.
Part of the reason is that investors are not getting the first-home-owner grant, and when you have to lay your own money down instead of the government’s, you tend to think more carefully before deciding to take the plunge. Unemployment concerns and fears about how the economy will evolve this year are also key reasons why investors are not yet entering the market.
Consumer sentiment figures released earlier this month by the Westpac-Melbourne Institute Survey found pessimists still outnumbered optimists and, with the prospect of more unemployment, that’s unlikely to change soon.
Interest rates are one of the crucial aspects investors consider. During the past month or so, several of the big banks have increased their fixed mortgage rates, even though variable rates are expected to go even lower.
Banks say it’s because of an increase in the rates in the wholesale market where they access funds. Not everyone accepts that that is the reason, but most acknowledge it’s a signal borrowing costs are near their lowest levels!!
Some economists believe fixed rates will continue to rise as banks manage their risk, and it’s just a matter of the speed at which it happens. Of course, fixed rates are not popular at the moment even with investors who traditionally use this option.
That’s not a surprise, given the cash rate is expected to fall to 2 per cent by the end of the year.
But fixed rates are a bit of a barometer of the longer term trend in interest rates, so they are worth watching. It also pays to remember that just because the Reserve Bank of Australia cuts rates, that doesn’t mean banks have to follow suit.
Only time will tell whether property buying will be better next year.
Perhaps investors are waiting for a sign that unemployment will stop rising, or for first-home buyer activity to dry up!