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It is well known that Australians have a love affair with property. Whether it be your home, an investment property, a block of land or even a property from where you run your business, we just can’t seem to get enough.
This fondness for property ownership also flows through to our superannuation savings and to self-managed super funds (SMSFs) in particular. ATO data as at December 2022 shows that direct property ownership through SMSFs sits at around 15% of all SMSF assets, held in both direct residential and non-residential property.
Also keep in mind that these figures do not include any indirect property ownership through managed funds, property trusts or other investment vehicles, so the exposure to property through SMSFs would be considerably higher.
Property ownership through an SMSF
There are many ways an SMSF can invest in the property market and there are a number of considerations to weigh up before making that investment.
This is seen as the easiest and most common approach to property investment. Put simply, your SMSF (Trustee) is the owner of the property. Your SMSF takes cash that it has and acquires a property.
- Easier to understand; it’s how we would usually buy property.
- Your SMSF needs to have enough cash to fund the acquisition.
- Makes it more difficult to create diversification within the funds’ investments.
Property ownership with borrowings
The superannuation rules allow an SMSF to use borrowed money to acquire an asset, including property. These borrowing arrangements specific to an SMSF are referred to as limited recourse borrowing arrangements (LRBAs).
Any property purchased via an LRBA must be held in a separate holding (custodian) trust and this overall structure protects the SMSF from the risks associated with borrowing money. The holding trust and its trustee(s) do nothing other than act as the legal owner of the asset, which is why this is often referred to as a ‘bare trust’.
The SMSF trustees are the beneficial owner of the property acquired under the LRBA. Any income generated by the property would be paid to the SMSF and any expenses associated with the property would be paid by the SMSF.
- Borrowing may allow SMSF trustees to acquire an asset that it may not otherwise have been able to afford.
- Using borrowed money rather than the SMSFs cash may allow SMSF trustees to diversify the fund’s investment portfolio.
- The SMSF borrowing rules can be complex. If a borrowing arrangement is entered into or maintained outside the strict rules, you may need to unwind the arrangement.
- SMSF borrowing arrangements can be expensive to establish and maintain. Loan repayments, interest expenses and costs to maintain the overall LRBA can eat into retirement savings.
SMSFs can own assets, including direct property, with other investors and even with related parties. It is not uncommon to see an SMSF owning a property asset jointly with a family trust or company, or even with the SMSF members personally.
The ownership would usually be held as a tenants in common interest in the property asset and this would need to be clearly identified on the property title.
Income and expenses relevant to the property need to be apportioned in the ownership percentages of each party.
It would usually be recommended to have in place a ‘tenants in common agreement’ that clearly identifies each party’s rights and obligations.
- Allows access to an investment asset that may otherwise not be affordable.
- A smaller ownership held by an SMSF may allow SMSF trustees to diversify the fund’s investment portfolio.
- Risks can be shared across entities.
- There can be compliance issues where income or expenses relating to the property are not dealt with in accordance with the ownership interests.
- If the asset does not meet the requirements to be business real property (most residential property assets would not meet these requirements), the SMSF can’t acquire the other party’s interest in the asset.
Another way that an SMSF can invest into property is through an ‘interposed’ related trust or company.
The way this works is that the SMSF buys shares in a related company or buys units in a related trust and then that entity acquires the property.
One benefit of this ownership structure is that other related parties, individuals or relatives can also acquire shares or units in these entities which could also be used to fund the property purchase. This could allow a property purchase to take place sooner.
- Allows pooling of money to fund the property investment.
- It allows the property to be ‘broken up’ into smaller size investment pieces.
- If structured correctly, it allows investors to come and go without the need to dispose of the actual underlying property.
- You don’t own the actual property; you own shares or units in an entity that owns the property.
- Additional expenses to establish and maintain the separate company or trust.
Managed funds allow investors, including SMSFs, to pool their investment money with other investors to acquire and hold assets. The fund’s assets are managed by a professional fund manager who is responsible for buying, maintaining and selling the assets held in the fund.
There are managed funds specifically set up for property ownership, referred to as single asset class managed funds.
These funds invest in either specific segments of the property market, like residential or commercial, or they can invest across all segments of the market.
Investors receive distributions from these funds representing their share of the income and any realised gains made from the managed fund’s assets.
- Access to a professional team of investment managers and asset class experts to identify appropriate investments.
- Pooling investment funds allows access to assets that would otherwise not be achievable.
- Allows for greater asset diversification.
- You do not own the underlying assets in the managed fund. You own an ‘interest’ in the fund through your unit holding.
- Some managed funds have numerous fees that can detract from the underlying performance.
- No control over investment decisions relating to the underlying assets.
Real estate investment trusts (REITs) and listed property trusts (LPTs)
REITs and LPTs are purchased and sold on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX). They provide exposure for those looking to invest in the property market by offering a pooled investment into various styles of commercial and larger residential property developments, including offices, office buildings, residential apartment buildings, shopping centres, industrial sites and hotels.
Each REIT and LPT differs in its underlying allocation to the various segments of the property market mentioned above, with some focusing on specific sectors of the market and others offering a diversified portfolio of real estate specific assets.
Investors receive a return on their investment by way of dividends or distributions, sharing in the net income from rents and from capital growth in the underlying property assets.
- Strong income yield as most REITs distribute their taxable income as dividends or distributions.
- Diversification across multiple properties and property types.
- Properties are managed by experts and are not reliant on your management input.
- Performance can be affected by both underlying market performance and management performance. If management is poor, returns will usually be poor.
- Lack of control.
- Liquidity can be an issue for some REITs or LPTs that are traded infrequently. Can you get out if you want or need to?
Fractional property investing
Often likened to ‘crowd funding’ for property purchases, this is one of the newest forms of property investment opportunities available on the Australian property market.
Fractional investing allows an SMSF to acquire a portion or ‘fraction’ of a property with a group of other related or unrelated investors.
Some providers in this space allow an investment with as little as $1,000; that’s a $1,000 investment in a physical property asset.
This form of property ownership allows your SMSF to get into the property market for a much smaller outlay and smaller ongoing ownership expenses as these are shared across a group of investors.
- Lower cost to enter the market.
- Could allow greater level of diversification by holding interests in more than one property.
- The ongoing property costs and management expenses are shared among a group of investors.
- Your SMSF does not own the entire property.
- Less control over the property and decision-making processes.
- Small number of providers in the Australian market.
Hopefully this article has given you some insight into the many ways your SMSF can invest into the property market.
In next month’s newsletter, we will include Part 2 of the SMSFs and Property series that looks at business real property inside an SMSF.
We will cover the specific rules that apply to business real property, but we will also focus on the notable opportunities that exist around owning your own business property within your SMSF.