Between 2020 and 2021, there were 5,310 residential real estate purchase transactions in Australia involving foreign persons (with a value totalling $4.2 billion).
Needless to say, this is an attractive place for non-residents to invest their money in real estate.
But before you jump into the process of buying Australian real estate, you need to be aware of certain factors that might influence your decision as a foreign home buyer. This includes restrictions on the types of property non-residents are allowed to purchase and the different conditions you must fulfil.
Yes, buying property is not as straightforward for foreigners as compared to Australian residents. But, there aren't too many hoops to jump through to achieve eligibility either. So, it could still be worthwhile given the benefits (e.g. stable property prices and rental demand).
If you're keen to explore this option, keep reading to find out all you need to know about buying property in Australia as a non-resident.
Can I buy property in Australia as a non-resident?
Yes! Non-residents (including foreigners, ex-pats and migrants, and those on temporary visas) can buy property in Australia.
But, non-residents must adhere to a few key requirements and rules.
What are the requirements for buying a property in Australia as a foreigner?
The Australian government has a few additional requirements and rules regarding purchasing an investment property or residential property as a non-resident.
(Note that the requirements for ex-pats and temporary residents are slightly different from non-resident foreign buyers. It will all depend on your visa subclass, bridging visa, student visa or business visa conditions).
Here are the main ones to take note of:
- All foreign investors and temporary residents must have approval from the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) when purchasing real estate.
- Foreigners are allowed to buy new dwellings without any conditions.
- Buying established dwellings is typically not allowed for foreigners. But it may be approved in the instance where the existing property is purchased for redevelopment. This is also subject to certain conditions (e.g. project completion must be fulfilled within a certain time frame).
- Foreigners may also buy vacant land (subject to certain conditions).
- Temporary residents are allowed to buy new homes without any conditions and only 1 established dwelling to be used as a primary residence.
- Different states have different rules for foreign owners, which can include a foreign purchaser additional duty which can be up to 8% on the value of the home. Eligibility for first home buyer concessions and owner-occupier concessions varies by state e.g. Queensland has different rules to South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria.
Also, if you're on a temporary visa, you'll be able to qualify for a home loan a lot more easily than non-resident foreigners. (But note that you won't be eligible for the government First Home Owners Grant)
And even if you find a lender that's willing to loan to foreigners, you'll discover that the interest rates are a lot higher than usual.
So keep this in mind when planning finances for your new Australian property.
What is FIRB approval in Australia?
The Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) is a government body that reviews and assesses all foreign investment proposals.
If you're thinking of making a property investment in Australia as a non-resident, you'll need to make sure you have FIRB approval before you can proceed.
The FIRB application can be completed online through the Australian Tax Office (ATO) website.
Note that non-residents who fail to seek FIRB approval when purchasing property in Australia may face hefty fines in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and even imprisonment.
So this is a step you definitely don't want to skip!
The process can take up to four weeks, so it's important to get started as soon as possible.
How can a foreigner buy property in Australia?
Buying property in Australia as a foreigner is a process that requires careful planning and research.
Here is a step-by-step guide about what you need to do:
1. Hire your team of professionals to assist in the process.
Here are the key people you'll need on your team to ensure a smooth purchase process:
A solicitor or conveyancer will be in charge of all the legal aspects of your property purchase. They help prepare sale contracts, transfer ownership, and protect your interests throughout the negotiation process.
While having an accountant is not entirely necessary, it's highly advisable to engage one as a non-Australian purchasing a home in Australia.
Things can get complicated depending on whether your home country has a tax agreement with Australia.
An accountant can help you through the process by ensuring you understand your tax obligations (including capital gains tax, land tax, and stamp duties) and structuring your purchase in an optimal way from a taxation perspective.
Buyers agent (if you're not physically present)
Because regular real estate agents are usually hired by the seller, they may not always have the interest of the buyer at heart.
This is why having reputable buyer's agents to represent you while you're absent can help ensure there's someone acting in your best interests.
They'll have a detailed knowledge of the local market and can guide you through the purchase process, from finding the right property to negotiating a fair price.
If you're not around to inspect your property, it's a good idea to engage a building inspector to prepare a building and pest report.
2. Organise your finances (Get home loan pre-approval).
If you need a home loan to purchase your Australian property, getting pre-approval for your loan amount from a lender is crucial.
It will give you an idea of how much you can afford to spend on a property and prevent any delays later on in the process.
Note that it's much easier for ex-pats or those with temporary visas to gain home loan approvals.
If you're a foreigner, you'll find that large Australian banks will be reluctant to approve your home loan application.
This is because of the cross-border complexities, fluctuating exchange rates, and the high risk it poses to lenders.
And even if you do find a lender willing to work with foreigners, you can expect higher interest rates and a lower loan-to-value ratio (LVR). So, do start speaking to lenders first before proceeding if you're a foreigner.
There are a few things you'll need to have in order to get pre-approval, including a deposit and proof of income (you'll need to provide pay slips, tax returns, bank account statements and other financial documentation to show that you can afford the loan repayments).
Lenders will also check your credit history to see if you've defaulted on any loans in the past.
It is probably a good idea to engage a mortgage broker if you know your situation is complicated. A mortgage broker can help you find the best home loan for your circumstances. If you are seeking an Australian mortgage, then a broker can research the most affordable options available to you. They can also handle the paperwork and do the financial checks and income verifications for pre-approval.
In addition to the property price itself, remember to factor in other administrative costs that accompany buying real estate. These include foreign citizen stamp duty, FIRB approval fees, property inspection costs, and more.
As a rough guide, set aside 5% of the property price for these additional costs.
3. Make sure you qualify for FIRB approval.
FIRB approval is required for all foreign investments in Australian property. This includes non-resident foreigners and temporary visa holders.
Failure to obtain approval can result in sizeable penalties.
You only need to submit the actual forms after you've decided on a property. But it's always a good idea to start understanding whether you qualify for FIRB approval early on in the process so there won't be any delays.
The FIRB application fees can vary greatly depending on the property value. So it's best to get the latest fee schedule from the FIRB website here.
Fees start at $13,200 for acquisitions of $1 million or less, rising to a maximum of $1,045,000 for acquisitions of more than $40 million.
4. Look for your Australian property.
Now comes the fun part: Looking for your ideal Australian property!
Do your homework on different areas and compare things like price, amenities, and commute times. Don't forget the key condition for foreigners too — you can only buy new buildings.
Think about your long-term goals for this property. Is it purely for investment? In that case, you might want to consider rental trends in the area.
If you're buying property for you and your family to live in, you'll have much more freedom to choose a place that suits your needs.
Working with a buyer’s agent might come in handy at this point — especially if you're not able to be in the country for long (or at all).
They can help you find properties that meet your criteria and guide you through the negotiation process.
Don't forget to investigate how much similar properties in the area have sold for recently to get an idea of the true market value of your potential purchase.
5. Negotiate purchase price.
Always try to negotiate a lower price than what's listed. It's highly possible for you to pay up to 10% less than the stated price in Australia.
But of course, this can vary depending on the current market conditions and the suburb you're eyeing.
Engaging the help of your buyer’s agent will be very useful at this point as they would have a better idea about the property prices in your area.
They can also help you with negotiations as well.
5. Get formal approval for a mortgage.
Now that you've finalised which property to buy, it's time to get formal approval for your mortgage.
First off, you can request to see the contract of sale before signing and get input from your solicitor about adding any extra conditions to the agreement.
It's common for the contract of sale to include a “subject to FIRB approval” condition. This means you can terminate the contract in the event your FIRB application is declined.
In certain states, there might be a cooling-off period.
However, each state will have its own property laws so do check with your solicitor about what applies to you.
Once you've finalised all the details of the contract, you can forward it to your lender to get formal approval.
Remember, you don't have to sign anything until you've gotten approval.
6. Exchange of contracts and make the deposit payment.
Once you have approval for your mortgage, this is where you can perform the exchange of contracts and make your deposit payment.
(Double check that your contract mentions "subject to FIRB approval)
7. Get FIRB approval and complete your property transaction
Your solicitor should be able to help you with the FIRB application process while submitting it along with the fee.
If there are no issues, getting FIRB approval is pretty straightforward and can be completed within 2-4 weeks.
At this point, the transaction can proceed and the property sales process is legally complete.
This means there will be penalties if you back out of the purchase now. So do double-check with your solicitor if everything is in order before proceeding with this step.
8. Prepare for settlement
You'll need to arrange a settlement date with the seller.
Between now and then, you and your solicitor will have to get all your paperwork ready.
One of the key things is to make sure your lender is ready to transfer funds on settlement day.
9. Settlement day
You're at the last step to owning your new property now!
Settling is the process of transferring ownership of the property from the seller to the buyer. It generally takes place around six weeks after the contract of sale is signed.
Here are the main things that will happen on settlement day along with what you might need:
- Buyer and seller legal teams will exchange sale documents.
- Your solicitor will register your name on the title of the property.
- Your solicitor will ensure that the lender transfers the fund to the seller.
Pros and cons of buying property in Australia as a foreigner
Now that you understand the logistics of buying real estate in Australia as a foreigner, let's look at some of its pros and cons.
- The Australian property market has a history of being strong and stable, offering investors the security that their investments will be protected. As of 2021, about 67% of residential property is owner-occupied so there is little speculation in the market.
- There is a strong historical record of capital growth. The Sydney Morning Herald has reported that home prices have increased 382% from 30 years ago to 2022.
- The process of buying property in Australia as a foreigner is relatively straightforward. The main things to note are the FIRB application and the restrictions around the type of property you're allowed to buy.
- Managing your property in Australia can be difficult if you don't plan to be physically present in the country. You can get around this by hiring a property manager.
- You'll have to pay capital gains tax when you sell your property.
- It's not as easy for foreigners to get financing from Australian lenders.