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Purchasing property in Australia

A guide to overseas buyers

Like most countries, Australia has certain restrictions on foreign investors, but basically, if you are looking to invest here, approval is usually granted if you are purchasing a new property, either complete or under construction.

As an introduction

Real estate can be purchased by anyone who is not an Australian citizen or permanent resident provided certain requirements are met.

Under Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) rules, a foreigner needs permission from FIRB before they can purchase residential property in Australia.

Permission will generally be granted if the purchaser buys a property in one of the following ways: buying off-the-plan (or during the construction phase) or when the dwelling is newly completed provided that it has never been occupied or sold.

New properties like The Lancaster development in Rose Bay are generally good purchases for foreign buyers.

The purchaser can buy a house/land package, an apartment, or a townhouse in this manner.

It is also possible for a student attending a recognised tertiary institution and holding a valid student visa to buy a property to live in while at university.

The simple guidelines in obtaining necessary approval from the Australian Government can be found by reviewing the FIRB’s Information Guide.

When a person buys a property, the Purchaser can pay the full amount for the property, or borrow part of the purchase price from a financial institution. In the latter case, in exchange for the loan, title in the property would normally be held by the financier as security. This is called a mortgage.

Ownership

Residential property in Australia is usually freehold, unless it is in Canberra (Australian Capital Territory). Freehold means the buyer owns the house and land in perpetuity (it remains in that person’s name “forever”). In the Australian Capital Territory, the land on which the house or unit is located is leased to the Purchaser for a 99 year period under a “Crown Lease”. At the end of that period, the Crown Lease will usually be extended for the payment of an administration fee.

The owner of freehold land or lessee under a Crown Lease (or their family) can live in the property or rent it out. The owner or lessee can also sell the property, gift it, or it forms part of their estate at death.

Title

A “title deed” is a term used to describe a document relating to the ownership of land, house or a unit. It is usually held by the owner. However, if a loan has been obtained using the property as security (and secured by a mortgage), the deed will be held by the lender (‘the mortgagee’) and the mortgagee will be named on the deed until the loan is repaid in full. In all Australian jurisdictions, the ownership of land is registered under a title registration system. That system also records the “interests” including mortgages.

Strata Title

Strata Title usually refers to multi-unit developments on one block of land, commonly known as units and townhouses. As they share common property, their ownership is governed under different rules to those for houses. They have a plan of subdivision, called a strata plan, which is registered at the Land Titles Registry. Under this subdivision each unit or townhouse is registered separately and individual titles are issued for each unit or townhouse in the plan.

An executive committee representing the owners corporation (made up of all unit owners) is set up to manage the common affairs of all the owners. Each owner will contribute towards a strata levy which will pay for managing the common property and meeting recurring capital expenditure.

Conveyancing

Conveyancing is the legal term for transferring legal ownership of title from one owner to another. This is the process that is undertaken when a Purchaser has made an offer for a property and it is accepted by the Seller. This process is traditionally carried out by solicitors or licensed conveyancers. The timeframes for such processes can vary depending on the urgency and circumstances of the transaction. Generally it takes four to six weeks from the time contracts are entered into (known as “exchange of contracts) to completion of the purchase when the Purchaser will take possession of the property. It usually takes between 6 – 8 weeks to complete a purchase from the time a buyer and seller agree on a price except in the case of purchasers of properties which are in the process of construction. Such purchases need to await completion of construction and timing will depend on the construction period.

Apart from the purchase price of the property, the other major fee is the government’s stamp duty on the purchase price (and, in some jurisdictions, on any mortgage).

Australian Visas

With the exception of Australian citizens, anyone entering Australia requires a visa.  The Australian visa system is complex as there are many visa categories:  apart from the Visitor category, there are also temporary resident (e.g. business long term or retiree visas), or permanent resident categories (e.g. Family Migration, Skilled Migration, Employer Nomination or Business Skilled).  Each category has its own range of visa subclasses.

As Australian visa rules change regularly and given their difficulty, it is recommended that you consult with an accredited migration lawyer or agent if you wish to come to Australia.  Your agent can assist you with obtaining the most appropriate visa, or the agent can advise strategic options for you to consider in obtaining Australian residence in the longer term.

 

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