As national residential vacancy rates touch all-time lows, potential housing supply delivered through build-to-rent developments is being held back.  

A new Cushman & Wakefield report has shown that while build-to-rent units were typically premium offerings, removing a unique tax impost for the sector could 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 were 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.  

The new report comes as the Queensland government announced plans this week to slash land taxes for Build-to-Rent developments that include affordable housing in a bid to deliver new rental supply in the state.   

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.  

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

“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.”  

Cushman & Wakefield’s Director, Development Sites and Build-to-Rent Marcus Neill said it was clear that build-to-rent activity is maturing in Australia.  

“However, there are currently impediments to institutional capital that we simply don’t see in other commercial sectors. Unless addressed, this will stunt the maturity of an asset class that’s grown rapidly and meaningfully in the US and UK,” Neill said.   

“We acknowledge that build-to-rent isn’t a panacea for Australia’s housing supply issues. However, a larger institutional presence in residential property and build-to-rent development can form an important lever in rebalancing supply and demand over the longer term.”