Running on empty

By Susan Edmunds

The house was supposed to provide a nest egg, but it's turned into a money-pit. Photo / Supplied
The house was supposed to provide a nest egg, but it's turned into a money-pit. Photo / Supplied

Julie's Invercargill investment house has been empty for four weeks.

It was meant to be a good investment for her retirement, a chance to make a profit off what had looked like a rising housing market.

Instead, Julie, who does not want her surname used, has an Invercargill property that has been empty for up to six months of the four years she has owned it, a $250,000 mortgage fixed at 9 per cent interest for five years, and $2000 in payments due every month just to keep up.

Add a $20,000 bill to replace the septic tank shortly after she bought the property and it's been an expensive drain on resources, not the financial nest egg she had hoped for.

Experts say Julie's case is common and that inexperienced investors keen to get their hands on cheap property need to do their homework.

Despite being told by the real estate agent when Julie bought the property that she'd have no trouble renting it as it was in Otatara, a desirable part of Invercargill, the house is vacant and has been for four weeks.

Getting anyone to stay has been a problem. A previous vacancy lasted three months.

"I was reading about Auckland's rental situation and it's so different in Southland," Julie said.

The house is managed by Professionals in Invercargill.

Property department manager Emma Campbell said it was harder to find tenants in winter.

"The demand is for houses that are modern and warm. There are more vacant properties in winter."

She said there were no issues with Julie's house. "Sometimes houses that are really great do stay empty for longer than planned."

Julie said she would not be able to get back the $250,000 she paid for it if she tried to sell the house today, and she can't afford to pay the mortgage break fees that would incur.

"I can't afford to sell, I'd lose $75,000." The loan's fixed-term expires next March.

Rose Cardoso, of the Southland Property Investors Association, said she often saw inexperienced investors drawn to Invercargill because of the cheap property available.

Investing was a bit more difficult in Southland than in Auckland, partly because most movement was of residents around town, rather than people migrating to the area.

But good rentals managed well usually had no issues: "I've never had a problem renting mine."

She said she would not buy a property in Otatara because it was expensive, not close to town and an "elite area". "Why would you buy a rental there?"

Cardoso said it was inexperience rather than problems with the Southland market that got people into strife.

"If you're an investor, the point is to invest in something that's going to give you a return."

She said that when the market was at its peak and interest rates were high in 2008, when Julie bought her property, experienced investors were a lot less active in the market. Locking into a five-year rate was another mistake. "For your own home, OK, but not for an investment."

Cardoso said she would not buy a rental property for more than $150,000 in Southland and would buy only those that would return $250 a week.

A First National property investment survey found Southland had some of the country's lowest rents.

A studio rented for an average of $110 a week, a two-bedroom flat $210 and a four-bedroom place $285.

Even if Julie can get tenants in the property, rent is advertised at only $240 a week.

She will still be paying more of the mortgage than her tenants, with insurance and rates on top of that.

Julie said if she had the chance again, she wouldn't buy the rental property. "We've got a full mortgage and no tenants."

- Herald on Sunday

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