Foreign Investment and the Gold Coast’s Premium Apartment Market

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The Gold Coast’s apartment market endured a very highly publicised downfall during the Global Financial Crisis which saw a number of high profile projects such as Soul, The Oracle and The Hilton suffer as a result. The consequence of those unfortunate circumstances has been a market inundated with mortgagee and insolvency sales, particularly in the higher price points, ever since. However, 2014 has proven to offer a glimmer of hope and a silver lining on the cloud of consumer confidence which has plagued the Gold Coast’s premium apartment market. So far, the sales in the Oracle are estimated to have reached approximately 95% completion whilst The Hilton has now officially sold out. Furthermore, premium grade insolvency stock on the Gold Coast has now almost passed through the system, clearing the decks for a new chapter for the area’s premium and super premium residential offerings. As a number of new projects emerge, some questions must linger in regards to the depth of the Gold Coast’s premium apartment market in the wake of such pro-longed and unfavourable sales periods for large scale, high quality projects in recent history.

The chart below provides a breakdown of ‘Aspirational’, ‘Premium’ and ‘Super Premium’ apartment sales volumes throughout a selection of the Gold Coast’s most exclusive apartment markets which include Coolangatta, Burleigh Heads, Broadbeach, Surfers Paradise and Main Beach. Aspirational sales relate to apartments sold between $750,000 and $1,199,999, Premium sales include apartments sold for between $1,200,000 and $1,999,999 and Super Premium sales relate to apartments sold for $2,000,000 or more.

High End Gold Coast Apartment Market Sales Volumes 2003 - 2014

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The rapid decline that followed the 2007 property boom is shown above with a 41% decline in total sales achieved in the following year. With regard to volumes, the high-end apartment market bottomed in 2011 at 341 sales in total. However, achieving those apartment sales over $750,000 in 2011, within a bottoming market heavily subdued by price reductions and insolvency sales, may suggest greater market depth than most would assume. The recovery is now well underway with volumes increasing by 31% between 2011 and 2013 as 2013 achieved the greatest number of premium apartment sales since 2009 at 448 in total.  Whilst a long way from the peak, it is heading in the right direction and could be argued that this particular market has been somewhat constrained.

As volumes begin to trend upwards once again, eyebrows have been raised about where those sales are stemming from with increased speculation about the amount of foreign, particularly Chinese investment. The chart below provides a detailed breakdown of buyer origins for apartment sales over $750,000 within Coolangatta, Burleigh Heads, Broadbeach, Surfers Paradise and Main Beach from 2002 to 2014.

High End Gold Coast Apartment Sales: Buyer Origins 2003 - 2014

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Queensland based buyers have dominated the premium apartment market throughout, accounting for an average annual market share of 59%. New South Wales and Victorian buyers have generally been second and third in line as the most common buyer origin throughout, however more recently international buyers have begun to attain a greater share of the Gold Coast’s premium apartment market. Between 2011 and 2014 (which remains incomplete), International buyers have more than doubled their market share from 8% to 17%. This has been led predominantly by Chinese investors, who have increased their market share from 4% to 9% during the same period and even surpassed the Victorian purchasers in 2013 to acquire the third greatest market share for that year.

So why are the Chinese drawn to Australian property and in this particular case, the Gold Coast’s premium apartment market?  And how great of a presence can we expect them to have moving forward? There are a number of factors which are encouraging Chinese investment and although it may be surprising for some, diversifying investment portfolios and immigration are proving to be more important than simple investment returns in most cases. ABS Statistics have shown that the numbers of Australian residents born overseas has increased substantially since 2000 as whole. More specifically, international migration from China alone has increased by approximately 195.5% from 2000 to 2013. This is substantially higher than areas such as New Zealand which have historically recorded large number of migrants due to the relationship between the Australian and New Zealand governments. The chart below shows a snapshot of four major sources of international migration.

Selected Australian Residents by Country of Birth 2000 - 2013

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Whilst the graph above is representative of the whole of Australia, the dramatic growth in emigration from China is still clearly evident and is necessary in understanding the popularity of major urban centres such as the Gold Coast. Interestingly, recent figures from Tourism Queensland (June 2014) have shown an increase of 4.2% in total visitors from China to the Gold Coast compared to 2013 reaffirming the increase in exposure that the area has had to potential Chinese purchasers. Overall, approximately 187,000 tourists visited the Gold Coast during the year ended June 2014 and stayed for a combined total of 960,000 nights. The tourism industry within the Gold Coast could arguably be seen as the catalyst for a large number of international purchases as potential buyers become familiar with the lifestyle and benefits of the area.

Whilst we know that Chinese tourism and the number of Chinese born Australians are on the rise; the question remains as to how much of this growth is being converted into real estate purchases? According to the Foreign Investment Review Board, foreign investors have risen by 189% between the 2009-10 financial years and the 2012-13 financial years. The table below provides an overview of the number of foreign real estate proposals by financial year and also suggests that not only have approved proposals increased, the number of rejected proposals has diminished with not a single proposal rejected in the 2012-2013 financial year.

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Whilst the table above relates to approvals from all foreign investors, Chinese investors are known to be leading the market in regards to foreign real estate investment within Australia. This is proven in the chart below which demonstrates the total value of real estate investment approvals by country of investor during the 2012-13 financial year. This trend is expected to have continued through 2013-14.

Foreign Real Estate Investment Approval Value ($M) by Country of Origin

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With the Chinese established as leading the market in foreign real estate investment, the graph below demonstrates the various market segments attracting purchaser attention. New dwellings have traditionally been the most common development sector for which foreign investment approvals are provided. The chart below provides total foreign investment approvals by development type throughout Australia and although existing residential property has surpassed new dwellings in 2012-13, new dwellings have traditionally been the recipient of the largest number of approvals.

Total Foreign Residential Real Estate Investment Approvals by Development Type

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From the available evidence it is largely assumed that new dwellings have been the most common investment choice due to restrictions on what foreign investors are permitted to purchase. Current policy seeks to limit foreign property purchases to acquisitions that add to Australia’s property stock which generally means buying off-the-plan and not buying established property unless it’s for the purpose of adequate redevelopment.

Consequently, the purchase of new apartment stock becomes a popular choice for foreign investors due to the comparative ease of buying off the plan. In addition, apartment purchases typically require much lower capital outlay in Australia then they do in countries like China. Purchasing property in China often requires a 30% deposit compared to the 10% deposit required in Australia. Throw in the added incentive of extended settlement processes (particularly on off the plan sales) and the fact that 79 of the 80 first and second tier cities in China are experiencing declines in property values; the appeal of urban centres such as the Gold Coast continues to proliferate.

Australia is also regarded as a low risk investment opportunity.  Tenure is considered to be some of the best in the world, there is very low sovereign risk and the Australian population is expected to grow well in the mid part of this century.  By comparison, China’s population is expected to peak in the middle of the next decade as the one child policy reaches its natural conclusion. Given that money has few borders, Australia will remain a popular investment destination. 

The Gold Coast whilst not the world city of Sydney, it does have an international profile. When investors compare square metre rates, apartment sizes and general bang for buck, the Gold Coast premium and super premium markets are starting to make a lot of sense.  With the expectation of any new additions in this space being two to three years away from settlement, today’s prices may well be considered highly attractive.



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