The dangers of buying property with friends

You’re sitting around a table with friends one night, downing a couple of glasses of red.

The conversation turns to property investment, and how hard it is to get into the market. Emboldened by the wine, someone suggests beating the affordability barrier by pooling your resources and buying a property together.

In principle, it’s a great idea. By clubbing together, you’ll be able to afford a better quality investment property than you could as individuals.

What’s more, your individual share of the mortgage is likely to be smaller than if you’d purchased on your own, which gives you more room to breathe financially.

Buying with friends can work well — provided that everyone has clear and consistent expectations before entering into the arrangement.

It’s wise to draft a written agreement covering the key aspects and likely eventualities of the arrangement. You can do this yourselves, however it can be a complex undertaking so it may be best to see a solicitor with a specialist knowledge of contracts.

One of the most important considerations the agreement should cover is how long you intend to hold the property. Is this a short-term proposition, e.g. three to five years, or a long-term commitment?

Ideally, you should hold residential investment property for at least seven to 10 years to ride out market fluctuations and make the most of compound capital growth. However, even with the best of intentions, unforeseen changes in the lives of the owners means there may come a time when it’s no longer appropriate or viable for one of them to continue the arrangement.

For this reason, the written agreement should address a range of possible life changes. For example, what will happen when one owner wants to sell their share of the property and free up funds to buy a home of their own to live in, start a family, or return to full-time study?

What if one owner wants to buy the others out? How will the price be determined? What will happen if one owner loses their job, can’t work due to illness or injury, or dies?

The agreement should cover the dollar amount each person will commit to the investment, and the ownership split in percentage terms. It’s also worth including a reference to the terms of the contract you and your friends have with the lender. If you are borrowing money for the purchase, the lender will consider each of you ‘jointly and severally liable’ for the debt.

In other words, if one of you is unable to meet your repayments, the lender can hold the other borrowers liable for your share of the debt, and can take action to recover it from them.

To minimise this risk, each borrower should take out the relevant insurances such as life insurance and income protection insurance which will help cover their financial commitments in the event of illness, injury or death.

Your agreement should also detail nuts-and-bolts issues such as who will have responsibility for day-to-day management of the property.

Who will deal with the lender or broker, liaise with the property manager and (if relevant) body corporate? Who will ensure that council rates bills, insurance premiums and maintenance fees are paid on time and in full?

If you have to make an insurance claim and you find out your policy has lapsed, no-one wants to hear the fateful words: “I thought you were handling that.”

The written agreement should also detail the procedure to be followed if there is a dispute amongst the owners. Whilst this may sound a little rigid or over-the-top (after all, you wouldn’t be buying with them if you didn’t think you could resolve problems) it’s important to look at the agreement in the cold light of day.

Remember: you are entering a business deal, not a social arrangement. The shared values and common interests that bind you together as friends won’t necessarily translate to a business environment.

When you buy with friends, you may benefit initially by spending less than you would on your own, but you also carry a greater risk of the venture failing due to conflicting expectations about managing change.

There’s little point risking a friendship over money—so for everyone’s sake, agree on the terms of the deal, put it in writing and then get on with business. This way, you’ll not only stand to gain financially, but maintain your friendship as well.

Mark Armstrong is a director of iProperty Plan, which provides independent analysis and tailored advice to investors and home buyers.

This article first appeared on Property Observer.


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