One of the most common questions I am asked these days comes from investors looking to use their self-managed super funds (SMSF) to invest and develop property.
It’s no surprise that people who’ve had good experience with property investing want to apply the same strategy and take control of their superannuation investments. But it’s not as easy as it seems and you need to be clear on what tactics are permissible when investing money from your SMSF. You also need good, qualified advice.
I have to say I find it a little hard to stay on top of what you can and can’t do with a SMSF.
When we recently started working with our new client Adam Mondy of Mondy Financial Services. I was delighted to hear that he was a financial planner who specialises in SMSFs. So I asked Adam if he wouldn’t mind setting us straight on what we can and can’t do with a SMSF.
Below are Adam’s words of wisdom:
THE SMSF Developments
It sounds like a new movie release, but the SMSF world can be just as exciting and just as scary.
The Australian Tax Office are suggesting that 30,000 new SMSFs are opening each year, which is a lot of people wanting to be in complete control (or at least have the perception of control) over their retirement fortunes.
Investments in a SMSF
Any investment you can make in your current super fund or personal name you can make in an SMSF. Although if you are looking to boost your collection of fine wines and buy a few bottles of Grange Hermitage or perhaps add to your art collection with a Pro Hart, then that’s a topic for a another time. Whilst it can be none, it’s far more complicated.
You can invest in shares, term deposits, bonds, real estate trusts but a major drawcard and what has become very popular, is property.
Borrowing to Buy Property in your SMSF
The fact that you can take your super, borrow some funds from a bank and then buy a property that you may pay off in 15 – 20 years (yes slightly different than your traditional property strategy) using some or all of your superannuation guarantee payments, is a powerful strategy. Not a perfect, well diversified, sure fire guaranteed strategy, but nevertheless a powerful one based on past property prices. Basically if you are comfortable with gearing (using somebody else’s money, at a cost, to help build your future funds) using SMSF may suit you.
The standard method is to obtain a special loan from a normal banking institution, combining these funds and you can purchase any type of property. The ATO has very strict rules on “whom” you can purchase from and “who” can use these properties but any property type is fine.
The interesting thing about these loans is you cannot change the fundamental character of the property while the loan is on foot. For example, land cannot be purchased and then developed while a loan is attached. You could purchase a house and land package or an “off the plan unit” but there could be no ownership transfer under the package until the home/unit build was completed. The fundamental change being from vacant land to residential property.
On the other hand it is possible to make improvements to property, whilst the loan is on foot, so long as:
a) The improvements are not so extensive that they result in a change of the fundamental character of the property. Renovations to an existing residential property would generally be acceptable;
b) The improvements are not funded from borrowed monies, In other words the fund uses its own funds to make improvements to the property.
Can you develop property in a SMSF?
Many people think that you cannot develop in the SMSF environment. This is not correct. You can set up special trusts within the SMSF environment that allow you to use borrowed (by the SMSF) funds, develop property, subdivide, buy/sell, build a granny flat, or any property strategy you can think of. These trusts will even allow other investors, other SMSFs or you personally to invest with your SMSF to undertake a development.
The major catch, other than it is highly regulated, complicated and can be costly, is that you need to have the funds outside of the specific property you are developing. You cannot borrow against the property you are developing, as would be the “norm” in a traditional development. If you have access to funds, are able to borrow against other assets and/or have other parties involved, this scenario may be beneficial.
Using your own funds i.e. not borrowing
Basically you can do what you like with your own super funds in relation to property when borrowing is not undertaken. As long as the ATO rules of purchasing and “use” of the property are satisfied then any purchase, development, construction, subdivision or investment can be undertaken.
Your future self?
Whilst using your SMSF to invest in property has become common, you should consider that property is illiquid and may not produce the returns it has in the past. So it’s important to do your due diligence carefully. In addition to this many property investors are committed to property over other investments, meaning there is little diversification across their portfolio. However, using different strategies such property development where you are adding value and creating equity through the process, can be a good way of building up the value of your SMSF faster than waiting on capital growth.
With any investment the return you receive should attempt to reflect the potential risk you are undertaking. Don’t forget in this instance we are talking about your future retirement funds, so you not only need to justify this strategy to your advisers, to your auditor and to the ATO but most importantly to your future self and family, so tread carefully.
Jo Chivers is director of Property Bloom, which manages property development. This article first appeared on Property Observer.