It’s easy to see why the great Australian dream emerged, and it’s easy to see why it flourished. The war was over, good had prevailed and the world probably seemed a lot simpler. New immigration initiatives had people calling Australia ‘the land of tomorrow’, and a taste of hope and recovery was on the wind. It even lead to the emergence of strata living; stretching this philosophy of ownership to shared buildings. Even today we have one of the lowest population densities in the world; fitting ⅓ of the UK’s population in a country 31 times the size. There’s more than enough space for everyone to have their own home, and where there isn’t we’ve made room, and this is perhaps why the dream has been preserved in our collective consciousness.
Today however, with a more competitive property market and a greater focus on not only the property itself but also its location, a desire for ownership can inspire tunnel vision. Affordable housing is being pushed to the outermost suburbs and rural expanses as inner-city costs climb. It’s spurred on by a deep-rooted fear of renting and it’s expenses being perceived as ‘dead money’. That’s not a specifically Australian phenomenon but when mixed in with our housing obsession it can create an unhealthy cocktail that leaves us drunk on passion rather than practicalities. There’s less sense today in trying to make your first home your home for life, and it sets expectations unrealistically high. It sets a budding investor up to fail.
Young investors are utilising live at home tactics to scrimp and save in order to get a property miles from work with little in the way of growth opportunities. Setting down roots and becoming invested, personally and financially, much earlier than they should or need to. There’s something undeniably conservative about it all, something very safe and cloistered that puts the power in fewer hands. In Europe, renting is a much more accepted and viable option, and the there is less of a conceived distinction in the market between investment, ownership and tenancy.
The ways in which we live our lives has changed in the last fifty years. People are living longer, having kids later and finding more value in an integrated work life than a distinct work/life dichotomy. The substantial urban sprawl I alluded to earlier is becoming less viable as environmental concerns force us to rethink our approaches to urban planning. A shift from private vehicles to affordable and accessible public transport in light of rising oil prices and sea levels is making location and concise living even more important than it’s ever been. The world has changed, and the Australian dream must change with it. A more complicated world demands a more nuanced approach.
Rent money is no longer dead money, and tactics such as rentvesting can help even those on lower budgets to get started in the investment world. (The How’s and Why’s of Rentvesting). Expanding one’s property portfolio to include commercial real estate, investing overseas, utilising seasonal rental yields. The options have always been there and are only becoming more numerous, accessible and necessary to a healthy investment strategy.
The Great Australian dream feels like everyone’s getting their own slice, a more egalitarian approach, but really it’s more constrictive than that. By having a more open mind to our property and investments we can democratise the process more fully. It may sound as if I’m stomping the dream, and all who hold it, into the dust. That really isn’t my intention. I just believe fully that property investment should be for the majority, and that if the great Australian dream of home ownership is important to you there are smarter ways of achieving it than just buying the first detached home you can afford. Regardless of its location and suitability.
Your property dreams don’t have to be defined by such a specific thing, and they will change over time. In the modern world we need a new Australian dream, one that expands horizons rather than restricting them. One that dares to go beyond the comfort of a white picket fence.