Australia Prepares for a Post-Pandemic Population Boom
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Australia Prepares for a Post-Pandemic Population Boom

Property experts say a rush of people will come as soon as border restrictions ease.

By Kirsten Craze
Mon, May 31, 2021 10:44amGrey Clock 5 min

Australia’s international borders were snapped shut with the arrival of Covid-19 in March 2020, and more than a year later our island nation is still closed to new arrivals. As a result, the country, which relies heavily on overseas migration to boost its economy and housing market, has experienced its first negative population growth in more than a century.

One year into the pandemic, Australia’s migrant stock was 300,000 people fewer than it would have been, coupled by a net migration decline of 97,000 people, according to Federal budget estimates.

By 2030, the Australian government estimates the country will be “missing” 1 million new people. As of June 2020, the Australian Bureau of Statistics recorded that there were more than 7.6 million migrants living in Australia, with 29.8% of the total population born in another country. England was the largest group of overseas-born migrants at 980,400, followed by those born in India at 721,000 and then Chinese migrants third at 650,600.

The hit to Australia’s population growth rate is already taking its toll on some parts of the property market, particularly inner city apartments. However, when borders do reopen, property and population experts predict that Australia’s successful and vigilant handling of the pandemic—Victoria instated Thursday a weeklong statewide lockdown in response to a cluster of only two-dozen or so cases—and its rebounding economy will attract the attention of cashed-up migrants and foreigners seeking out shrewd investments.

Understanding the Migration Equation

In the Federal Budget announced earlier this month, the government hinted at a “gradual return” to temporary or permanent migration, but no sooner than mid-2022. As a result, Australia’s population is predicted to be about 25.88 million by the end of next year.

Tim Lawless, head of research for property data firm CoreLogic, said the long-term impact of this blow to Australia’s population growth will be multilayered.

“If the Treasury forecasts are right, this means the rate of population growth will be the lowest since 1917. This will be disruptive to housing demand. However, the impact will not be evenly spread,” he explained.

“We need to consider the composition of housing demand. In the last few years at least, about 70% of migration has been temporary; it’s been students and visitors. And about 30% have been permanent migrants,” he continued. “Temporary migrants will usually rent, and even permanent arrivals typically rent before they buy anyway, so there’s always been a bit of a lag.”

As a result, inner city vacancy rates soared and rents dropped, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne where most new arrivals initially land. A return of both temporary and permanent migrants would create an immediate demand throughout metropolitan rental markets and provide opportunities for investors coming back into the market.

 

Savvy Investors Will Be Ready for Open Borders

Simon Keustenmacher, social demographer and co-founder of Melbourne-based demographic advisory firm The Demographics Group, said Australia’s big city mayors and property developers are keen to reignite inner cities post-pandemic.

“The inner city rental market of relatively small dwellings—one or two bedroom apartments—has suffered because there are no new arrivals or international students. The more you can get to come, the more everyone will get out of it because they just invigorate these areas and put capital back into the economy,” he said.

Although no one knows yet how many temporary and permanent migrants Australia will welcome, or when, Mr. Keustenmacher is sure housing demand will skyrocket when they do.

“People will want to come to Australia at a much higher rate than we will take people in, I’m certain,” he said, adding that it’s especially true of the top end of the income spectrum. “More and more migrants will want to come to Australia because they’re thinking, ‘Where can I have the best lifestyle?’”

Mr. Keustenmacher said he envisaged Australia’s skilled migration list becoming shorter and more specific. Those highly skilled, well-paid workers who do arrive in Australia will have an additional challenge when seeking a home as they will be in direct competition with another huge slice of the population.

“Plenty of those high-income earners arriving in Australia will be in the family stage of their lifecycle so they’ll be competing for the most sought after property—three- and four-bedroom houses. Demographically speaking, that’s the hottest market to be in because Australia’s millennials, who are also in the family stage of life, are our biggest generation right now,” he explained.

“Therefore, if people buy purely for investment they should buy whatever property is deemed to be rare, because prices will be driven up,” he said.

 

Things Could Go From Good, to Even Better

Despite unprecedented negative population growth, Australia’s dwelling values did not suffer throughout the second half of 2020 and into the first quarter of 2021. On the contrary, in March alone, CoreLogic’s national home value index recorded a 2.8% increase, the fastest pace of monthly growth in 32 years.

John McGrath, founder of Australia-wide realtor group McGrath Real Estate, said when new arrivals return, housing demand is likely to increase even further.

“Whilst the current surge in local demand and property values will no doubt plateau in the near future as the inevitable buyer fatigue calms things down, international borders opening up will be the next catalyst for price growth,” he said.

During the height of the pandemic in mid-2020, real estate agents across Australia noted a sharp uptick in inquiry from Australians living overseas hoping to return home, or at least invest on home soil.

“We have already sold a number of properties to expats sight unseen off the internet over the past 12 months, but this will escalate rapidly as borders open,” he said.

To date, a wave of international interest in Australia’s luxury properties close to beaches or in rural settings has put upward price pressure on lifestyle locations, and Mr. McGrath said he believes that will inevitably create a trickle-down effect.

“While much of the demand will find its way to higher priced homes upward of $10 million , I expect we will see buying across all price ranges as people seek to migrate to Australia,” he said. “Traditionally, the vast majority of these immigrants investing into Australia have focused on Sydney and Melbourne, but due to lifestyle and workplace changes post-COVID we should see a wider spread of investment including many regional lifestyle areas.”

Waves, Wine and Wool

Three types of lifestyle markets have been highly sought after since the pandemic forced individuals to reconsider their priorities and work-life balance. Beach locations, wine regions and rural estates have all been hot property.

“Some of the really high-profile lifestyle markets would probably be on the radar for returning expats, or foreign migrants,” Mr. Lawless said. “If we do see more migrants arriving, or expats returning, a lot of them will be looking at not just Sydney or Melbourne, but also the likes of Byron Bay, Noosa or the Mornington Peninsula.”

A shift to remote working has meant these areas, some of which are hundreds of miles from employment hubs in the cities, are no longer disadvantaged by long commute times.

 

People Can’t Travel to Australia, but Money Can

The fact that international borders are closed isn’t holding back keen foreign investors who are playing the long property game.

“They don’t even need to move to Australia right now. Currency and capital can still flow across the border,” Mr. Lawless said.

“Expats or potentially foreign buyers would be looking at Australian real estate because it’s a pretty good investment at the moment. It’s on a strong capital gain trajectory and considering where mortgage rates are, it’s also relatively high yielding,” he explained.

Australian expats can buy established property, though foreign investors or potential migrants are restricted to purchasing new properties or buying land with the purpose of building a home, according to Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board guidelines.

“There is limited availability for newly built apartments in some areas as construction is starting to wind down, but if you looked around Sydney and Melbourne, there are still plenty of apartments underway,” he said.

“We’ll see a few years down the track, considering how Australia has managed Covid-19 as well as just the sheer liveability of Australia, that this is going to be a very popular place. If I wasn’t in Australia I’d certainly want to be, put it that way,” Mr. Lawless said.

Reprinted by permission of Mansion Global. Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: May 30, 2021



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I.M. Pei was the confident visionary behind such transformative structures as the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong and the Louvre Pyramid in Paris, but he was also humble, and for years resisted a retrospective of his work.

Pei, a Chinese-American architect who died in 2019 at 102 , would always protest any suggestion of a major exhibition, saying, “why me,” noting, too, that he was still actively at work, recalls his youngest son, Li Chung “Sandi” Pei. A decade ago, when Pei was in his mid-to-late 90s, he relented, finally telling Aric Chen, a curator at the M+ museum in Hong Kong, “all right, if you want to do it, go ahead,” Sandi says.

A sweeping retrospective, “I.M. Pei: Life Is Architecture,” will open June 29 at M+ in the city’s West Kowloon Cultural District. The exhibition of more than 300 objects, including drawings, architectural models, photographs, films, and other archival documents, will feature Pei’s influential structures, but in dialogue with his “social, cultural, and biographical trajectories, showing architecture and life to be inseparable,” the museum said in a news release.

As a Chinese citizen who moved to the U.S. in 1935 to learn architecture, Pei—whose full first name was Ieoh Ming—brought a unique cultural perspective to his work.

“His life is what’s really interesting and separates him from many other architects,” Sandi says. “He brought with him so many sensibilities, cultural connections to China, and yet he was a man of America, the West.”

Facade of the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© South Ho Siu Nam

Pei’s architectural work was significant particularly because of its emphasis on cultural institutions—from the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar—“buildings that have a major impact in their communities,” Sandi says. But he also did several urban redevelopment projects, including Kips Bay Towers in Manhattan and Society Hill in Philadelphia.

“These are all places for people,” Sandi says. “He believed in the importance of architecture as a way to bring and celebrate life. Whether it was a housing development or museum or a tall building or whatever—he really felt a responsibility to try to bring something to wherever he was working that would uplift people.”

A critical juncture in Pei’s career was 1948, when he was recruited from the Harvard Graduate School of Design (where he received a master’s degree in architecture) by New York real estate developer William Zeckendorf.

With Zeckendorf, Pei traveled across the country, meeting politicians and other “movers and shakers” from Denver and Los Angeles, to Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Boston, and New York. “He became very adept at working in that environment, where you had to know how to persuade people,” Sandi says.

During the seven-year period Pei worked with Zeckendorf, the developer fostered the growth of his architecture practice, supporting an office that included urban, industrial, graphic, and interior designers, in addition to architects and other specialists, Sandi says.

When Pei started his own practice in 1955, “he had this wealth of a firm that could do anything almost anywhere,” Sandi says. “It was an incredible springboard for what became his own practice, which had no parallel in the profession.”

According to Sandi, Chinese culture, traditions, and art were inherent to his father’s life as he grew up, and “he brought that sensibility when he came into America and it always influenced his work.” This largely showed up in the way he thought of architecture as a “play of solids and voids,” or buildings and landscape.

“He always felt that they worked together in tandem—you can’t separate one from the other—and both of them are influenced by the play of light,” Sandi says.

View of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, on the mesa, in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© Naho Kubota

Pei also often said that “architecture follows art,” and was particularly influenced by cubism, an artistic movement exploring time and space that was practiced in the early 20th century by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, among others. This influence is apparent in the laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., and at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, N.Y. “Those two buildings, if you look at them, have a play of solid and void, which are very cubistic,” Sandi says.

Yet Sandi argues that his father didn’t have a specific architectural style. Geometry may have been a consistent feature to his work, but his projects always were designed in response to their intended site. The resulting structure emerged as almost inevitable, he says. “It just was the right solution.”

Pei also intended his buildings “not only to be themselves a magnet for life,” but also to influence the area where they existed. “He never felt that a building stood alone,” Sandi says. “Urban design, urban planning, was a very important part of his approach to architecture, always.”

After he closed his own firm to supposedly “retire” in the early 1990s, Pei worked alongside Sandi and his older brother, Chien Chung (Didi) Pei, who died late last year, at PEI Architects, formerly Pei Partnership Architects. Pei would work on his own projects, with their assistance, and would guide his sons, too. The firm had substantial involvement in the Museum of Islamic Art, among other initiatives, for instance, Sandi says.

Working with his father was fun, he says. In starting a project, Pei was often deliberately vague about his intentions. The structure would coalesce “through a process of dialogue and sketches and sometimes just having lunch over a bottle of wine,” Sandi says. “He was able to draw from each of us who was working on the project our best efforts to help to guide [it] to some kind of form.”

The M+ retrospective, which will run through Jan. 5, is divided into six areas of focus, from Pei’s upbringing and education through to his work in real estate and urban redevelopment, art and civic projects, to how he reinterpreted history through design.

Sandi, who will participate in a free public discussion moderated by exhibition co-curator Shirley Surya on the day it opens, is interested “in the opportunity to look at my father anew and to see his work in a different light now that it’s over, his last buildings are complete. You can take a full assessment of his career.”

And, he says, “I’m excited for other people to become familiar with his life.”