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Opinion: Our perverse fascination with property

Obsession does funny things to people. Risks fade away, become inconsequential, as the obsession narrows in on an unshakeable faith that the object of desire will prevail.

Australia’s obsession with property is a force to be reckoned with. You don’t need to be a journalist covering the space or a mortgage professional working in it to know that the desire for real estate riches in this country is profound.

This is a uniquely Australian obsession.

Other nations have home owners and property investors but none of them come close to Australia's perverse fascination with property. Banks, mortgage brokers and real estate agents are easy targets when things go wrong for the buyer. Property values dropping or the investment fails to deliver the positive cash flow the sweet-talking spruiker said it would.

Selling anything to a market of frenzied buyers is easy.

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Being duped into investing in a new development is hardly a swindle when we’re all drinking the same Kool-Aid and believe with absolute conviction that real estate is the safest way to build wealth. Surely, property only goes up and generally doubles in value every 7–10 years?

At the risk of sounding callous, you win some, you lose some. But consider this — how much sympathy is there for the share market speculator who backs the latest fintech and loses their dough? But for some reason, attempting to get rich through bricks and mortar is somehow someone else’s fault. So when those claiming to be property investors cry foul because their investment didn’t pan out, well, that’s just the nature of the game.

We’re all very quick to react when the risks of real estate investing hit the headlines. Or our TV screens. It shatters the dream. Monday night’s Four Corners program on mortgage stress is a case in point.

The bottom line is this: going into debt carries risks. Period.

Whether you’re racking up debt on a credit card or borrowing to buy a two-bedroom unit in Sydney, there are risks involved. What if you lose your job? What if the price of your property falls? What if you get sick and can’t service the mortgage? What if?

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It’s too late to start asking these questions once you’ve taken out a loan. But there are things you can do to alleviate your fears, like taking out mortgage protection insurance and getting advice from someone who isn’t holding the title deeds.

Education is a critical part of investing, but when it comes to property, it is typically not part of the process. Conversations around barbeques are about as far as the schooling goes.

As I’ve said, selling to a frenzied mob of property punters is easy. Educating them about the risks is much trickier. Those perverted by the great Australian dream of property portfolios don’t want to know about it.

Opinion: Our perverse fascination with property
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