Investing in a house versus an apartment

TODD ROBERTS
11 January 2021
If you are thinking about buying an investment property, you might be wondering: What makes a better investment ‒ a house or an apartment?

I’ve invested in both houses and apartments over the years, and each have their pros and cons. So, what are they and what do you need to consider before investing in a house or an apartment?

Investing in a house

While investing in a house may offer capital growth, it can also come with drawbacks. Here are some of the major pros and cons.

Pros

1. Higher capital growth

Houses usually offer greater long-term capital growth than apartments, as land often appreciates over time and houses tend to have more associated land than apartments. However, it is important to note that this isn’t always the case. For example, a block of land located in the interior of Australia is unlikely to be more valuable than the floor space of a penthouse in Darling Harbour. That’s why it’s always important to consider location and market conditions when investing.

2. Opportunities to renovate and subdivide

Since you control 100% of the property if you are a sole investor for a house, you can go ahead and make strategic improvements to increase its value. For example, you may be able to improve your house with renovations or subdivide the land (provided you have Council approval), without needing to request permission from a body corporate or other residents.

3. Consistent rental returns

Houses can attract tenants, such as families and professional couples, who are reliable and want to stay in a certain suburb for schooling or work opportunities long-term.

Tenants who are pet owners may also choose to rent a house due to added flexibility in the lease terms. Body corporate by-laws for apartments, in contrast, can restrict or limit pet ownership (e.g., not allowing prospective tenants or owners to have pets, or setting weight limits on dogs). Research shows pet owners, on average, have a longer tenancy length.

Cons

1. Price

Houses are often more expensive to buy than apartments and units in the same area. This can be a deterrent for some buyers, including first-time property investors or anyone looking to diversify their investment portfolio.

2. Lower rental yield

Rental yield expresses the amount of money you make on an investment property, compared to its purchase price, as a percentage. It’s a valuable tool for calculating your return on investment.

As a rule of thumb, houses can have a lower rental yield than apartments and units, even though they usually have greater capital growth. More data on this is below. So, a house might not be the best option if you need rental income for cash flow.

3. Maintenance costs and upkeep

When it comes to houses, you have to pay all of the maintenance and upkeep fees, as well as insurance premiums for the building itself, if you choose to take out a policy. You should ensure the home is structurally sound, including getting a thorough building inspection prior to purchase.

Investing in an apartment

Apartments are an attractive option for investors as they are usually more affordable than houses. However, there are many factors to consider when buying an apartment.

Pros

1. Affordable options

Apartments and units can offer an affordable entry point into the market, in areas that may be beyond your budget if you were looking at houses. The lower outlay can also mean fewer risks and more investment choices for you.

2. Supply and demand

Single- and two-person households are generally becoming more common in Australia. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data projects lone-person households will rise from 25% (2.3 million) to 24–27% (between 3 to 3.5 million) Australian households from 2016 to 2041.

Lone-person households and single parent families with dependent children are more likely to have low-income, and low-wealth households are less likely to own property, according to ABS household income and wealth data.

If smaller Australian households rent, there may be stronger renter demand, higher rental yields and more investment security for some apartment owners in the longer term.

3. Maintenance costs and upkeep

A big advantage of owning an apartment or unit is that everyone in the building or complex shares the cost of insurance, maintenance and upkeep in the form of a strata title. An owners corporation, also known as a body corporate, manages and maintains the common areas of a strata-titled property.  Paying annual fees and special fees (also known as special levies) such as body corporate fees may make your property easier to manage. However, there are some costs that won’t be paid by body corporate fees, such as contents insurance; Council rates; maintenance, repairs and improvements to your private-use property; and utilities.

4. Potential for multiple assets

Depending on your budget, you could potentially buy two apartments or units for the same price as one house. This could provide you with higher rental income, future flexibility and lower risk, while also diversifying your investment portfolio at the same time.

Cons

1. Lower land value

Apartments and units generally have a much lower proportion of associated land, which means they often don’t offer as much capital growth as houses do. You may not make as much profit when you sell over the same period of time; however, the long-term return from any property is influenced by many other wider factors too, such as location, comparable sales, market trends, condition and property characteristics.

2. Maintenance costs and upkeep

You may notice this is listed on pros and cons as it can be considered to be both. While paying ongoing body corporate fees eliminates having to organise and pay for some unplanned repairs, it can also be an expensive ongoing outlay. This is especially true if the complex includes additional facilities such as a gym, sauna, tennis court and swimming pool.

3. Lack of control

Most apartments and units are part of a strata title, so if you want to make any changes or renovations, you need to get permission from the body corporate. This lack of control can put limitations on maximising the value and use of the property.

4. Future developments

The number of apartments and units in an area can increase significantly over several years. If you own an existing apartment or unit in an oversupplied area, you could potentially suffer from lower rental yield, renter demand and capital growth.

Rental yield explained


Rental yield is the profit you generate each year from your investment property as a percentage of its value. To calculate a rental yield, the weekly rent is multiplied by 52 weeks and then divided by the purchase price.

Choosing an investment property based on high rental yield alone isn’t always the best option as there’s a range of factors that impact profitability. For example, some high-yielding properties can have no capital growth, little cashflow or increased risk depending on factors like location, property prices, infrastructure, economy, employment and vacancy rate.

For example, there are incredibly high-yielding houses in many mining towns across Australia. However, most of those properties come with high risk, thanks to a volatile market that’s heavily reliant on employment within the area.

Whereas, inner-city apartments tend to offer relatively high rental yields (though not usually as high as mining towns) but have less associated risk.

How did rental yields compare over the last 12 months?

Recent market trends continue to position units (which include apartments) higher than houses in terms of rental yields. The CoreLogic Market Trends Report, for example, shows the gross national rental yield from units (including apartments) from December 2019 to December 2020 was 0.9% more than that from houses. The combined capitals data also revealed the same trend.

Source: CoreLogic Market Trends Report, 10 December 2020

However, as mentioned, there are many factors aside from rental yield to consider to help you work out the best-value property investment option that may suit you personally.

Final thoughts: should I invest in a house or an apartment?


Ultimately, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ answer to this question. It really depends on your overall investment objectives and strategy, the housing demand and supply trends in the market, the location of the property and what you can afford.

The most important thing is to do your research and consider speaking to as many people with relevant experience and expertise, such as real estate agents, accountants and seasoned property investors, as you can.

You may also want to ensure your finances are in order. Steps such as doing a budget and checking your credit score, as well as considering home loan pre-approval, may help you to make your investment dreams a reality. If you need advice, it could be a good idea to speak with a financial adviser.

Cover image source: Andrii Yalanksy (Shutterstock)

This article was reviewed by our Sub-editor Jacqueline Belesky and Senior Finance Journalist Shay Waraker before it was published as part of our fact-checking process.

Todd Roberts Headshot

About Todd Roberts

Todd Roberts is the CEO of Credit Union SA. Todd spent over 11 years as an Executive at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and has held a significant number of Chair and Director roles with various not-for-profit organisations, including the National Heart Foundation of Australia, where he is both currently a Director and Chair of the Investment Committee. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Accountancy from the University of South Australia and is a chartered accountant. You can find him on LinkedIn.

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