6 property lessons we learned from COVID-19
05 Dec 2020

2020 has been one of the most tumultuous years in living memory, and yet Australia looks set to emerge better placed than almost any other country. 

Here are half a dozen lessons we learned this year in relation to property ownership and investment. 

1 - Market resilience in 2020

It's long been known that regulators and government are motivated to support housing markets through lean periods, and 2020 was no different in this regard.

There was even some tacit discussion about whether transactions in the housing market should be deemed to be 'halted' during the most uncertain months of restrictions.

Thankfully, Australia controlled the virus spread as well as almost anywhere, but still, we have run the whole gamut of supportive measures, in the form of a range of stimulus packages in concert with monetary policy stimulus. 

2 - Sectors that were impacted and why

The property market sectors that were most heavily impacted included office towers in the major capital cities centres, and higher-density rental apartments in the CBDs of Sydney and Melbourne.

The drivers included the international border closures preventing new migrants, tourists, and students coming into Australia, and an outward shift in housing demand towards the city fringes or regional markets, which is a rational response to a pandemic.

Overall, in the wash-up some commercial property types will have been harder hit in terms of prices, but there remains weakness in some residential rental markets, especially for units in parts of Sydney and Melbourne. 

3 - Houses versus units

The latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed that, contrary to popular belief, house prices fell further than unit prices, dropping by around 2 per cent between March and June 2020, while attached dwellings only lost about 1 per cent in value. 


Of course, averages can mask divergent underlying trends, and it's become clear over the past 8 years or so that small, generic new apartments, built with investors rather the homebuyers in mind, have been more susceptible to underperformance. 

4 - Commercial versus residential investment

Commercial property tends to be more suited to the institutional investor, or to more educated property investors, especially those seeking a higher yield or income-focussed investments.

It's often easier for private landlords to understand the market dynamics in the residential space.

2020 has shown that there can be different risks to be managed in commercial property, and that it's important to be well prepared for periods of turbulence.

Historically it's been said that recessions can be damaging for commercial property markets as businesses fail or experience insolvency.  

2020 has been a little different with fewer insolvencies to date - as the economy was shut down for a health issue and supported with fiscal measures, rather than squeezed into a recession by higher interest rates - but the trend towards working from home has hit commercial property regardless. 

5 - Trends that have accelerated

It's too early to say with any certainty how demographics and the economy will shape up in 2021, but once the international borders reopen early indications suggest that the world will be more similar than different.

When the immigration tap is turned back on Australia will aim for a 'brain gain' which may drive the eminence of the larger cities once again.

There was already a 'sea-change' phenomenon afoot in Australia, as 2020 saw an acceleration in working from home, shorter working weeks in the office, and more online and virtual meetings, and some of these trends will likely persist. 

6 - Rental market lessons

2020 again showed that both tenants and landlords would always be well served to have a buffer in place in case of a dearth of employment opportunities or rental income.

Property investors should consider having a landlord insurance policy in place from day one to deal with unforeseen outcomes. 

Some of the rental markets, especially in Sydney and Melbourne, may not recover until deep in 2021, as restrictions on international remain in place.