Do’s and don’ts of SMSF property investment

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Do’s and don’ts of SMSF property investment

Opinion piece written by John Maroney, CEO, SMSF Association

First published in The Financial Review on 10 October 2019. Licensed by Copyright Agency.

Are you considering SMSF property investment? Direct property is an investment that self-managed super fund (SMSF) trustees are likely to consider at some stage. In fact, direct property investments make up about 15 percent of all SMSF assets. This has been the case consistently over many years, even as the total value of assets owned by SMSFs has increased. 

The split between commercial and residential direct property has been fairly consistent too, with about 10 per cent invested in commercial property and 5 per cent in residential (based on published annual ATO statistics).

We receive many questions related to this topic, so today we’re going to break down some of the do’s and don’ts of SMSF property investment so you can ensure you’re investing your super in the right place.



Benefits of SMSF property investment

Owning direct property may have been the motivation to set up a self managed super fund initially. Alternatively, it may be the opportunity to have rental income received by the fund from a related business leasing commercial property owned by the fund. This adds to the retirement savings of the members of the SMSF who also own the business.

The clear advantages of owning direct property in your SMSF include receiving the rental income paid to the SMSF for use of the asset and a lower capital gains tax rate on disposal of the property. The rental income adds to your retirement savings and is taxed at the concessional rate of 15 per cent. Where the property is owned for greater than 12 months before sale, then only two-thirds of the resulting capital gain is taxed at the 15 per cent fund tax rate. Expenses of owning and deriving the rental income are tax-deductible, just as they are for any other rental property investment.


How does SMSF property investment work?

Rules and limitations:

However, unlike owning rental property personally, there are some specific rules and potential limitations of SMSF property investment, whether you are owning or renting. Some important issues to keep in mind when considering the purchase of direct property for SMSF property investment include:

  • Restrictions on the use by you, your relatives and other related parties of residential property owned by your SMSF whether you pay market rent for using the property or not;
  • Lack of diversification due to the large proportion of SMSF money that might be needed to acquire a single direct property;
  • Dealing with unforeseen events such as early death of a member or divorce, requiring the forced sale of the property at an inappropriate time;
  • Where borrowed money is used to acquire the property by the SMSF, there are significant restrictions on the manner and type of modifications that can be made to the property while the borrowing remains in place.


Investment diversification

Even before the purchase of direct property as SMSF property investment however, there is something else SMSF trustees must address.

The issue of SMSF trustees understanding the importance of investment diversification before committing large proportions of their SMSF assets to buy direct property has been in the public arena lately. A well-diversified portfolio is essential to provide income for retirement and spread investment risk so that any single asset class, such as property, does not dominate your SMSF risk and returns.

But there is a wider consideration in SMSF property investment than just diversification. Before any property purchase or investment decision is made by SMSF trustees, it is imperative – and a legal requirement – that trustees consider the actual investment strategy of their SMSF. 


Investment Strategy

The SMSF investment strategy should detail how much exposure the fund should have to the property market, the form of exposure and how appropriate it is in the circumstances of the SMSF members. The SMSF property investment must always be reflected in the investment strategy set by the trustees. 

It is important that trustees understand this is not a set and forget issue. In fact, part of the annual obligations of the auditors of an SMSF is that they must be satisfied that the SMSF has an investment strategy in place and that its investments are in line with that strategy throughout the year.


Who can SMSF trustees purchase from?

It is also worth noting that there are rules around who SMSF trustees can acquire certain property from, as well as what they can do with it once it is acquired. It is not possible under the superannuation rules for an SMSF to acquire residential property from any related party to the fund (like members or their relatives).

There is an exception to the rule restricting SMSF trustees from buying property from related parties if the property is commercial property within the definition of business real property under superannuation law. Business real property generally means land and buildings used wholly and exclusively in one or more businesses. Non-SMSF property investment examples include an office, factory or land used for primary production.

If you want more information on this matter or on how to manage your own super, speak with an SMSF Specialist to learn more about SMSF property investment and other retirement benefits.

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