Western Australia’s Mustera Property Group are an Australian–focused Property Investment and Development Company, with a particular focus on mixed-use and residential developments, as well as investing in commercial, industrial and retail property. In November 2014 the company was listed on the ASX, and today has a market capitalization of $23 million, with a spread of both local and offshore investors.
As the company’s Executive Director, Nicholas Zborowski has many years of experience in the property sector behind him, both at home and abroad, beginning after a degree in commerce and property at Curtin University.
After undertaking a valuation traineeship during his study, he moved into a construction administration and Project Manager role with Australand, working on a number of its Perth projects in the industrial space.
Soon after, Mr. Zborowski was presented with an opportunity to work in the Middle East, in the Development Management space, for a large government-initiated Property Development Company called Emaar Properties, a company with diversified interests across real estate, including residential, retail, commercial and hospitality.
Mr. Zborowski’s role was as Development Manager for the company’s malls division, which included the design, development and delivery of regional malls throughout the Middle East.
“During my time at Emaar,” Mr. Zborowski explains, “I did see a shift in the property market, where a number of the mooted developments were put on hold. Essentially the focus of the group was then to deliver on a number of projects which were currently under construction, which included the Dubai Mall.”
An opportunity to move to Abu Dhabi soon followed, where he was offered work as a Development Manager with the mixed-use development team, working for the Tourism Development Investment Company (TDIC), a master developer in Abu Dhabi, established to drive investment growth and development of the Emirates tourism sector.
“This opportunity got me involved in a number of different projects across multiple asset classes, and my primary focus was on Saadiyat Island Cultural Canal development, which involved the financing, master planning and design of 2,200 residential apartments, 40,000 m2 of retail, 6,000 m2 of office and two five star hotels.”
The Saadiyat Island project stretched along a 1.5km manmade canal and was located amongst world-class tourism developments including the Louvre, the Guggenheim and the Abu Dhabi National Museum.
After two years with TDIC, working on some impressive projects and with a number of key design architects and consultants throughout Europe and the Middle East, it was time for Mr. Zborowski to return to Australia.
“[I’d] been working in the Middle East for over four years and thought it was the right time to come home. There was plenty of opportunity back in Australia, especially in the Sydney property market, and shortly after arriving in Sydney I commenced working for Charter Hall, working as a Development Manager on two of their significant CBD projects.”
Mr. Zborowski worked with the development team at Charter Hall for two years, playing a key role in the progression of the two CBD projects at 333 George St and 20 Martin Place through design, approvals, contractor appointment and construction commencement.
Utilising contacts amassed over the years both locally and abroad, Mr. Zborowski soon began offering his own services in property development to offshore investors looking to enter into the Australian market, particularly in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth.
Within his work as an independent developer, he became involved with the Mutual Street Property Group, going on with the help of the group to create and deliver the vision to form a listed Property Company, which became Mustera Property Group.
Mustera’s two areas of focus are key to their business model. Firstly there is the investment base, an Investment Management business focused on generating attractive returns and value through strategic acquisitions.
This arm of the company is concerned with the underlying quality of assets, project returns and stability of cash flow, as well as capital growth through the investments.
The second area is the company’s development angle, which compliments the investment business through sourcing, managing, developing and refurbishing high quality assets and investments.
“What we focus on is understanding and adapting to market conditions,” Mr. Zborowski says, “creating quality product and quality residential developments for the end user.”
“Essentially, the company’s key to success, in order to maximise the full potential of the Shareholders value and their returns, is to provide consistent annual growth through commercial investments, to provide attractive profit margins through developments, and also to operate in a sustainable manner.”
The decision to list the company was taken for a number of reasons, but most significantly because it presented an opportunity to have a vehicle capable of facilitating local and foreign investments, especially the Asian investment market entering into the unfamiliar territory of Australian property.
“We’ve seen a significant amount of foreign investment in the Australian property market, especially Sydney and Melbourne,” Mr. Zborowski says, “and the majority of the time the foreign investors do tie up with local partners. We identified the opportunity to create a public company to facilitate this offshore interest together with local investment, with a particular focus on the Perth market.”
By structuring the business as a public company, Mustera is able to offer a diverse range of Australian properties across multiple different investment types, as well as capital structures and different asset classes.
“The public company also allows for investors to have a high level of transparency across the deals, and gives us the ability to access offshore capital markets in a very clear and transparent manner.”
“The WA market is currently going through an interesting stage,” Mr. Zborowski admits, “the WA economy, which is predominantly driven by the resource sector, is definitely seeing signs of stress, which has had a ripple effect across all other industries. We have seen a reduction in the overall number of residential sales in Q1 2015, followed by reduced rental returns.
“We have also seen office rents diminish as supply outweighs demand. Although a correction is imminent in the property space, we are seeing this as an opportune time for investment and development in certain asset classes and certain price points, especially with the cost of capital being at an all-time low.”
The state is currently the focus of a campaign by the Western Australian Planning Commission (WAPC) to initiate the delivery of growth in the residential, retail and commercial sectors.
This campaign looks to spearhead new developments that capitalise on fast-growing rapid population growth, changing economic conditions, a shift in demographics and the evolving needs of industrial community requirements.
The WAPC has recently issued a draft planning framework, “Perth and Peel @ 3.5 million”, for public comment, which includes a suite of strategic land use planning documents.
This planning framework has brought to light the need for high-density residential developments in and around activity centres and along some of the existing public transport routes in the state.
The draft frameworks initiated by the WAPC are to deliver a more compact and connected city, to promote connectivity and development of activity centres, corridors, industrial nodes and station precincts, and to drive employment opportunities outside of the CBD.
“Their key objective essentially is to provide employment options where people live, thereby reducing congestion and the need for people to commute long distances for work. What we’re seeing currently is a number of people who are traveling up to and more than one hour every day, just to get to their workplace.”
The planning framework outlines an expectation that the Perth population will rise by an extra 1.5 million by the year 2050, and has been put in place to capitalise on this expected increase. 800,000 new homes will be required in and around the city, of which 380,000 will need to be in strategic infill positions.
“In 2014 the rate of infill developments had reached 28%,” Mr. Zborowski says, “whereas the WA Planning Commission refer to this increase as about 47% by 2050.”
The composition of households in the area is changing, as is demographic diversity. The number of one-person households is projected to increase greatly, as is the makeup of the ageing population—currently there are 13% of people in the region who are over 65, a demographic expected to rise to 22% by 2051.
“Increasing demand for houses in areas with convenient access in a range of services, including health, is also on the focus,” Mr. Zborowski adds. In addition to this change, there is evidence that two-person households will soon outnumber those lived in by couples with children.
“Historically the perception of Perth’s population was to live in a large single dwelling home on a larger block, whereas this perception in now changing, and people are acclimatising to apartment living.”
As a state, WA still offers plenty of investment opportunities with relatively low land costs and attractive yields, in contrast to some of the investments seen on the East Coast.
“A significant amount of foreign investment in Australia to date has been focused on the Melbourne and Sydney markets. As a result this has created a very competitive environment, where investors are paying a premium for property, which has resulted in cap rate compression.”
In response, a number of foreign investors have started to look for investment opportunities in the west. By having an existing high yielding investment portfolio, an attractive development pipeline and an existing company platform, there is a clear opportunity for Mustera to tie up some of this offshore capital.
To fulfill the needs of the WA market, the planning framework put into place by the WAPC has identified a number of satellite locations around Perth CBD, hoping to combat traffic congestion and create areas for people to both work and live.
One of these key locations is Midland, 16km north east from Perth’s CBD, an area with a population of about 300k residents, which Mustera is contributing to with the rejuvenation and development of its Victoria Quarter Project.
Midland benefits from its existing infrastructure, including the Midland railway line, which provides direct access to the CBD in under 30 minutes.
“Perth has experienced aggressive urban sprawl in the northern and southern corridors,” Mr. Zborowski says, “up to 150km, but we’re beginning to see a focus now on infill development, particularly in the eastern corridor between Perth CBD, Perth airport and north east along the Swan River, out to Midland.”
There is a large population already residing and working in Midland, a town with a rich history, including the Midland Railway Company, which became the Western Australia Government Railway Workshops, and the home of the long-standing Midland Brick.
The governing body in charge of overseeing the rejuvenation of the existing shunting yards—the old Midland Railway Workshops—is the Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority (MRA).
“Midland to date has only seen a small portion of apartment supply being brought to market. The apartment stock that has been brought to market has been very well received, with high levels of interest, especially at the entry level price point.”
“We identified an opportunity to work with the MRA through acquiring the site and working together with their planning and design teams to integrate modern apartments whilst complimenting and respecting the rich heritage of the surrounding sites.”
The area is seen by many as a ‘gateway to the east’, which itself has a large catchment area. Residents of surrounding suburbs and country towns to the east enjoy the amenity Midland has to offer, especially the Midland Gate Shopping Centre.
There are already a number of public and private developments in the pipeline in Midland, including the State Government’s $350 million St. John of God hospital project, due for completion in November 2015. The project is expected to create an additional 1,000 jobs and include 367 beds.
In addition, a $150 million expansion of the Midland Gate Shopping Centre has also been proposed. The Midland area also offers access to the Swan River tourist and wine region and a number of local amenities and schools.
Victoria Quarter comprises 70 residential apartments, all with secure car parking, flexible free flowing designs, designer kitchens, luxury bathrooms and ample built-in storage.
Victoria Quarter offers one and two bedroom apartment options, with prices ranging from $310k up to $485k. The project is 55% pre-sold, and due to this success Mustera is closing out its due diligence on an adjoining lot, where work will commence later in the year.
Another element of the WAPC planning framework is a change in zoning on a number of strategic infill locations in Perth’s CBD fringe suburbs. Potential future zoning changes could allow the company’s property in Rivervale, WA, to be earmarked for a mixed-use development.
“We’ve seen a number of high density residential developments being delivered in the Rivervale location in recent years,” Mr. Zborowski says, “especially with its attractive location being close to the Swan River and equal distance to the Perth CBD and the airport.”
The Rivervale property currently comprises an office warehouse of 2,309 m2 over 4,029 m2 of land. The property is currently leased on a passing yield of 8%.
Another addition to the company’s existing portfolio is the acquisition of Lot 70, Haig Park Circle in East Perth, an investment property 1.5km from the CBD. The property consists of 2,233 m2 of land, including an open-air car park with 50 bays, leased to Wilson Parking Australia for public parking.
With a passing yield of 8.25%, the company will retain the property as an investment in the short to mid-term, with a longer view of repositioning the site as a mixed-use development, adding to and complementing the East Perth precinct.
As part of the acquisition of Lot 70, Haig Park Circle, the company also secured an option to acquire an adjoining commercial property; the company is currently undertaking due diligence in light of an $8.5 million price agreement.
“What we’re currently experiencing in the Western Australian residential market is localized saturation whereby supply is exceeding demand in certain locations across certain price ranges. As additional stock is delivered in these locations we will see price and rent adjustments.”
Concerned by this saturation, Mustera has adjusted its short-term strategy to focus on cash flow stability, and will look for development opportunities with sufficient holding income to offset holding costs and offer options for future development.
These concerns have also taken the focus off saturated locations and mid-level price ranges. Focus is now on entry level, high-density residential developments, located along existing public transport routes, where the Government are investing in public amenity and infrastructure.
The group looks for development properties that include a level of holding income, so that if required the company can delay development until the market demand is sufficient to take the project into fruition.
“Economics and market knowledge is a key focus when looking at new opportunities. Understanding land costs (based in highest and best use), construction costs, including innovative methodologies and materials, together with market pricing, is fundamental to acquiring feasible sites and ensuring that target returns are met.”
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