estimates that the country's residential housing market alone is worth $3.3 trillion! Together, building ownership and property and business services contributed a combined 9 percent of GDP in 2006-07. And, that's just in Australia. Like most large Oz-based companies, the biggest homegrown property development firms have substantial developments outside of the country, especially in Europe and throughout the Asia Pacific region.
Some of the key players in the industry include the General Property Trust (GPT) Group, which controls an estimated 5 percent of the landmass in Australia and has developments throughout Europe; the Westfield Group, one of the largest retail property firms in the world, which operates 118 shopping centres in Australia and dozens more in New Zealand, the US and the UK; and Lend Lease, which owns and manages properties in more than 30 different countries.
The bulk of the local property industry is centred on the east coast, with commercial centres Sydney and Melbourne leading the way. However, Perth and Brisbane are also large markets, and if there is one thing Australia has a lot of, it's undeveloped land. Roughly 60 percent of the land in Australia is devoted to agricultural use, and large tracts of the Outback remain undeveloped. In general, the dry interior of the country is sparsely populated and mostly free of development, with more than 90 percent of the total population living in urban areas.
The shopping centre industry in Australia is closely tied to the property industry as many centres throughout the country are owned and operated by developers like Westfield. There are currently 918 shopping centres in Australia, and the biggest malls (those with at least 100,000 square metres of retail space) generate $500 million in annual sales.
Meanwhile, the real estate sector also makes up a significant portion of the local property industry. Approximately 64 percent of Australians own their own home, according to ABS. As of August 2007, there were 95,400 people employed in the real estate sector countrywide, with 14,835 real estate agencies. The real estate market has been mostly insulated from the sub-prime lending crisis that raged across the US because mortgage loans to high-risk borrowers make up only 2 percent of total mortgages countrywide (compared to 15 percent in America), according to The Australian. Mortgage delinquencies made up only 0.4 percent of all home loans in August 2008, contrasted with more than 9.2 percent in the US.
In October 2008, the Australian government unveiled a $10.4 billion package to give the local property market a boost amidst the global economic crisis. Under the package, first-time home buyers are eligible for a $21,000 grant to go toward the purchase of a new house or apartment, or a $14,000 grant toward the purchase of an existing home, if they buy the property before the end of June 2009. Demand for new houses is strong, with the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ) forecasting a housing supply deficit of 200,000 homes by 2010.
Property is big business in Australia. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), property sales totalled $204.3 billion in 2006-07, up billions from a decade earlier.