Managing a leap across the Tasman

Tough decision: special-education teacher Annette Gilchrist-Ryan.
Tough decision: special-education teacher Annette Gilchrist-Ryan.

A TEACHER of children with cerebral palsy, Annette Gilchrist-Ryan is terrified of losing $400,000 to the exchange rate if she pulls up stumps in New Zealand.

''After a marriage break-up, I'm thinking of going back home to Melbourne in about six months,'' says Annette, 55, who has taught in Auckland for 26 years.

But her problem is she has a job - two days at one school and teaching one-on-one at another, paying about $42,000 - and a home in Auckland, but neither in Melbourne.

Worse, if she sells up, most of the money could disappear in the exchange rate.

Annette owns her home in Auckland (worth about $NZ1.3 million, or $1,039,000) and a beach house (about $NZ410,000) outright. She has $NZ140,000 in a term deposit. The beach house doesn't earn income.

She's thought of several variations on the property theme - rent out in Auckland and rent in Melbourne, sell the beach house and buy an investment property in Melbourne, or maybe in Auckland - and is flummoxed. ''What really concerns me is the currency difference and how much I would lose if I sold everything here and moved back to Melbourne,'' Annette says. ''I don't want to lose $400,000 because of the exchange rate.''

Is it just too risky to move?


BFG Financial Services

It is not too risky to move, but it requires a detailed plan to deal with the risks of exchange rates, asset values and taxation. The first decision is whether Annette will live permanently in Australia.

A strategy of testing the water is a good one. It is preferable to rent in Melbourne while deciding where to live because it is expensive and risky to buy growth assets such as property without a long-term investment horizon. Annette should get a job in Melbourne first. Maybe her employer will allow leave without pay for Annette to live for six months in Melbourne and look for a job.

She should also consider renting out the beach house. Assuming Annette decides to make her return to Australia permanent, it's important to remember that assets do not need to be sold and transferred to Australia immediately.

Currency movement is notoriously difficult to predict, so any money transfers should be staggered - say, monthly for at least 12 months, or preferably longer. This will average out the exchange rate and minimise risk.


Moran Howlett Financial Planning

I am a strong believer in holding your assets where you plan to live in the long term, so you need to make sure of this first. I suggest you rent out your properties in NZ and rent in Australia for 12 months. Twenty-six years is a long time and, although you probably have family here, it might not be as easy a relocation as you think.

Regarding currency, the difference is less than 4 per cent below the 20-year average and higher than when you went to NZ.

Regarding movements in currencies, you are not losing $400,000 because you never really had it. Even allowing for the exchange rate differences, you are likely to have more than $1.5 million if you come home (five years ago, this would have been $1.65 million). Although you might get a job here, these funds have to buy you a home and fund your retirement in the not-too-distant future.


Obelisk Advisors

One strategy is to bide your time and wait for a period of relative strength in the NZ dollar before selling your properties and transferring your capital to Australia. However, the volatility of currency markets makes it very difficult.

I have clients who happily rent in Australia while retaining residential property and other assets elsewhere. It makes sense if you are uncertain whether you will stay in Australia or you are concerned about paying inflated property prices following the high growth rates enjoyed by many Australian residential property markets during the past 15 years.

It is important that your NZ properties generate reasonable levels of rental income. Beach houses can be problematic. You should get taxation advice because, as an Australian resident, there are likely to be tax implications if you buy, hold or dispose of property in NZ.

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This story Managing a leap across the Tasman first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.