The idea of vacant apartments held by offshore buyers is an “urban myth” according to Jane Lu, head of Australia for Chinese international property site Juwai. She said there was “no hard data” to prove that is the case. This follows a UBS housing report pointing to as many as one in four homes – owned offshore by mainland Chinese buyers – being kept empty, and a further quarter used on a “temporary” basis. Lu says “Most Chinese buyers of inner-city apartments are not so wealthy that they can afford to leave their property vacant — rather than renting it and earning some sort of income. There are some who do not live there full-time, because it is their second home. Chinese investors are no more likely to turn down easy rent money than are Australians” she says. According to Lu – Australian second-home owners probably have more vacant properties in Ballina and Byron Bay than Chinese investors do in downtown Sydney or Melbourne. Census data shows one million homes are now left empty across Australia – 200,000 more than a decade ago. The 2016 census indicated that at most, there would be 70,000 dwellings which could fall into the intentionally vacant category which is less than one per cent of all dwellings in Australia. A 2015 analysis of water usage by think tank, Prosper Australia, found 20 per cent of investor-owned properties in Melbourne were sitting vacant, though there wasn’t a distinction between local and foreign investors. For many, the decision to hold an empty investment property might actually make financial sense – for instance, those wanting to sell in the near future might achieve a premium for an untenanted property. A survey by University of Sydney academics in May found many Sydneysiders did not believe foreign investors should be allowed to buy Australian property. Foreign property buyers were recently slugged with vacancy taxes in the 2017 federal budget. Domain Group chief economist Andrew Wilson said it was “likely” foreign investors were a component of what had kept rent prices high and vacancy rates low despite a building boom in Sydney and Melbourne. No doubt, because of the Sydney and Melbourne property booms of the past few years, and a rising number of foreign investment purchases, offshore ownership of Australian real estate has become a hot-button issue.