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Can I renovate a property I own through an SMSF?

This is a current topic as Astute St Leonards is currently refinancing properties in Self Managed Super Funds (SMSF) to reduce the interest rates. If you’re thinking of giving your home – or property owned by the SMSF – a total makeover using your fund, think again. Unfortunately, while you and your fellow trustees have some control over your fund, it doesn’t mean you can spend your money however you like to renovate the property.

The ability to renovate a residential property that you own through an SMSF comes down to how you purchased it. Those who borrowed through their fund to buy the property are restricted in what they can do. Slight improvements and repairs can be made, but a full-blown renovation is saved for those who used the cash in their fund to buy the property.

If you used the cash in your fund to buy a property outright, then you can absolutely do whatever you want, provided your SMSF deed allows you to do so. You can sub-divide, you can develop, you can pretty much do anything.

Those who borrowed through their fund aren’t entirely prohibited on making improvements on their property. Repairs are allowed, but they can’t be vast alterations that change the inherent character of the property. You can certainly make the property more rentable by updating things, but you can’t go and completely gut it and change it. If you really want to do some renovations and you had to borrow, the best way is to go outside your superfund.

Choosing to renovate your property ultimately comes down to increasing its value, but in order to do so, you have to be mindful how you go about it. Everyone wants to be a property developer, right? There’s no use dropping a whole heap of cash in a property where nothing in that street is in the same condition and it’s above the price point. You’ve got to be conscious on what you’re spending money on and what you’re doing.

Whether you’re renovating to repair with borrowed funds or doing a complete makeover with accessible cash, renovating through an SMSF is only worthwhile if it improves the return on your property exponentially. Not playing by the rules or accessing your SMSF prior to retirement for personal gain can result in hefty penalties with fines up to 40% of the fund value. Speaking to a accredited broker like Astute St Leonards, who specialise in property refinancing and who work in partnership with Apexx Wealth, a financial advisor focused on the concepts of an SMSF, can help determine whether it’s beneficial for you to renovate through the fund or to find an alternative.

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How to Refinance a Renovation

This topic came up recently when I was talking to a customer who was looking to refinance their mortgage and defined an outcome of having access to funds for a renovation of the back part of the house. Refinancing your assets to renovate a property is a significant decision that will hopefully improve your standard of living or add substantial value to your property. Refinancing isn’t as straightforward as you might expect – the type of renovation proposed goes a long way to dictating the loan required. If the wrong loan is chosen, you could be left with a pile of unexpected debt.

Know your Budget

The first step when considering how to refinance a renovation is to have a clear idea of your budget. If you underestimate your budget, you run the risk of getting knocked back from your lender. For example, homeowners who have estimated a budget of $100,000 to do renovations, only to discover it will cost a lot more, may have to reapply for the loan, which banks and lenders generally don’t like.

Be conservative with your projection. If you think you need $100,000, Astute St Leonards recommend applying for $150,000 just in case – if you can afford it. The key is stick to your budget which is both hard and critical! The next step is to speak to us to determine which loan will suit your needs and objectives.

Line of Credit Loan (Home Equity Loan)

Also known as an equity loan, to be eligible, a homeowner must be looking to make upgrades to the cosmetic domain of their property. Installing a new bathroom or kitchen, painting the interior or exterior of the house and other basic construction falls under a line of credit loan.

These renovations, more often than not, do not supersede the costs of structural changes, so homeowners can call on up to 80 per cent of their Loan-to-Value Ratio (LVR). A line of credit loan is a “revolving door” of credit that combines your home loan, daily spending and savings into one loan.

To calculate the value you can borrow, subtract your current loan balance from your property value and then multiply by 80 per cent. For example, if your property is worth $500,000, and you have $250,000 left on your loan, your home equity is $250,000. You then multiply this total by 80 per cent. If you’re uncertain of your home value, contact Astute St Leonards who can assist you in arranging an appraisal or valuation.

If you choose a line of credit home loan, it essentially works as a large credit card. You can use it to purchase cars, cosmetic renovations and other investments. However, the interest-only charge starts when the equity is drawn down. Keep in mind, line of credit loans provide you with money that can gather interest very quickly, so if you are ill disciplined with repayments or money, speak to us to define a plan that matches your unique circumstances.

Construction Loans

Construction loans are suitable for structural work in your home, for example, if you’re adding a new room or making changes to the roof. Construction loans give homeowners the opportunity to access larger sums of money, with the amount dependent upon the expected value of the property after renovations are completed.

The advantage of a construction loan is that the interest is calculated on the outstanding amount, not the maximum amount borrowed. This means you have more money available in your kitty, but only pay interest on the money you choose to spend. For this reason, our broker may recommend that you apply for just one loan, but leave some leeway in your borrowed kitty.

When applying for a construction loan, council approval and a fixed price-building contract are required, so it is important to work with a qualified and licenced construction company or builder. Your lender will appoint an assessor to value your construction at each stage of the renovation. This will happen before you pay your instalment. When construction is complete, speak to us as you may be able to refinance back to the loan of your choice.

When looking at both these loans, consumers can call on other property they own to boost their overall borrowing amount if they wish. Depending on the circumstance, they can use other property to get a line of credit and a construction loan, or they might get a typical construction loan if there is going to be an extensive framework change on the building.

Broker Advice

If you speak to a broker like Astute St Leonards, they will be able to determine which loan will give you the options you seek.  This advice is essential, as a poorly planned construction loan could cost you more down the road. Consumers should ask their broker, “What type of loan am I eligible for?”, because if you don’t get your construction loan right, you may be jeopardising your bank security.

While these specific options can be discussed with your broker, if they aren’t suitable, there may be other options available to you. We can show you how to refinance a renovation.

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Five Ways to Finance a Home Renovation

Considering transforming your home from ‘banal’ to ‘brilliant’, but lack the funds to support your makeover? Never fear, Astute St Leonards have rounded up five home renovation finance options that could help turn your dream into reality.

1. Equity Release / Top Up Home Loan

This is probably the most common way home owners borrow money when they want to get renovation finance. It involves borrowing against the current value of your home, before any value-adding renovations and in most cases allows you to obtain the funds upfront. You won’t be able to borrow the full value of your home but, without mortgage insurance, you can usually borrow up to 80 per cent of its value if you own it outright. One potential problem is that the cost of your renovations may actually be higher than the equity you have available. If you run out of funds mid-construction – and if the property is then not in sound, lock up condition – you may have an issue obtaining extra funds down the track.

2. Construction Loan

If you’re planning to completely transform your home and undergo a major makeover, this may be a good option as you can spread the cost over a long period of time. You could even possibly borrow up to 90 per cent of the end value of your home and take advantage of mortgage rates which tend to be lower than credit card and personal loan rates. With a construction loan, the lender will assess the value of your home after the renovation based on the building plans and you can typically borrow against that value.  You won’t be given the full loan amount upfront, but usually in staggered amounts over a period of time – this is called ‘progress payments’ and is linked to a fixed price building contract which will be from your builder.

3. Line of Credit

When you apply, you can establish a revolving credit line that you can access whenever you want to – up to your approved limit. You only pay interest on the funds you use and as you pay off your balance, you can re-borrow the unused funds without reapplying if that becomes necessary.  However, care must be taken not to get in over your head in terms of serviceability. Make sure you can make repayments on the line of credit that will reduce the principal because your minimum repayment only pays the interest, it will not reduce the loan. Rates on this product are typically much higher than a construction loan or top up loan. This product feature is great if managed well, but can also be a trap if not seriously considered as your limit will never change.

4. Personal Loan

If you’re only making minor renovations – personal loans are usually capped at around $30,000 to $50,000 – this might be suitable, but interest rates on personal loans are higher than on home equity loans and payments need to be made usually over a maximum of seven years.

5. Credit Cards

This option should only be considered if you want to undertake really small renovation projects. The interest rates are usually much higher than on mortgages, but for a very small project, that extra interest might actually total less than loan establishment fees.


If you’re looking for further assistance to be able to afford your property renovation project, the Federal Government recently announced $25,000 grants for eligible Australian owner-occupiers to build a new home or substantially renovate an existing home. The Government’s HomeBuilder package for home renovation finance is designed to assist the residential construction market by encouraging the commencement of new home builds and renovations. Income and other conditions apply and this grants program has been expended to 31 March 2021. For more information visit the Treasury website.

One thing you must do

There are very few exceptions to the rule that your renovations should add more value to your home than they will cost to carry out. Think about how the money you spend on a renovation will increase the value of your property. For example, consider making changes that would appeal to the majority of potential buyers to help you sell your house faster and at a higher price.