Lifestyle top driver for house hunters By Roseanne Barratt

More than one in 10 people who moved to the regions in the first three months of 2021 chose the Gold Coast as their destination.
Lifestyle top driver for house hunters     By Roseanne Barratt

According to a report from the Regional Institute of Australia, using Commonwealth Bank data, almost all hailed from high-density, low-affordability Sydney and Melbourne, contributing to the 17 per cent growth in the council area in the three months. 

They were among the unprecedented 11,800 more Australians who left capital cities than entered from January to March, from a total of 104,100 people who moved interstate over the same period. 

Australians are on the move and so are the property prices. 

This comes as no surprise to Janneke Leffers who is meeting the demand for information about the Gold Coast by building a business based around the phenomenon. 

Five years ago the founder of Moving To The Gold Coast consultancy took the plunge with her husband Sebastian and two children Siena and Jayden, frustrated and deflated by housing prices and the slog of the rat race. 

“It’s a real boom and I’m loving how people are responding,” she says. “The Gold Coast is a hot ticket.” 

Queensland’s Gold Coast is one of the focal points of the rising regional house price market, where increases have outstripped capital city rises. Over the past 12 months regional dwelling prices increased 17.7 per cent across the board. For capital cities the increase was 12.4 per cent, according to data from CoreLogic. 

There remains a considerable gap in prices, however, with a median price in regional areas of $478,212 compared to the city average of $727,427. 

Regional industry advocates point to the high amenity, affordability, reduced density and quieter pace of life outside Sydney and Melbourne, where more than two in every five Australians reside. 

For Leffers, the Gold Coast or Glitter Strip – which is still considered a regional area despite being Queensland’s second biggest city – offers a great balance of lifestyle and opportunity. 

“The Gold Coast has always been really appealing because it does offer good education, good employment,” she says. “There is more space and you get more bang for your buck, yet it’s still urban and it has a cool vibe and great restaurants.” 

She says people are looking for practical information about moving to the region, and her service provides the “ears, hands and eyes on the ground”. 

Local mayor Tom Tate welcomes all comers. 

“We welcome every one of them even if they don’t barrack for the Titans or Suns,” he says. “That could be Melbourne or Mumbai but we welcome anyone who wants to contribute to our great city.” 

He says the pandemic has changed the trajectory for Australian migration and he anticipates faster-than-predicted growth. 

“What we have seen is that people stuck in multiple harsh lockdowns, whether that is Sydney or Melbourne, have clearly chosen to vote with their feet, their wallets and their mortgages,” he says. 

“To ensure we are ready, council is currently reviewing its transport, community and economic strategies to ensure they meet this influx while still protecting the very lifestyle that people move here to enjoy.” 

There is more to come. 

Data on real estate searches shows Gold Coast property attracts almost 2200 views, putting it in the top three most in-demand regional search areas. 

There are some significant hot spots for sudden growth in property over the last year. Of the top 10 fastest-growing council areas for median price, all are in regional areas. These include a 35.6 per cent increase in dwelling prices for Byron Bay to a median price of $1,377,297, a 35 per cent rise to $217,585 for Balranald in western NSW, and 34.3 per cent increase to a median of $139,094 in northwestern Tasmania. 

CoreLogic Head of Research Eliza Owen says many of the top-performing locations are in beautiful sea-change or tree-change locations. 

“In the instance of Byron and Ballina, these markets are also high amenity, with luxury properties and recreational spots,” she says. “For the high-income earning professionals who are more likely to have been able to transition to remote work through 2020, housing markets like these will have become particularly appealing.” 

But Owen says price growth and high demand in some of the more affordable regional and rural areas may indicate the return of investors seeking rental yields. 

“Coming off a low base means an increase of around 30 per cent in value can mean the uplift in price terms has been tens of thousands of dollars for properties, not hundreds of thousands of dollars like we have seen in Byron.” 

But the strongest lure for Australians continues to be regional centres that are within commuting distance to major capitals.

The Illawarra, Newcastle and Lake Macquarie regions in NSW have been heavily searched for property over the past year. There has also been at least a doubling of searches for the Mid North Coast, Southern Highlands and Shoalhaven, Coffs Harbour, Grafton and Hunter Valley also in NSW, and Warrnambool and South West, and Shepparton in Victoria. 

Economic research director Cameron Kusher says that of the top regional markets with the highest audience views, eight are directly adjacent to a capital city and eight are coastal. 

“Popular regional areas tend to have a desirable lifestyle, be relatively large cities or towns, as well as being commutable to capital cities,” he says. 

“Interest in regional markets is being driven by lifestyle, the desire for more space and affordability. Lifestyle continues to be a drawcard, however, with prices rising in many of these regions since the onset of the pandemic, affordability is becoming more of a challenge. 

“This may mean that people moving to popular regional areas may have to sacrifice on space.” 

Amid a future of professional work tipped to include a greater proportion of flexible arrangements, there is an expectation of ongoing growth for tourism getaway destinations or regions within a reasonable drive to commute. 

Owen says increased mining activity in WA’s Pilbara will see higher rents in the short term and perhaps an influx of investors seeking yield. Boosts to infrastructure around Tasmania’s Launceston thanks to City Deal, and southeast Queensland ahead of the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games, are also tipped to promote higher demand. And she says local governments could harness the normalisation of remote work and study to retain their populations. 

“Remote work and study did not just attract people from cities, but it kept people in regional Australia,” she says. 

“Empowering local residents with access to technology and internet connectivity has proven highly important to keeping people in regional Australia. 

“Of course, transport infrastructure that shortens the commute to major urban centres will also become extremely important in sustaining regional demand long term, and creating exciting experiences for residents through things like a good food scene and community events also seems very important.” 
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