Affordable regional towns defy property downturn, rising up to 40% as city slickers look for cheaper house prices

From our Property Partner Domain

Some of Australia’s most affordable regional towns have defied the property market downturn, with prices rising by up to 40.6 per cent over the past 12 months.

While glamorous influencer hubs like Byron, Noosa and Victoria’s Alpine region have endured dramatic price slumps, down by as much as 17.8 per cent, it’s the quiet achievers’ time to shine.

This time, it’s South Australia’s Wattle Range local government area (LGA), 330 kilometres south-east of Adelaide, that’s become the country’s star performer, with that 12-month 40.6 per cent increase in price to a median of $355,000.

In the area’s main town, Millicent – where a three-bedroom house at 8 Millhouse Street is now for sale at just $259,000 – Professionals Millicent sales manager Valerie Jones says the pandemic-era escape to the country has had a major impact.

“Our house prices had been very, very reasonable for quite a few years, but then demand pushed them up when we had a lot of people from Melbourne and Sydney after the lockdowns who came here to live,” she said. 

“They love the fact that we’re a typical country town; friendly and with none of the problems of the big cities.

“The weather is fairly mild here too, although we do enjoy the seasons, and we’re very strong on sport for the kids. We have space and tranquillity and some of the best wine areas, with Coonawarra and Mount Gambier.”

The big jumps in some regional towns’ property prices come as the latest  CBA Regional Movers Index has found mobility across Australia, between cities and the regions, is at its highest point since March 2018. 

Capital-to-regional migration has risen to 7.9 per cent, the third-highest level in the past five years. Most movers are from Sydney, with Melburnians not far behind.

Regional Australia Institute (RAI) chief executive Liz Ritchie said job flexibility was empowering many people to move – and more may be on their way. 

“Recent RAI research shows one in five metropolitan Australians are wanting to make the move to regional Australia, with cost of living cited as the key reason as people try and source more affordable housing and a way of living,” she said.

Affordable regional towns defy property downturn, rising up to 40% as city slickers look for cheaper house prices - Image 1

In NSW, it’s the Upper Hunter Valley LGA, two-and-a-half hours’ drive north of Sydney and an hour west of Newcastle, that saw the biggest price growth of 25.3 per cent, to a median of $500,000. 

The reason is simple, said Phillip Lawler of LJ Hooker, Muswellbrook.

“Our cities have become too expensive and gridlocked and are no longer nice places to live,” he said. 

“People were already moving out but COVID was the catalyst to speed up that move. By comparison, our houses are very, very cheap.” 

One of those on his list is a four-bedroom, three-bathroom house at 35 Lou Fisher Place in Muswellbrook with a buyer’s guide of $420,000-$450,000.

“In addition, retirees love the amenity we offer, while people who work no longer have to be in the office all day,” Lawler said. We offer a great lifestyle and we’re close enough to Sydney to visit family and friends there.”

The downside of big cities is something that one couple, who’ve just swapped Melbourne for Townsville in north-east Queensland, couldn’t agree with more. 

When they lived in Clyde, it would take disability care workers Christy Truong, 34, and her wife Thi Tran, 37, an hour to drive to work. 

Now, exactly the same distance takes just 15 minutes.

“It felt like we spent so much of our lives in traffic every day,” Truong said. “Now it’s such a short trip to work, we’ve ended up with a lot more free time. We can enjoy life more.”

The pair bought a 600-square-metre block of land at developer Urbex’s The Reserve Townsville estate to build their own house. 

Truong said the land cost them $185,000, compared to $600,000 for the same land size in Melbourne.

“It’s just so much cheaper here,” Truong said. “It’s lovely and quiet, the people are friendly and laid-back, and we love everything about it!”

In Queensland, South Burnett LGA experienced the state’s steepest price rise, of 23.4 per cent to $345,500. 

“I think that growth is a result, probably, of a combination of affordability and lifestyle,” said Peter Chant of Ray White Rural Esk/Toogoolawah. “People can now work from home and no longer have to commute to the city.

“Home-schooling, after people tried it during COVID, is also becoming more popular. Private schools in the city seem to have lost some of their shine, and they’re expensive. 

“And for $1 million here, you can buy a whole holistic lifestyle with 24 to 64 hectares of land, an established home, an orchard, rainwater tanks, veggie gardens, chickens …”

Chant’s agency, for instance, is selling the historic cattle Taromeo Station, at 624 Old Esk Road, Taromeo, in South Burnett on 226 hectares of lush grassland and with spectacular scenery. Comparative properties have sold for around $3.5 million.

In Victoria, the Greater Shepparton LGA has seen the strongest price growth of 11.9 per cent to a median of $470,000. 

Gagliardi Scott Real Estate’s Gerald Sabri is selling a three-bedroom house for close to that, just a short walk away from the CBD and RSL for between $445,000 and $475,000.

“Our price growth averaged 2 per cent to 2.2 per cent for 15 years but then we had a massive spike with COVID,” Sabri said. 

“A lot of people, particularly from Melbourne, came to the region and we have a lot of industry here that really put us on the map.

“We have good schools, the hospital’s been upgraded, there’s plenty of jobs and our prices compared to Melbourne are like chalk and cheese. We have space for families, affordable land and a great lifestyle.”

At the same time, the former darlings of the sea-change movement have been hit with the biggest price drops, as part of the correction to the huge rises they experienced over the pandemic. 

NSW’s Byron LGA, for instance, fell 17.8 per cent to a median of $1,479,000, Victoria’s Alpine LGA fell 9.9 per cent to $725,000, and Queensland’s Noosa LGA dropped 8.7 per cent to $1,187,500.

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