Ocean dream within reach

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 February, 2012, 12:00am


Many of us do like to live beside the seaside - especially in Australia, where more than eight in 10 people reside within 50 kilometres of the coast, according to a government census.

'Living the dream' of a beachside hideaway is these days more of an urban myth, given the pace of coastal development and, besides, who can afford it? Even aside from the Sydney harbourfront, which has always been a blue-chip address, coastal property seems to ride the crest of any house or rent price increases.

But the global financial crisis, compounded by extreme weather events in Australia, caused the tide to turn. In the traditional coastal hot spots of Queensland and northern New South Wales, prices have, in some cases, plunged. According to RP Data, Gold Coast property has lost 8.8 per cent of its value in the past 12 months alone, while Far North Queensland, the Cairns/Port Douglas region, is down by 11.1 per cent.

Locally, realtors say the situation is far worse than these numbers suggest. Geoff Brand, of Geoff Brand Real Estate, describes a southeastern Queensland market 'in freefall', losing nearly 3 per cent per month. 'Actual values of properties have fallen by as much as 60 per cent since 2008, particularly in the upper end and the prestige market,' says Brand, who is based in Gold Coast.

Brand notes that not every market has fallen. He says: 'In some locations, including the Fitzroy region of Queensland, house values have increased by 5.9 per cent.' But overall, there are 'more properties for sale than ever before', but few buyers - as a result, Brand says, of declining tourism due to the high Australian dollar, the effect of last year's floods and cyclones, and the fact that 'property here was overpriced for a long time'.

He says those who thought coastal property was out of their reach should look again.

'Property prices in the Gold Coast are at levels not seen since 2003,' Brand says. 'The volume of sales is at the same position it was in 1989. With the market in the doldrums and many owners faced with insolvency, there are a large number of properties selling at below replacement value. Units in Surfers Paradise can be purchased at below A$100,000 (HK$827,000). We also have brand new four-bedroom houses on acreage lots from just A$399,000. There is no doubt this is the time to be buying, as indications are that the market has reached rock bottom.'

Coastal towns also feature in the Fast 50 report from Smart Property Investment, with Gladstone, in an area of central Queensland known as the Sapphire Coast, topping the list. The report, compiled by a team of property analysts, aims to identify the top Australian suburbs geared for capital growth this year. But the report's editor, Phillip Tarrant, says the inclusion of the coastal towns has more to do with the resources boom than their beachside attraction.

'The Smart Property Investment Fast 50's expert panel picked three or four coastal towns in each state, but you need to remember that a vast majority were chosen based on other factors, such as resources-driven development, rather than for their coastal location. Beach access and lifestyle factors were only really significant in the South Australian picks.

'Four coastal suburbs in New South Wales made the list: Neutral Bay, one of Sydney's sought-after northern harbourside suburbs; Pyrmont, a harbourside inner-city suburb; San Remo on the New South Wales central coast; and finally, Wickham, an inner-city suburb of Newcastle. But again, pricing, population and industry are the drivers here, not coastal location.'

In Queensland, he added, resources and urban renewal were driving the coastal picks of Townsville and Bowen, while Gladstone was picked by three of the seven experts as the hottest investment location in the country.

The report found that continuing strength in resources and impressive population growth were both expected to drive significant real estate investment returns in what is one of the world's largest coal-export ports. High capital-growth prospects, low-level risk, low vacancy rates, high per-capita incomes and a shortage of housing compared to demand, all contribute to the city's investment appeal, according to the report.

'Rents have shot up in Gladstone, but prices haven't yet moved a great deal,' says Hotspotting director Terry Ryder, one of the report's contributors. 'The early influx of workers on the A$100 billion or so in new industrial projects has started to impact and this will gather serious pace in 2012.'

In Townsville, between Brisbane and Cairns, realtor Jonathan Crowe says strong economic fundamentals have held the regional capital in good stead, with property values dropping by only 10.4 per cent since 2008, comparing favourably with Cairns/Port Douglas, which has lost 30.4 per cent of its value, and Airlie Beach, down 29 per cent.

'Townsville is the largest city in northern Queensland, and one of the fastest-growing cities in the state,' says Crowe, CEO of PRDnationwide Townsville. 'The population is increasing at a rate of 2.7 per cent per year, equating to around 5,000 new residents.'

Crowe echoes the sentiment of many real estate agents in Queensland coastal towns who note that buyers - owner-occupiers and investors alike - have been more active in the past month or so.

'I think people have realised that the down times are not going to last forever, and it is time to invest again,' he says.

The good life

Located in the centre of Townsville, within walking distance to the ocean, restaurants and shops and other facilities, Altitude comprises 12 two- and 32 three-bedroom apartments, plus two penthouses.

Large living spaces and generous balconies with panoramic ocean views of the Coral Sea, islands and ranges are afforded to all. Each apartment offers stylish, open-plan living and quality appliances.

Prices ranging from A$445,000 (HK$3.71 million) to A$750,000 and include an internal storeroom, security car park and air conditioning.