Beachfront Properties: An agent’s Holy Grail

If a man’s home is his castle, then surely waterfront properties are king of the castles. But is selling these properties as simple as “just add water”? Sold Magazine takes a look at the top end of the market and the art of selling waterfront properties around Australia.

Waterfront properties could be described as the Holy Grail of the Australian Real Estate Market – by buyers and agents alike. The types of properties that sit atop the wish lists of many home owners are also the centre of what many agents view as their ‘Dream Job’. Sold magazine examines the quest to list and sell waterfront properties around Australia.

It is estimated that Australia and its islands have almost 60,000 kilometres of coastline, and whilst much of that is unpopulated, there are 1685 suburbs classed as “oceanfront” by RP Data, which accounts for just over 11 per cent of all Australian suburbs. While there may be plenty of coastal suburbs, when the word “absolute” precedes a word like beachfront or waterfront, the price tag is given a licence to rise phenomenally. In many cases, oceanfront suburbs are not synonymous with affordable although a willingness to move away from the Queensland and New South Wales coastline can be rewarded by some magnificent absolute waterfront properties at bargain prices.

According to RP Data, suburbs adjacent to the ocean recorded the greatest growth in median house prices during the last quarter. [INSERT TABLE see end of article] Three of the top ten growth suburbs are situated in Sydney and each have a median price in excess of $1 million. The $million plus market is also represented by Queensland’s Sunshine Beach. Cameron Kusher, Senior Research Analyst RP Data, commented, “Outside of these markets, it is generally more affordable properties which have seen the strongest growth and in many instances these are in relatively small regional areas. These suburbs are also characterised by relatively few sales. The dominance of these smaller, more affordable regions on the list suggests that in some areas the small holiday getaway homes are beginning to make a comeback in popularity.

This trend will no doubt be well received by agents in regional coastal areas and many are already focusing their marketing efforts on reaching interstate and international buyers via the internet or segmenting buyer databases and applying specific marketing methods.

Casting the net
Geoff Newby-Butt, Licensee Principle Properties in Gwelup, Western Australia says at least 80 per cent of enquiries to his office come from the Internet. As an agent with a marketing background, Mr Newby-Butt has embraced Internet marketing and lists his luxury waterfront properties with real estate portals around the world. He thrives on the ability to measure and track his marketing activity using online tools.For this kind of property you need to get the net out as far as you can,Mr Newby-Butt said and explained that he was currently dealing with a potential buyer based in Germany who had seen one of his prestige properties listed online – a $5.5 million marina mansion at Mindarie which boasts a private boat mooring among many other desirable features.

While he wasn’t keen to share too many of his marketing secrets, Mr Newby-Butt commented that selling high end properties required a different approach to other properties including careful screening of potential buyers to eliminate “sticky beaks” and a policy of not conducting home opens. “You need to have respect for the property and the vendors – this is not a circus!” he said.

One of the Australian portals Mr Newby-Butt has chosen to list his most prestigious properties with is www.watersidepropertysales.com.au, a new platform for Australian real estate agents to showcase their listings to buyers looking for coastal properties – be it ocean, river, marina, lake or island. The portal was developed and tested over a 12 month period with the assistance of a group of pilot agents from around Australia and was launched publicly in June 2010.

Vic Del Vecchio, Managing Director Waterside Property Sales, said, “The take up by Australian agents to www.watersidepropertysales.com.au since this time, clearly demonstrates that niche marketing, to buyers looking for properties on or near the water, is a smart thing to do.”

The fact that Australian coastal properties are sought-after by buyers around the world means that agents need to be particularly proactive in marketing these properties. It means less reliance on the local market with access to opportunities in the global marketplace. Whether they are foreign investors or cashed up ex-pats searching for a place that reminds them of home, these overseas-based buyers are sure to be looking online. This trend brings to mind the concept of dealing with buyers you have never met, possibly via a translator, and possibly resulting in a sale to someone who has never set foot in the property. It changes the dynamics of buyer management and tests the agents’ ability to communicate effectively without face-to-face contact. It’s what Mr Del Vecchio refers to as a “paradigm shift” in real estate marketing.

Although Mr Newby-Butt deals with buyers from around the world, he says his preference is for the buyer to physically inspect the property themselves at least once before making the purchase. “I wouldn’t be entirely comfortable if they bought the property unseen,” he said, reflecting the notion of mixing a traditional sales approach with the latest technology.

For agents in those regional coastal areas who are yet to capitalise on portal listings to attract a broader range of buyers, www.watersidepropertysales.com.au is a good place to start. The portal is aiming to have at least 10,000 niche water aspect listings, Australia wide. It operates on a “free to list, pay to upgrade” model.

Tips for presenting waterfront properties online.
In recent blogs, watersidepropertysales.com.au offered some tips on the most effective words and photos to use when listing a property online. These are consistent with the photos of the listings enquired about most often.

A picture tells…

  1. In the main photo, show the view. It’s important, if it has one – show it. Show as much water and sky as possible. And if you can see where it is taken from, like the kitchen or lounge room window, the decking, even better.
  2. Get some sky and, if you can, make it the type of sky we see at the start of The Simpsons. You know, the one with all the fluffy white clouds and the blue sky. It’s interesting. If you can, get a sunset or sunrise for a different colour. Also the sea always looks a lot better if the photo is taken when the water is blue, stay away from the steely grey days!
  3. Are there boats nearby? People who like to look at these type of properties usually like boats, I bet!
  4. Don’t underestimate the power of nature in these types of properties. Whether it is a beautiful natural vista, sunsets, a flock of pelicans cruising low over the water… whatever, it is a big factor in why people like to live by the water.
  5. Region specific photos. Why not include a photo that makes where your listing is located special? Sometimes, it’s as simple as the view; the Sydney Harbour Bridge comes to mind or a snow capped Mount Wellington across the River Derwent.

Words for water

  1. A good heading with the water lifestyle attribute, right up front, always catches the eye. Sea changers and the like will flock to the words “beach”, whether it’s “beach frontage”, “a stone’s throw from the beach” etc
  2. Have a small paragraph or two painting the picture of the lifestyle they could expect if they bought this waterside property. “Walks on the cliff top before coffee overlooking the harbour await your lazy mornings in this beautiful location.”ᄊン
  3. How about a sentence on the renowned aspect of the region? It may be the fishing, the safe beaches or the wild surf – something that the buyer is wanting to be there for.
  4. Think about the search engines, this is the Internet remember ! There is always a chance that search engines will pick up targeted words within your description. Which ones is anybody’s guess, but a little research into what listings come up when different search words or phrases are used, could reap benefits through buyers being taken straight to your listing!
  5. AND DEFINITELY AVOID THE OVER USE OF CAPITALS! It feels like you are yelling at us!

Living the dream
Located on the Central Coast of New South Wales, Tim Andrews is Director/Licensee in Charge at LJ Hooker Terrigal and he lives and breathes beachfront property, specialising in absolute beachfront.

Mr Andrews sold his first beachfront property in 1989 and has been hooked on selling the beachfront lifestyle ever since, but a boat trip from Queensland’s Gold Coast to his home region of the New South Wales Central Coast in 2003 represented a pivotal point in his career. “Looking out at the coastline from the boat, I noticed that there were so few true absolute beachfront properties – I’m talking about the ones where you can walk out your back door onto the sand” he said. “That’s what made me realise the opportunity I had here.” Mr Andrews estimates that 15 per cent of the absolute beachfront properties between the Gold Coast and Sydney are located in his area.

Mr Andrews’ listings are all platinum properties with price tags in excess of $1 million and whilst he doesn’t deny that the sizeable commission cheques are one of the motivators in his job, he has a very salt-of-the-earth attitude about wanting to help families to enjoy the Australian beachfront lifestyle, citing his wife’s experience of growing up beachside and the wonders of a childhood spent on a “permanent beach holiday”. He was genuinely thrilled about the $6.2 million sale by auction of a beachfront property to a local family for their permanent residence. In a market where these luxury beachfront properties are often sold to buyers who stay in them for holidays a few times per year, scenarios like this one are the real motivators in his job. That, and perhaps, the odd occasion of standing on his office balcony and watching whales and dolphins frolic in the ocean on a sunny day.

As cruisey as this may sound, it’s becoming increasingly challenging to secure the listings for these east coast beachfront properties because generally those who do purchase them are hanging on to them for keeps. That’s where 21 years’ experience selling beachfronts and a reputation for achieving record sale prices helps. On the buyer side, Mr Andrews said whilst the Internet attracts interest in properties, it’s print media and database marketing that generate the results for him. “A solid database of qualified buyers is paramount,” he commented and added that around half the beachfront properties he sells are to buyers from his local area to live in or as investments.

The “Summer Bay” factor
Images of the outback as well as the beach usually characterise people’s views of the iconic Australian lifestyle but with most capital cities being in close proximity to the coast, a waterfront lifestyle is within reach (and certainly more ‘liveable’) for most people.

Aussie movies and TV programs do a great job of marketing the coastal lifestyle. There’s little romanticising required to make beachfront living attractive and people around Australia and around the world aspire to own a piece of Australia’s coastline. In his blog at www.watersidepropertysales.com.au, Andy Del Vecchio calls these people “wet dreamers” and admits to doing plenty of dreaming about coastal properties himself.

How attainable is the dream? Australia’s cheapest beachfront properties may be the historic wooden huts which line the shores of some Victorian beaches, usually referred to as “beach boxes” or “boat sheds”. While you can’t stay overnight in these huts, they make a great place to store beach gear or provide shelter for beach-going families on long, hot summer days and give unrivalled access to the beach. Greg Scherwinski of Ray White Mordialloc currently has a beach box at Edithvale listed for $67,000 although beach boxes in other areas are known to sell upwards of $250,000. “They represent good growth,” said Mr Scherwinski, “When I first started here in the early 90s, you could pick one up for between $4,000 and $10,000.”

Beach boxes are no longer being built, so prices are based on supply and demand. They usually stay in the hands of the same family for many years and it’s rare for them to be sold, but for the agent who secures one of these elusive listings, there are plenty of conditions that surround the sale which are imposed by the local council. Mr Scherwinski explained, “You buy the right to use them, you don’t actually hold a title on them, and for this one you need to be a ratepayer of Kingston City to be eligible to buy it.”

So you think you can sell waterfronts?
The very top end of the real estate market is generally not subject to the market ups and downs that mid-range and lower end properties fall prey to, but it’s not all plain sailing. Back to the question of whether it’s a case of “just add water” (and a crazy price tag) to sell these sought-after properties – it’s evident that both a passion for the seaside lifestyle and a knowledge of the ins and outs of waterfront residential development is crucial to sales success in this market.

Mr Andrews said, You need a very solid knowledge of council requirements and a good team of architects behind you who understand beachfront development. Whether it’s explaining the land tax applicable on these properties or the additional costs that are going to be incurred during renovations to stabilise construction on sand, you do need to be able to impart the correct information.

Mr Newby-Butt believes you need you live (or have lived) the waterfront lifestyle yourself to be successful in selling it to others. “You’ve got to have a good understanding of coastal living. You need to be able to describe to a buyer what it’s like to listen to the sound of waves when you are lying in bed at night,he said. And you need to know what salt spray can do to gutters and windows, he laughed.

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