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Trend towards lifestyle locations set to continue

Queensland and Western Australia are set to be the big winners as people continue to flee the big cities and seek out affordable lifestyle locations.

Hotspotting Director Terry Ryder said the majority of Sydney and Melbourne buyers had been targeting the Sunshine State because of its relative affordability and great lifestyle, despite Covid coming to an end.

While regional Western Australia has come back into favour amongst buyers as the local economy had recovered from its post-mining boom slump.

Hotspotting General Manager Tim Graham said prior to Covid, it had become increasingly apparent that more and more people were leaving the largest cities and heading for smaller cities or regional areas.

“While media outlets suggested that this was a product of the pandemic lockdowns, the reality is that this major population shift has been underway for more than a decade,” Mr Graham said.

“Statistics demonstrate that Sydney and Melbourne have been losing population to other parts of the country for 10 and five to six years respectively.” 

According to Mr Ryder, Geraldton in Western Australia has seen a huge increase from buyers hunting an affordably priced coastal location.

“As the Perth property market rebounded strongly in 2020 and delivered notable growth in 2021 and 2022, so too did the municipality of Geraldton, four hours north of the capital city,” he said.

Mr Ryder said Geraldton experienced a marked uplift in sales activity in this period – partly due to budget prices when compared to Perth, with houses typically priced in the $300,000s.

“Vacancy rates have also dropped steadily since 2016 and are now well below one per cent across the Greater Geraldton region,” he said. 

“Growing employment nodes are benefiting the municipality, while plenty of amenities including schools, shops and leisure facilities are available for the families and young people that make up 60 per cent of the 40,000-strong population.”

Mr Graham said regional Queensland has been a stand-out performer in the Australian property market in recent years and Toowoomba has been one of its best achievers.

“Already Australia’s second largest inland city, Toowoomba’s presence on the national stage is being enhanced by a massive program of infrastructure development,” he said.

“The economy of the Toowoomba region is also the second largest in Queensland, outside of the state’s metropolitan areas. 

“This combination of factors, along with the city’s affordability, low vacancies and solid yields, is attracting a variety of property buyers to the region, including first home buyers, tree-changers, baby boomers, retirees, and investors.”

Mr Ryder said a strong local economy with plenty of jobs, proximity to Adelaide, affordable housing and a rural lifestyle have put Murray Bridge, in South Australia, on the property radar screen.

“Located just under an hour by car from central Adelaide, it has benefited from The Exodus to Affordable Lifestyle trend, which has seen large numbers of city dwellers relocate to regional cities,” he said. 

“Murray Bridge has also lured new residents with the promise of job opportunities with several agricultural, manufacturing and tourism businesses recently expanding their facilities or planning to increase operations in the near future.

“A key attraction for first home buyers is the low median house price, which is in the low $300,000s.”

Mr Graham said the important regional centre of Gladstone continued its recovery from a patchy past, with the combination of falling vacancy rates, rising rents, and increasing sales activity coinciding with growth in house prices. 

“The positive momentum gained in Gladstone’s property market in 2018 continued through the pandemic and beyond, bucking the 2022 trend of declining markets in many parts of the nation,” he said. 

“Gladstone has moved forward from its recovery phase in the mid- to late 2010s and since 2019 has experienced strong price growth on the back of rising sales activity. 

“And, while the pandemic saw the market temporarily falter, Gladstone is now a stand-out growth market.”

Mr Ryder said Mandurah in Western Australia has also caught the attention of several property analysts, because of continued price growth and increasing volumes in building approvals brought on by the rising interest from first-home buyers.

“With population growth driven by an attractive seaside lifestyle, tracts of affordable vacant land and access to major job nodes, this region is luring new residents in droves,” he said.

Mr Graham said the Hunter Valley region continues to offer an enviable lifestyle and strong economic prospects – and is poised for continued growth.

He said the Hunter Valley attracts lifestyle buyers and is also strongly influenced by its proximity to Newcastle and to Sydney, particularly the affordability comparison to these cities. 

“Most Hunter Valley towns have median house prices below $750,000 – and four are below $600,000 – compared to the median house price in Sydney of $1.2 million,” he said. 

Mr Ryder said the Mitchell Shire in Victoria market has started to become popular since 2016.

“Towns like Beveridge, Broadford, Kilmore, Seymour, and Wallan have continued to attract strong buyer interest because of their affordability, lifestyle and good road and rail links to Melbourne,” he said. 

“While median house price growth has eased slightly in mid-2023, all towns are still recording house prices higher than pre-Covid times with positive growth in the past 12 months.” 

Mr Graham said the Mount Gambier in South Australia was another steady performer and an example of the ripple effect that can occur outside major cities.

It offers affordable housing, lifestyle opportunities and employment growth in a vibrant regional economy, he said.

Mr Ryder said the Cairns property market showed major improvement in 2021 and 2022 and – although it has passed its peak in 2023 – it is certainly not suffering.

He said the Cairns property market has been underscored by affordability and low vacancies for several years and as its economy continues to gain strength, it is preparing itself for further growth as it builds on a diverse range of sectors. 

“While the Far North city’s economy once centred primarily around tourism and sugar, it is gaining breadth and depth in industries such as healthcare, agriculture, education, defence, construction, mining, and information technology,” he said. 

Mr Graham said the Lockyer Valley, located halfway between the Brisbane-Ipswich conurbation and Toowoomba, looks set to continue its growth path, with its population projected to grow 40 per cent by 2041, rural appeal, affordable property and large blocks.

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Rowan Crosby

Rowan Crosby is a senior journalist at Elite Agent specialising in finance and real estate.