The flood of people seeking a pandemic sea change shows no sign of coming to an end in 2023, although numbers have started to fall, experts say.

But the boom in property prices in key hotspots – even though prices have dropped a little since – as well as the jump in interest rates and shortage of homes left for sale, has meant many are looking further afield at more affordable destinations.

“In many cases, there’s been a ripple effect and instead of prime sea-change locations, they’re looking at larger coastal communities which tend to be more affordable,” said KPMG director of planning and infrastructure economics Terry Rawnsley.

“There’s still a drive towards sea-change locations but the affordability and availability are both challenges. So instead of looking for a place on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, they’re now looking at Geelong half-an-hour down the road, or at Maroochydore instead of Noosa in Queensland or at the Northern Rivers in NSW instead of the Gold Coast.”

The median price of a house in Torquay on the Great Ocean Road, for instance, on Domain figures, is $1.35 million, 30.6 per cent higher over the last year, versus inner Geelong’s $871,000, down 3.6 per cent. Meanwhile, Maroochydore’s median house price is $960,000, 26.8 per cent higher than a year ago, compared to Noosa Heads’ $2,212,500, having risen 41.4 per cent.

The lure of a sea change is, for some, as strong as it was during the pandemic and many who made it have no plans to return to the city.

Queensland’s Palm Cove
Sydney retirees William Gilchrist and Mark Callan consider their move to Queensland’s Palm Cove the best decision they’ve ever made.

In Queensland’s Palm Cove, Sydney retirees Mark Callan and William Gilchrist consider their move to the Queensland tropics the best decision they ever made and, even while they’re now selling their majestic five-bedroom house, they’re planning to downsize in the same area.

“We just absolutely love it here,” said Callan, 75, a former TV director, of their location mid-way between Cairns and Port Douglas. “The climate is gorgeous so you can be active all year round, we have a vibrant social life with others who’ve moved here from all over Australia, and you have all the city facilities of Cairns 30 minutes away and the resort life of Port Douglas, 40 minutes away.

“There are also beautiful properties for only a fraction of what you’d pay in Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane.”

After the pandemic hit, Palm Cove became one of the country’s top hotspots for sea changers, with demand for homes pushing its median house price up over the past year by 19.7 per cent to $1,017,500.

Agent Callum Jones of Real Estate Port Douglas said demand is still strong for homes in the area, with 80 per cent of customers from Victoria and most of the rest from NSW.

“I think they love the weather up here, and the really relaxed lifestyle,” he said.

“Relatively speaking, it’s also quite cheap when compared to prices further south, and the properties can be very luxurious.”

He’s now selling Callan and Gilchrist’s furnished residence in 4270sqm of sweeping grounds at 34-36 Alexandra Street, Clifton Beach. Comparable sales have fetched $2 million to $2.25 million.

Palm Cove is very much an extension of the Cairns market which is still strong, believes Liz Ritchie, CEO of the Regional Australia Institute (RAI), while other sea changers are examining their options in a wider range of regions.

“Prices in so many have really taken off, almost to the point of unaffordability for normal households,” she said. “So we’re seeing a movement to other places, and particularly inland in numbers we’ve never seen before.

“The ability to work remotely is giving people more choices than they’ve ever had before, and we know that one in five city-dwellers still want to move, but price and housing supply are barriers.”

The top 10 most searched places in the RAI’s Regional Movers Index, produced in conjunction with Commonwealth Bank, are currently Yeppoon, Rockhampton and Toowoomba in Queensland; Bathurst, Albury and Orange in NSW; Ballarat in Victoria; Northam in Western Australia; and Port Augusta in South Australia.

Yeppoon, near Rockhampton
Yeppoon, near Rockhampton, is among the most-searched regional areas.CREDIT:HARCOURTS LOW & CO

Agent Cameron Edgoose of O’Brien Real Estate in the Great Ocean Road’s Torquay said he is still fielding lots of calls from would-be sea changers who want to relocate.

“It’s still happening, although it’s a bit less than during COVID,” he said. “But the rise in prices is a problem for some of them and they’re looking at more affordable towns on the Bellarine Surf Coast.”

Similarly, Noosa agent Lucas Jeffries of the Jeffries Property Group said summer has brought a resurgence in numbers of people looking to move to the area.

“But many are now heading south to Peregian Beach or Coolum Beach on the hunt for less expensive property,” he said. “They offer a similar beachside lifestyle but without the same price tag.”

In Kiama south of Sydney, Vitas Tulich of Ray White Kiama, said the sea change itch is still strong. “We’re still seeing a lot of people from Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra wanting to buy here, although not in the same numbers as during the pandemic,” he said. “If they can’t afford the prices, they’d probably go further south, towards Nowra.”

Article source: Queensland Property Investor