Frustrated buyers are ditching the suburbs for rural mansions

Prestige country properties within commuting distance of a major city are becoming a primary address and status symbol for cashed-up buyers seeking a lifestyle change or frustrated at the lack of suburban options, according to agents.

For the price of a luxury house in leafy, inner-suburban Melbourne or a place on Sydney Harbour there are rolling land views, historic mansions and acreage that might provide rural income.

“Four million dollars buys you a 700-square-metre block of land with a knockdown in Toorak – even less in Sydney – or a palatial style country estate set on 20 acres within two hours drive of Melbourne or Sydney,” says Kim McQueen, director of Lifestyle Estates for realtors Colliers.

“Some international executive’s claim they will never look back after buying a country estate,” says McQueen.

Trophy retreats

Peter Asbury, principal of Fraser Gray Real Estate, the oldest privately owned and operated real estate agency on the South Coast, says it is “common place” for rich Sydney residents to buy trophy rural retreats with helipads for quick commutes.

There is also strong demand from semi-retired Canberra residents.

Silvermere Farm, near Narooma, which is 350 kilometres south of Sydney, or 220 kilometres south-east of Canberra, recently sold for between $3 million and $5 million. The 124-hectare property includes a luxury mansion and a private jetty.

“It can be hard work, but we sell them,” says Asbury.

Unique Properties, a boutique real estate company specialising in high-end properties, says many buyers are chasing a different lifestyle and higher yield than properties are earning in most of the nation’s capitals.

Nicolette van Wijngaarden​, director, says she has received more than 200 inquiries from around Australia for a three-bedroom, two-bathroom, beach house in bush land in Binalong Bay, about 176 kilometres east of Launceston.

Beware of seduction

But rural advisers warn naive buyers seduced by a sea view or hopes of a rural retreat often end up paying over-the-odds for agricultural businesses they neither have the time nor talent to run.

For example, hundreds of hectares of wineries from Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula to Western Australia’s Margaret River have been ploughed up in the past 10 years, according to agricultural consultants.

Some hobby farmers spent up to $30,000 a hectare setting up the vines in year one and thousands of dollars in subsequent years only to pull out the grapes because potential buyers preferred space for their children’s horses.

Sea changers hoping to soak up views of the Pacific Ocean north of Sydney have been fleeing for safety as recent storms caused coastal erosion that destroyed the beach, swallowed their front yards and even dislodged swimming pools.

But the right place in top spots are worth their weight in Dom Perignon White Gold, according to Liz Jensen, a director of Kay & Burton’s office in Portsea, a traditional seaside playground for old money about 95 kilometres south of Melbourne.

The front beach around the famous front-beach pier might have been washed away but there are plenty of other attractive options for lifestyle changers wanting to be a two-hour drive from the capital.

Reversing the trend

That’s not stopping some residents, such as Michael Pratt, former chief executive of National Australia Bank and current chairman of Bennelong Funds Management, from reversing the trend by heading back to the city.

Pratt, who is also deputy chancellor of Western Sydney University, is selling his luxury mansion in Portsea to live in Sydney, which is closer to his professional and honorary work.

“We had lots of family events and it’s full of memories but I now have little time to get down to Portsea,” says Pratt, a father of three daughters who bought the property about 13 years ago.  

Nearby Mornington Peninsula is an increasingly popular home address for business executives and their families that also have an apartment closer to work.

McQueen says she recently sold a $4 million, five-bedroom, four-bathroom house with 18 acres of grounds to an Asian family that use the property as a weekender, despite a recent increase in stamp duty for overseas buyers.

The overall outlook is strong with prices in Victoria’s and NSW’s regional cities and towns expected to increase between 2 per cent and 4 per cent this year, according to Domain Group.

Cow bells over car horns

Christopher Koren​, a buyers’ advocate for Morrell and Koren, says many buyers are being forced into considering a lifestyle change because of a shortage of supply in luxury properties around Melbourne and Sydney.

Agents claim they have prospective buyers for $10 million waterfront apartments in Sydney and multimillion-dollar houses in Melbourne’s leafy, inner suburban suburbs close to prestige schools.

Koren says the trend is being driven by a shortage of prestige properties in the inner suburbs, improved technologies enabling work from home and rail and freeway access to major cities.

 “With the cities becoming absolutely chock-a-block and improved technology it is now easier for successful, cashed-up people to operate form tranquil surrounds of a small farm within 90 minutes of a major city with background noise of cow bells rather car horns,” says Koren.

Property advisers specialising in out-of-town properties and government departments recommend those considering a switch from city to country to:

  • Remember the more recreational the land use the more expensive it becomes and fewer tax deductions available.
  • Allow for additional investments, such as storage sheds, a sit-on mower, a four-wheeler, trailer, livestock for pastures.
  • Check services, such as internet and other digital technologies, are available.
  • Make sure the property has been surveyed and boundaries marked. Check for any easements for adjoining owners, conservation and utilities.
  • How has the property been zoned. Is it agricultural, residential or commercial?
  • Check the property has appropriate council approvals and council zoning for any external buildings and future development.
  • Check for flood plains, areas with access problems, water problems.
  • Is it an easy commute to nearby townships and cities? Are local roads in good condition? How long does it take to commute back to the city on a weekday, or weekend.
  • Are you required by law to control noxious weeds, animals and/or insects?
  • Drought may cause water sources to dry-up – are there cheap alternative options.
  • Is there a bushfire danger.
  • Is there good freeway access and railway. 

This story was first published in the AFR. 

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