Regional NSW August 2018

The month in review: Regional NSW

By Herron Todd White
August 2018


It is rather safe to say that the housing landscape of Lismore, Casino and Kyogle has altered or adapted significantly over the past 50 years. Gone are the days of subdividing of residential land into the traditional freehold quarter acre blocks (1,012 square metres) in the main residential estates. Typically, lots are much smaller, say 650 to 750 square metres (even smaller as infill development within the CBD at less than 450 square metres).

However, what is interesting to note is that the houses have become significantly larger. The standard today for most upgraders or even first home buyers is to secure that 4-bedroom, 2-bathroom, double garage, brick and tile dwelling.

Fifty years ago, some would be very fortunate to get a 3-bedroom, 1-bathroom fibro cement clad house (asbestos anyone?? No problems back then!) after pleading on all fours at the bank manager’s office! Today, the feeling is that finance is much easier to hand out and one is even asked “do you want fries with that?”!

In the environment of a low interest rate generation, the ability to acquire that brand new house is somewhat easier, but also more expensive. In Lismore, Casino and Kyogle such brand new homes range from $450,000 to $600,000 which pales in comparison to the sales prices closer to the coast and generally in comparison to the major metropolitan NSW centres.

The demand is generally for detached houses, however detached units on a separate, smaller strata tile lot have been flavour of the month for the past five years. The reason is that a smaller detached strata site with a similar sized 4-bedroom, 2-bathroom, double garage dwelling, smaller backyard and garden (meaning less landscaping maintenance and lawn mowing) is a win-win for the property owner who wants the luxury but not the work of looking after the place.

There are still some vestiges of the older style housing development in Lismore City (Girards Hill, East Lismore, Lismore Central) and scattered in parts of Casino and Kyogle. The quality of these homes can vary widely from being fully renovated to being generally untouched.

The local authority and Councils are pretty keen on seeing their respective towns grow and the modus operandi in this regard is typically urban spread. Goonellabah (a suburb of Lismore City) for example has been the mainstay of growth in Lismore as it spreads east along the Bruxner Highway with new residential estates popping up on the northern and southern sides of the highway.

This spread has seen the creation of more parks, sporting grounds and shopping centres to support these growing suburbs. And to think that vast swathes of Goonelllabah 50 years ago would have been cattle grazing and dairying land.

The consumer’s desire for lifestyle has also garnered strength with the advent of the rural lifestyle block or rural residential property which pretty much kicked off during the 1970s and has gone from strength to strength. Now we can see established rural residential properties commanding sale prices north of $700,000 in Richmond Hill, Mcleans Ridges, Bexhill, Chillcotts Grass, Tregeagle and even Modanville and Dunoon (in selective places).

As a last point, it is interesting to hear some bemoan the loss of the backyard of yesteryear where the kids could be just kids and play all day…….fast forward 50 years and what do we have now? A lot more opportunities to do all sorts of stuff, and yet some look back. Weird….

Ballina and Byron

The big issue throughout the Ballina Shire remains affordability, both in properties to purchase and to rent. New housing estates throughout Ballina, Lennox Head and Wollongbar are supplying vacant land product to meet demand for single residential dwellings and duplex units however there is comparatively little stock of residential units being constructed. In comparison to dwellings 50 years ago, new houses being constructed are significantly larger and would typically have a double lockup garage. New houses have become far more generic over the past 50 years throughout the Ballina Shire which can be attributed to the affordability and popularity of standard project homes. Whilst the population of the Ballina Shire as a whole has increased significantly over the past 50 years, Lennox Head would appear to have changed the most, going from a small fishing village to a population of 7,741 according to the 2016 census.

In the Byron Shire, housing design and planning is ever changing to address the important issues affecting the local market. In order to highlight these changes we will discuss the comparison and contrast with what the real estate landscape looked like in this local government area 50 years ago.

For detached housing, there have definitely been some changes in new housing design to cater to the current market. This is evident in the shift towards new houses being built to include a fourth bedroom. It is now a very rare occurrence to see a 3-bedroom house being constructed. Whether the fourth bedroom is a need in this local shire for growing families or a consideration for resale is debatable. Lot sizes for new houses are also smaller compared to land for sale over 50 years ago. All of the new land subdivisions have an average land size of between 450 and 650 square metres compared to that of older allotments which typically have a land area of 750 square metres and above in a built up residential area. Even though there had been a decrease in land size, there has been an increase is housing size. Houses are becoming bigger and as demand has increased and availability shortened, there has also been a shift towards a secondary dwelling or studio. Building materials are also changing, not only to keep constructions low, for example render or styrofoam (green or blue board), but also to ensure the building process is much quicker. On the other hand, prestige dwellings in the suburb of Byron Bay are definitely researching and acquiring new materials to incorporate in their builds such as different external claddings for an architectural design (for example, corten steel, Alucobond, rendered hemp and rammed earth). Changes in building processes have also been a necessity in order to comply with changes to local council requirements such as in relation to bushfire codes and flooding. The most interesting things that have been spotted recently in the Byron Shire in relation to recently constructed housing have been that of imported items of high quality such as marble from Italy for bench tops. There has been a cultural shift towards unit living in the Byron Shire. As the demand in this area has increased, the market has pushed the average buyer to revisit the unit market due to the lack of availability and affordability. New units are now catering for the new economy workers, such as freelancers working from home, by incorporating study nooks or recessed study areas within most new builds. In unit duplexes or triplexes, we are seeing a trend of people eradicating garages in order to compensate with a larger office area and compromising by installing carports instead.

There has been a change from the town planning perspective from that of 50 years ago in order for town planners to address issues such as affordable housing. The solution was to aid investors and owner-occupiers by providing a subsidy for a period of time to allow for an easier process for secondary dwellings or studios to be approved via local councils.

In reflecting back on what the Byron Shire would have looked like over 50 years ago, we know that the coastal resort towns would have reflected fishing and surfing villages comprised of fibro-cement housing and brick and tile dwellings on larger allotments.

The suburbs that would have been new back then would have been Lennox Head and what is known today as the Byron Bay industrial estate. As demand increased, urban sprawl has resulted in new subdivisions up and down the coast, resulting in larger rural holdings within close proximity to the township to be sold off piece by piece.

Some examples in regard to land and housing price comparisons are:

1979 – There was a deposit of $13,000 made on land located at Wategos Beach. Today, the entry level price well exceeds $2 million.

We believe that people would have had to pay no greater than $100,000 to obtain a land and house built in the Byron Shire. Median house prices today have increased by almost ten-fold:

  • Lennox Head – $850,000
  • Byron Bay – $1 million to $1.2 million
  • Mullumbimby – $700,000 to $850,000

Subdivision potential is the greatest lesson to be learned over the past 50 years in property. As urban sprawl has put pressure on these coastal resort style towns, pressure has also been applied to local councils over the years to re-zone to allow for redevelopment.

The Clarence Valley

The Pacific Highway upgrade and inflated workforce currently residing in the Clarence Valley has increased rental demand and has aided capital gains across almost all property types.

Across the sectors, there remains a diverse range of property available including large lot rural residential, small town lots and beachside or riverside prestige lots and houses or units. The general trend remains that the affordability of the area drives the steady increase or stable nature of the market with out of towners viewing property as an affordable option when compared to larger cities within close proximity.

In particular, the rural residential sector has seen an increase in interest, likely due to the now convenient proximity of rural localities to amenities.

To look back at the changes in the Clarence Valley property market over the past 50 years, the vintage of house would be familiar and towns, although expanded, have remained true to their vintage in many ways.

To generalise, the major difference to note over this time is the expansion, both in number of lots or houses as well as the reach of towns with better suited amenities now available and the overall accessibility of rural areas.

Coffs Harbour

Although the property landscape has changed significantly over the past 50 years, a constant has been that icon of all big attractions, the Big Banana, which has also recently celebrated its 50 year anniversary. It should be noted that this icon has also moved with the times and has come a long way from the original concept, much like the region itself.

A quick background of the origins of Coffs Harbour is important to note. The town was originally named Korff’s Harbour by John Korff in 1847. It was renamed Coffs Harbour when the town site was reserved in 1861.

Timber cutting remained the most important industry well into the 1900s, spurred on by the opening of the Jetty in 1892. Gold mining, fruit growing, dairying and sugar cane farming also became popular, although many of these earlier ventures failed. Bananas were introduced in 1881 and the banana growing industry took off in the early 1900s as the population swelled during construction of the railway and the harbour breakwall. Banana growing gained further momentum in the 1920s as plantations to the north were wiped out by disease.

Tourism took off with the completion of the railway in 1915 and the completion of the link through to Sydney in 1923. The town became popular as a beach getaway for the outer lying rural areas and travellers from Sydney. Much development occurred between the 1960s and 1980s within the beach side locations of the Jetty and Park Beach, mostly a mix of modest style unit accommodation and single homes used for weekend getaways.

We consider the main drivers in the out of town migration over the years have been affordability, lifestyle and infrastructure upgrades, including a major regional airport having eight flights per day to Sydney, Pacific Highway upgrades that have significantly reduced car travel, and expansion of the hospital and education sectors. One limiting factor which still has an effect on the market is jobs availability and wages. Coffs Harbour is still well under the nation’s average with the 2016 Census statistics showing that only 6.3% of the working population earns over $91,000 per annum, 21% earns between $15,00 and $25,000 per annum and the middle income bracket of $50,000 to $90,000 represents 16.3%.

As property prices increase, the local affordability factor soon becomes an issue, which we are now experiencing.

Today, the landscape has changed. Although many of the older developments in prime beachside locations still exist, the move is for more redevelopment and urban planning. Coffs Harbour is constrained by the lack of available land for development and, as in most urban areas these days, lot sizes have reduced to between 450 and 650 square metres with prices ranging from $250,000 to $400,000 on average. Five years ago, land was available from $150,000 to $250,000 for standard residential lots; fifty years ago, 450 square metres was not even on the radar.

Unit development is also modernising with a recent highrise development, Seashells at Park Beach, just about to open its doors being only one of a handful ever constructed. Sales were very strong off the plan with the majority of buyers being local, and average values ranging from $310,000 to $750,000. More unit developments around the Jetty location are in the pipeline and a significant retirement and aged care complex is underway also within the Park Beach location. All of this is an indication of the changing property demographic.

We are also seeing many dual occupancy properties being developed to accommodate the ever increasing permanent rental market and Airbnb market. As always the push is to develop the more popular beachside locations which mean more units, smaller lot sizes and houses with a view to lifestyle. As a result we will see more innovation in small lot housing and sharing of electricity through solar power and community green spaces. Fifty years ago, the entire Coffs Harbour was a green space. How things change and forever will. We feel Coffs Harbour is equipped for this change and has a diverse range of lifestyles to offer plus the benefits of a major regional town.

Mid North Coast

Within the area and surrounds of Port Macquarie, the housing market is being favoured by the metropolitan purchaser who is often trying to escape the inner city lifestyle or looking for an investment with good growth. This area provides such facilities at an affordable price and only three to four hours from the larger cities. With new commercial development, the recent NBN connection and the modern district hospital facilities, the area is attracting many such people for its lifestyle which in turn is creating growth for the local area.

With the metropolitan centres slowing and prices stabilising in the metropolitan areas, there are pockets in Port Macquarie that are still selling at full purchase price and quickly (mostly the beachside suburbs and villages), however the general overall region is stabilising and we are seeing houses on the market for longer and price reductions becoming more frequent.

Within the developing western areas of Port Macquarie, new houses are mostly 4-bedroom, 2-bathroom standard designs and are often being built to a budget for first home owners or buyers who can’t afford the beachside Port Macquarie areas. Investor demand continues for duplex style homes and homes with separate granny flats.

With further development growth in the Port Macquarie region such as a new Bunnings, expansion of the Bundaleer Care Services and Stage 2 and 3 of the Charles Sturt University yet to commence, it is expected that housing development will continue at a moderate pace.

Development of residential land subdivisions on the outer areas of Port Macquarie are still in demand with builders looking for sales opportunities within the next stages.

Interestingly, this week we conducted a valuation of a split contract community title townhouse subdivision within the Port Macquarie area. The concept whilst not new is a new trend that is happening in metropolitan areas. We will watch with interest the purchase price and resale of these dwellings.

In reflecting over the past 50 years, standard dwellings consisted of brick, tile roof, 3-bedroom, 1-bathroom and single lock up garage. These dwellings today have increased in value due to their locations and are being extended and modernised. An example of this is the Bellevue Hill and Shelly Beach areas.

At this stage, the Mid North Coast and its major regional centre of Port Macquarie is still a favourable place to live and invest with growth expected to continue.

Southern Highlands

As we set off on the 2019 financial year, the main property driver for the Southern Highlands remains proximity to Sydney and the increasing attractiveness to that buyer market, particularly families in the up to $1.5 million price point who continue to discover the Southern Highlands region as an affordable lifestyle alternative to an increasingly congested urban existence.

Fifty years ago, the Southern Highlands was more of an operating rural community with dairy and cattle being the main economic drivers of the region. There was also a healthy amount of investment in the region by wealthy Sydney and Melbourne based families, setting up their rural retreat in the Highlands, mainly accessed by rail line to Bowral and Moss Vale as well as the outlying hamlets of Bundanoon and Robertson. This high level of discretionary expenditure saw the establishment of some trophy properties throughout the region, both town homes and rural lifestyle properties.

The advent of freeway infrastructure beginning with the opening of the M5 in the 1990s and its subsequent extension together with somewhat improved rail infrastructure has reduced the commute time between the Highlands and Sydney. This combined with the NSW Government recognizing and prioritising land release areas across the region is seeing the fabric of the Highlands gradually changing and providing real lifestyle opportunities to the Sydney market, particularly families and recent retirees. In fact the recent announcement by the NSW Government of the Wilton Junction urban release area will see approximately 18,000 new homes developed in the region over the coming years. The challenge as always will be getting the balance right in providing the social infrastructure to cope with resident growth.


The NSW Central Coast Region is located between the Sydney metropolitan area to the south and Newcastle to the north. Being here means we generally know what to expect as market behaviour radiates out from Sydney and we can react before our northern neighbours get wind.

As we write, the Central Coast region seems to have heard and seen how the Sydney market is slowing and we are noticing a fairly obvious slowing of the market. Real estate agents seem to be making strategic moves in their business normally seen in slower time and lenders are becoming tougher.

These are among the big issues facing the region. Other, equally important issues might include how market values will be maintained into the future and do we really need all these new residential releases and unit complexes at the moment.

Significantly, we sought the advice of some of the region’s older people on what were the hot topics 50 years ago in 1968. Those who could remember those times left us with the opinion that essentially little has changed. The worries of too much development was talked about as much then as it is now. This becomes relevant when considering that electrified rail service only came to the coast in 1960, followed closely by the opening of the Sydney-Newcastle Freeway in 1965 and combined with other events of the day, this made the Central Coast available to a much larger base of enquirers and potential home buyers.

There appears to have been considerable concern about the area changing too much now that it could be accessed easier by those Sydney types. Many retirees chose the region as the place to live out their retirement years in this newfound, affordable location next to the sea.

Purchases in the region’s older suburbs were discovered for what was thought to be bargain prices and during this latest period in real estate, much of the same was being said by those making the short trip from Sydney to the coast.

Having been opened to the Sydney market during the 1960s, new tourist destinations were also found and adopted. Today, many of the unit complexes built for those people still exist.

We have tried to narrow down prices paid for property back in 1968, but the reality is that records of these times are difficult to come by. According to details found in the Valuer General archives, it seems that a standard residential parcel in Gosford cost less than $10,000 and around $8,000 in Wyong in the late 1960s. A near new 3-bedroom house in East Gosford could be purchased for less than $30,000 and a six to seven year old house in Wyong for less than $26,000.

That same 3-bedroom house in East Gosford today would set you back around $800,000. Vacant land at Narara, just outside the Gosford CBD, can be secured for around $300,000. In the Wyong town centre, an older 3-bedroom house would be around $600,000. There is little vacant residential land remaining in Wyong, but a vacant parcel in nearby Wadalba is going to cost anywhere between $315,000 and $360,000.

In much the same vein as 50 years and with few exceptions, we consider real estate prices across the region to be affordable when compared to the Sydney market and when the ease of access to and from the area is taken into account as travel for employment is no longer the issue it was a few years back. Added to this is the large government expenditure currently, with a large extension to the Gosford Hospital and new government buildings in the Gosford CBD.

This level of development has the potential to underpin the stability of the local market as we move into the phase of the market cycle.

In terms of dwelling style and land size, houses are bigger and land is smaller than they were in 1968. The days of the 3-bedroom, triple fronted red brick and tile with or without a garage on a quarter acre block are long gone. Granny flats aside (a millennial thing), if it doesn’t have 4-bedrooms, an alfresco, at least a double garage, air conditioning and a pool, then there must be something wrong – such are the times we live in. Those finding and purchasing a traditional 3-bedder will usually extend sooner rather than later or demolish and rebuild rather than risk being given an unflattering label.

The days of the red brick veneer and lowset fibro home are long gone. Bricks these days are either bagged, painted or rendered over, in between the architectural finishes under the metal roof.

We struggle at times trying to keep generic terms for the products used these days without using brand names. Fibro sheeting for example has a negative connotation as a result of the asbestos that was so prevalent 50 years ago. Corrugated metal roof is no longer corrugated metal when everyone is used to calling it Colorbond these days.

When we think of how the region has evolved in the past 50 years, we think of how suburbs such as Warnervale have gone from little more than fields of market gardens, horse paddocks and bush to one of the region’s most vibrant areas and while Warnervale is still a name it has been sliced up to comprise Hamlyn Terrace and Woongarrah. 50 years ago, an outlay of $15,000 would have secured a 20 acre block with a modest 3-bedder and little else.

Today, $750,000 will get you the keys to a large and modern 4-bedroom home on 550 square metres. If you can find one, a 20 acre block will set you back at least a million without a house.

Units are units and always have been, right? Wrong, we think when we look at today’s unit developments compared to yesterday’s. They are larger with more emphasis on lifestyle and look rather more than simply somewhere to live. Common areas are now an extension of the unit’s interior and an encouragement for unit dwellers to get outside. With less reliance on having your transport, these developments are also edging further from the traditional major transport hubs of Gosford and Wyong in many cases. Living on the coast doesn’t always mean being close to public transport, so having your own transport is still sometimes a necessity and for this reason, garageless units have yet to arrive.

Still on the unit market, now that the buoyant market is heading into a slowdown, there is a realisation that without as many buyers, we may be facing an emerging oversupply situation.


DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article is correct at the time of publishing and is subject to change. It is intended to be of a general nature only. It has been prepared without taking into account any person’s objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on this information, Smartline recommends that you consider whether it is appropriate for your circumstances. Smartline recommends that you seek independent legal, financial, and taxation advice before acting on any information in this article.