Swept up by dreams of life on the land, more Australians are choosing to move to the country.
Regional areas across Australia experienced 3.4 per cent growth in the first half of 2020, according to Diaswati Mardiasmo, chief economist at PRD Real Estate.
In the same period, capital cities grew 1 per cent and metro areas by 2.7.
“It’s regional that is knocking it out of the park,” Dr Mardiasmo says.
Boom-time for the country
Simone Fogarty, a real estate agent and director of Younique Property Group in Orange, says demand for both rental and sale property has gone through the roof in the Central West town.
“We can’t get property fast enough. As soon as they’re hitting the market, if they’re well-priced they’re going really quickly,” she says.
The median price for a house in Orange is $435,000. “If you compare that to June last year it was $412,00. It’s definitely going up, and so are rents as well,” Fogarty says.
“A lot of people out here, if they’re not needing to move they’re not moving. They don’t have the mortgage strain that they do in the capital cities.”
Also booming is the Riverina. Median vacant land prices in the Riverina’s Griffith City Council area increased 63.2 per cent over the four years ending June 2020, Dr Mardiasmo says.
A July survey by the Real Estate Institute showed the region had the lowest vacancy rate (0.6 per cent) in NSW.
Living the dream
Kirstine Lumb-McKay encourages those who dream of living on land to do it. The freelance journalist and her family traded life in an apartment in Manly for 0.5 hectares at Bowral eight years ago.
“It’s still accessible to the city and there’s so much life and vibrancy in Bowral,” she says.
They’ve gradually been converting the established garden into an edible landscape.
“We have over 100 fruit trees, bee hives, chickens and extensive veggie patches and edibles,” she says. “It’s amazing how much production you can get in a small area. It’s a lot of hard work but incredibly rewarding.”
Where to buy land under $300,000
Got a bad case of land envy, but don’t have a spare million? There’s still lots of options.
Dr Mardiasmo has identified 12 affordable regional locations across Australia poised for a sustainable economic future with good local employment opportunities and infrastructure.
Her 2020 report pinpoints the Upper Hunter Shire, Singleton Area and Greater Hume region in NSW, Greater Bendigo City and the shires of Bendigo City, Moyne, Bass Coast and South Gippsland in Victoria, Douglas and Livingston Shires, Cairns and Tablelands regions in Queensland, and the Kentish Municipality in Tasmania.
All these areas have median land prices below $300,000 and are near a major town centre, she says.
In the NT you can get affordable land in Wagait, she suggests. Those looking in WA can try Bunbury, Northam, Donnybrook, Greater Geraldton and York.
Alternatively, head to regional South Australia or Tasmania, which are the cheaper states when it comes to land.
“There’s been a big push by state and federal government to develop and support infrastructure in regional towns,” Dr Mardiasmo says.
“You go to Tamworth and Newcastle and you’re getting underground whisky clubs, universities, bars and restaurants.”
How to assess a property
Before you rush out and put a deposit on a block of land, do your homework.
David Holmgren’s 2019 book, RetroSuburbia. The downshifters guide to a resilient future, contains a handy real estate checklist of things to consider.
Along with the regulatory freedom and amenities of the area, he recommends evaluating vehicle access, public transport, services such as water, power and internet and adjacent land including the possibility of productive verges.
Also weigh up solar access, climate, soil, wind factors and natural disaster risk. Ideally, any garden for growing food should be free from contamination, too much frost and large overhanging trees. Established food plants are a bonus.
Analyse the build quality of the house. Elevation, aspect, insulation, external window shades and eaves, and roof rainwater harvesting potential are key considerations. Wood-heaters, additional buildings, garages and any capacity to house more people are also advantageous.
How much land do you need?
Eco-developer and permaculture consultant Ian Lillington says 0.8 hectares is sufficient to produce your own food. “A lot of people don’t realise how challenging and isolating it can be out on 100 acres [40 hectares],” he says.
Lillington and his partner live in a passively designed solar-powered straw-bale house at Castlemaine, Victoria. A 22,000-litre rainwater tank catches roof water to supply the garden and house while 60 fruit trees and vegetable beds provide the pair with almost enough food over summer.
He says people who move out of the city often end up disappointed with what they end up moving to. “The iconic picture is someone running around with their ride-on mower all weekend just to keep the grass cut,” he says.
Lillington’s advice is to find a small, quiet town with good amenities, like schools, hospitals and public transport.
“This is one of those common factors about towns where people do move to and stay, because the town offers them enough of what they want but also gives them a sense of being away from the big city,” he says.
He says the idea of “self-sufficiency” in our culture is a myth. “You have to work with your neighbours or do it within an intentional community.”
Failing that, seek out “unintentional” communities. These are towns – such as Castlemaine, Bega, Katoomba, Maleny, McLaren Vale – where you’re likely to find food co-ops, farmers’ markets and the sort of old-fashioned community where people share their excess produce and interact with each other, Lillington says. “Country town suburbia can be very pleasant.”