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Housing in regional Queensland scarce due to interstate migration, remote work and returning Aussies

Housing in regional Queensland

High rental demand and property prices are music to the ears of landlords and property owners, but if you are looking for a place to live in Queensland at the moment, there is a good chance you are struggling to find what you are after.

The Real Estate Institute of Queensland reported that for the December quarter, 90 per cent of regional Queensland dipped to a new record low of just 0.575 per cent rental vacancy.

That means for every 10,000 rental properties, just 57 were available — and coastal parts of Queensland continued to report strong sales figures.

Professor Shaun Bond, from the University of Queensland Business School, said the housing pressure was driven by record interstate migration, the adoption of remote work arrangements and the return of hundreds of thousands of Australian expatriates.

Interstate migration 90pc above decade average

Heather Robertson moved to Cairns from Melbourne between lockdowns last year for the tropical lifestyle and reduced traffic of Far North Queensland.

“I actually visited Cairns two or three years ago on a holiday and as soon as I came here it just felt like home,” she said.

“I actually wanted to move in February/March last year, and I was a few days away from leaving for my road trip to come up here and the borders shut so I had to delay my departure, so I was just waiting in Melbourne with the rest of the world, with the rest of Australia, to see what the COVID situation was going to do.”

Ms Robertson finally moved in June, and sought to set up a healing business from her new home, but has found securing a property of her own to work from and live has been a challenge.

“I would love to live on my own, have my own two-bedroom place that I can work from and live in.

“Unfortunately that’s not a financial reality for me at the moment.”

A mass migration

Ms Robertson is one of many people who have decided to make the move north during the pandemic.

Research by Corelogic suggests more than 25,000 people have moved to Queensland during the past financial year, with the rate of interstate migration last year 90 per cent above the decade average.

Professor Bond said remote work arrangements had made it possible for people to move away, and that many were choosing regional Queensland.

“People started to think about where they wanted to be, and to some extent if you aren’t required to go into the office, it can be much nicer being in a coastal location, Cairns, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, rather than being stuck in inner city Melbourne in a small apartment,” he said.

“We’re seeing both in terms of infrastructure and supply of available properties, that’s put a lot of demand on the rental markets as well as the purchase markets.

“People are trying to buy properties, in fact one of the things that’s pushing rental prices up is that many landlords have chosen to sell because the market is so strong that they’ve chosen this opportunity to sell their property, that reduces the supply of rental properties available.”

‘A transformative time’

Professor Bond said there is great opportunity for the population boosts to improve services in regional areas.

“Will these regions have the amenities? And will they be able to increase their infrastructure to make it attractive for people to remain in these areas?” he said.

“There’s certainly the potential for extra business centres to develop around the state, and that could have a lasting impact if it sticks.

“This could be a very transformative time for regions.”

450,000 Aussies return during pandemic

Professor Bond said the other factor driving housing pressure was the number of Australians returning from overseas with the pandemic, and the small number leaving.

The Department of Foreign Affairs reports that more than 450,000 Australians returned since travel warnings were issued in March last year.

Business analyst Brad Thatcher moved to the United Kingdom 24 years ago and had been considering moving home some time, but the idea became a reality during the pandemic.

Mr Thatcher, his wife and two children sold up their home in Essex before flying home to Australia in November and entering hotel quarantine.

Since they arrived back in Australia, the family has been house hunting near Mr Thatcher’s family home on the Sunshine Coast and living with his sister in the meantime.

He said they had placed offers on multiple homes on the coast, but that none had been successful.

“Even when we were in quarantine we were looking at properties online, we were making some calls and it sort of became apparent that as soon as these properties were being listed, they were literally being sold and being taken off the market,” Mr Thatcher said.

“That’s the kind of things we’ve been having to deal with.”

‘Absurd’ growth

The family’s possessions are expected to be delivered on Tuesday, three months after they left the UK, but they do not have a home to put them in yet.

Last June, the REIQ reported “absurd” growth in the Sunshine Coast property market, with the median house price rising 1.7 per cent to $605,000, and similar growth is being seen on the Gold Coast.

Professor Bond said the Thatchers are likely competing against people in a similar position to themselves, given the number of returning Australians.

Professor Bond questioned, with the imminent rollout of vaccines across Australia, whether the boom would continue.

“At the moment, while everyone is comfortable with Zoom a lot of meetings are conducted online now but two years from now, will there be that pressure to be back sitting around the table with your colleagues?” he said.

“You don’t necessarily want to be the only one on the video call when everyone else is sitting around the conference room.”



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Bid to Open Up Student Accommodation to Workers

Student Accommodation

Scape Australia plans to open up its student accommodation to essential workers and interstate travellers as it waits for international students to return to the country.

The group applied for a temporary change of use for its Atria South Brisbane property until the end of February 2023, providing accommodation for non-students in the 88 Ernest Street building.

This will “allow the applicant to effectively manage the impact Covid-19 has had on their Brisbane assets [six buildings in total]” according to the application.

“Prior to Covid-19 [December 2019], building occupancy in Brisbane was at 75 per cent currently the assets have an occupancy rate of 28 per cent as Scape’s primary market is international students,” the report stated.

“The proposed ‘other change’ will allow Scape to use the vacancies in its buildings to offer the Brisbane housing market an alternative to typical renting models [share houses and the like].

“Scape are hoping to host like-minded occupants within the building who are not students.

“Examples include interstate travellers who do not want to sign a six- or 12-month lease elsewhere but need to remain in Brisbane for three-plus months or hospital workers who are assisting in the nearby Mater with the Covid-19 response.”

This is the second time Scape has tried to change the use of the building—that proposal was rejected by the council in August last year due to parking and transport issues.

Overseas arrival numbers remain at record lows, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which recorded a 99.1 per cent drop in visitor arrivals in February compared to the same period last year.

Student Accommodation

▲ Scape have multiple properties in Brisbane and more than 18,000 beds across the globe in development or operation. 

To shape a recovery for the industry, federal education minister Alan Tudge announced a 10-year, whole-of-sector international education.

In 2019 there were 750,000 international students studying in Australia, accounting for a third of university enrolments.

“In 2019, we started the year with around 480,000 continuing international students, while another 150,000 entered Australia to study in the first half of the year, and a further 130,000 in the second half,” Tudge said.

“Closing the borders, of course, had a significant disruption on the international student sector.

“That normal pattern was not possible last year. While some started online, many also deferred their studies, preferring to wait until travel is again possible.”

Despite a lack of international students in 2020, Scape continued to expand its Australian portfolio, purchasing 252 serviced apartments in the Aurora Melbourne Central building for $125 million in November.

The group also lodged plans for four student towers on each corner of an intersection in Kensington and Kingsford near the University of New South Wales.


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The cost of renting in Brisbane reaches record levels, outstrips Melbourne prices

For the first time in years, it now costs more to rent a home in Brisbane than Melbourne, with mass migration and a near two-decade low vacancy rate shooting median asking prices to record heights.

Amid tales of tenant bidding wars and rejected applicants reduced to tears, the latest Domain Rent Report, released Thursday, revealed the average weekly asking price for a house in the Queensland capital soared by almost 8 per cent to an unprecedented $440 per week over the past 12 months – and by 3.5 per cent over the past quarter alone.

The price hike means the average Brisbane tenant is now paying $10 more a week than their Melbourne counterpart for a house, and $25 more a week for a unit after prices for the latter rose by a slightly more modest 3.9 per cent over the year to a record-breaking $400 per week.

Domain senior research analyst Nicola Powell said the report marked a sharp turnaround for the city, with houses, in particular, marking the steepest annual increase in rent prices since 2008 following three strong consecutive quarters of rent gains.

“Melbourne house rents have been higher than Brisbane’s since about 2016 so what we’ve really seen in Brisbane since mid-2020 is an acceleration in asking rents and this really goes against what was happening in the lead up [to the pandemic],” Dr Powell said.

“They had relatively flatlined since 2013.”

Dr Powell said while Queensland had always been a hot destination for interstate migrants, the pandemic and the possibility of remote working had fuelled the trend with the annual number of Australians moving to the state hitting its highest level since 2006.

“Tenants will find less choice, with the pool of available rentals shrinking by one-third compared to last year, pushing Brisbane’s vacancy rate to a multi-year low,” she said.

“House and unit rents held steady or increased in all regions across Greater Brisbane over the March quarter, apart from unit rents in Ipswich sliding a mere $5 a week. Annually, the biggest jump in asking rent was recorded for houses in Brisbane’s north and Moreton Bay North, the steepest annual increase since 2008, up 6.8 per cent and 6.7 per cent annually.”

While rent prices indeed soared across most parts of the city it was the capital’s family-friendly pockets in the middle and even outer rings that shone brightest, with houses in Bald Hills and Everton Park enjoying the biggest annual price rise after surging 10.6 per cent to $520 per week.

Hot on their heels were Kenmore, Brookfield and Moggill, where median asking prices for houses shot up by 8.2 per cent over the same period to an unprecedented $595 per week – a rental price equal only to houses in the inner-city west region.

It’s a rare rental boom that Aurora Realty Brisbane leasing manager Abi Harrington said was reaching eye-watering levels – with their agency currently managing 100,000 tenants actively seeking a home.

“We’ve gone from houses taking three weeks to rent out, to three days and even down to three hours [in the past quarter],” Ms Harrington said.

“You wouldn’t believe the gifts I have received (from desperate tenants) from gin, to flowers to cheesecake and even a bottle of champagne.

“We used to have the policy that a tenant mustn’t apply before they’ve seen the property but now we say apply first if you like the photos … and if you get approved we’ll arrange a private inspection after [because rentals are being snapped up so quickly].”

As for the soaring rents in Everton Park and Bald Hills, Ms Harrington put the increase down to tenants being simply priced out of Brisbane’s more expensive inner pockets, with houses in quiet suburbs boasting a good school catchment the number one lure.

“I’ve just listed a property in Everton Park … and in less than 24 hours I have five inspections booked in … but sometimes we get up to 15 people in the first few hours,” she said.

“This is the height of it and it’s absolute chaos. On average tenants are offering $20 to $30 dollars over the asking price but some people are surpassing that. People from Sydney and Melbourne are cashed up and headed this way because buying a house is far cheaper here and Queensland is the obvious choice as the office doesn’t exist anymore.”

Ms Harrington said soaring interstate migration was a major contributor to rising rent prices, with some southern home hunters willing to fork out $90 per week more in a move that was causing much anxiety among Brisbane residents.

cost of renting in Brisbane

Properties for rent in suburbs like Chapel Hill and Kenmore are sparking bidding wars.

“Locals feel like they’re being pushed out … and I see this getting worse. And it’s not fair on locals living here struggling to meet that price range … and we don’t encourage [bidding wars] because we’re trying to manage expectations,” she said.

Ray White Metro West property manager Stephanie Budrodeen said with rental wars now a common occurrence in hot spots such as Chapel Hill and Kenmore, median prices, in reality, had soared beyond eight per cent to as high as 30, creating a scene more akin to an auction, with the charge being led by Melbourne families particularly desperate to bag a house in a top school catchment.

She said the pandemonium was further fuelled by the “nuts” sales market with some tenants pushed out by owners desperate to sell in a booming market, while others were forced to rent purely because there was nothing to buy.

“Two weeks ago, we just had one property [a two-bedroom unit] left on our rental roll … and that’s never happened before. But the downfall to all of this is owners think their properties are worth more than they are and this is going to make problems for the future when prices are no longer inflated,” Ms Budrodeen said.

“Tenants are in panic mode right now … and in my opinion this a ripple effect from the housing market.”


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[+] Developer Ramps Up Hunt for Springfield CBD Investment Partner

Springfield CBD

Introducing The Urban Developer Plus (TUD+),
our premium membership for property professionals.

In this TUD+ Briefing, Springfield City Group’s Bob Sharpless discusses its global search for a partner to help deliver its $15-billion Knowledge Precinct that will complete the Springfield CBD.

The group has now put out a tender for a development partner to help deliver a new 120ha precinct, approved for more than 1.2-million sq m of commercial space and more than 5000 apartments.

This TUD+ Briefing covers:

—the mixed-use development opportunity for the partner

—education, health and technology uses across the site

—preferred partnership models and developer credentials

—the appointment of Moelis Australia to lead the search

—the impacts of Covid-19 on the global tender

—the timeline and projected announcement date.


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