Loch Sport boom times

Sarah Luke

LOCH Sport has become the unlikely poster child of decentralisation, as droves of frustrated Melburnians make the move to the once sleepy hamlet for a refreshing sea and tree change.

With a name pieced together from the Scottish word for ‘Lake’ and the primary pursuits of the area (fishing, swimming and boating), Loch Sport’s appeal remains the same as it did half a century ago, but appears to have only just been discovered by our urban counterparts.

Frustrated by traffic, long working hours and the unrest of city life, townies have uncovered the unspoilt (and affordable) oasis on the Ninety Mile Beach, and in the process have nearly doubled the town’s resident population.

Last financial year, Loch Sport’s CShell Real Estate sold 134 properties, about 12 properties per month, with a notable shift from people buying holiday houses to more permanent homes.

Director Rachelle Potts said feedback from buyers pointed to people craving easygoing country living, with its accompanying lower living expenses.

“We have the best of both worlds, with Lake Victoria on one side — perfect for boating, swimming and fishing — and access to the 90 Mile Beach on the other side, for miles and miles of beachcombing,” she said.

Rachelle added the agency was now finding about half of its sales were to permanents moving to the area — the majority coming from urban and suburban Melbourne, sick of the hustle and bustle of city life and seeking a more laid-back lifestyle.

“Most of these buyers are able to sell up in Melbourne with a decent amount of money left in the bank to purchase something in Loch Sport just as good, or if not better, than what they have left,” she said.

“Prices are definitely a big drawcard for buyers. “There aren’t a great deal of other towns in Victoria where you can achieve a water view — and mountain views — for mid-$200,000s.”

Rachelle said her agency was still selling holiday houses, but a lot of those buyers were looking at Loch Sport with the intention of retiring to the town later on.

While 2016 Census data indicated the median age for Loch Sport was 64, Rachelle’s daughter and sales agent Renee Potts said the town was increasingly attracting younger people.

“We are still selling to retirees, but we are also finding that a lot of our permanent buyers are still of working age and commuting to Sale and Longford for work,” she said.

Loch Sport’s lower 2016 market put it at the top of a realestate.com.au list as Victoria’s most affordable beach town, with a median house price of $175,000.

“It certainly has changed since then, as that median price reflected a three bedroom, one bathroom home,” Renee said.

She added the median house price was now about $185,000, but only for a basic two bedroom, one bathroom home in need of “a bit of love”.

“We have seen the biggest shift in prices under the $200,000 mark, with today’s market having limited stock in this price range,” she said.

Renee pointed to a marina frontage property with a private mooring which sold in August last year for $510,000 as one of the area’s higher-end sales, but noted the price reflected a flatter 2016-17 market rather than the current climate, which has picked up remarkably.

The real estate agency is now open seven days a week, to keep up with the town’s boom.

Local tradesmen are also reporting being inundated with work, with many contractors from out of town being called in to keep up with demand.

Loch Sport electrician Mick Luke, who has worked almost exclusively in the town for more than 30 years, said he was being kept unusually busy for a normally quiet time of year for work, and he wasn’t the only one.

“I’m pretty well flat out at the moment — all of the local tradies are,” he said.

“Most people are buying houses and doing them up … you can just see by what’s left on the market, there’s not much left in the lower price bracket.

“It’s actually cheaper to buy old houses and renovate than build — connecting services like electricity and sewerage, as well as keeping within bushfire regulations … the costs can be astronomical.

“People want to buy now and renovate while they’ve got a bit of money about, and then move in a couple of years down the track when they retire.”

With nature abounding and the relaxed temperament of the locals, Mick said other people were drawn to the area for the same reasons why he was 30 years ago — except they were just a bit later to the party.

“[Melburnians] are only just getting to know it now, and they just fall in love with it,” he said.

“It’s good to see the town thriving -—it’s good for all the local businesses.”

Coinciding with the boom, Loch Sport’s oncesimple supermarket, affectionately dubbed ‘The Lodge’, was bought last year, and is in the process of being redeveloped into a Foodworks franchise, with shop fronts for cafés and a second storey dedicated to waterview apartments.

Locals are reporting increased council interest in the town, with the foreshore receiving a upgrade to the Victoria Parade boat ramp, a flash new Lions Park barbecue pavilion installed and the construction of a new playground currently in the process.

There are new footpaths along National Park Rd, with more proposed throughout the town, meaning people can walk almost the whole length of the linear town (about 5.5 kilometres) safely.

Far from the quiet, isolated stretch it once was, the secret is well and truly out on Loch Sport.