Land sales driven by a strong rural sector

Liz Bell

ENTREPRENEUR and writer Mark Twain was certainly on the money in the 1800s when he said “Buy land, they’re not making it anymore”.

Although the local property market defied COVID-19 predictions and boomed at the beginning of 2020, the surge in demand for Gippsland’s rural land has taken that ‘boom’ to a whole new level.

Wellington Shire real estate agents say they are fielding calls daily from people looking for rural properties, with many homes on acreage or just vacant land selling before it even hits the market, and others being snapped up within days of being advertised.

And while there’s no doubt there is some movement from the city to the country fuelled by more flexible work arrangements, in reality tree changers are only a small percentage of the equation.

Sale-based estate agent Leo O’Brien said most of the rural properties he had sold in the past 10 months had been bought by Gippslanders, with the price of rural commodities being a driving factor.

“Yes, it is a combination of factors, including lack of supply, but it’s driven largely by good seasonal conditions and the rural commodities market being so strong,” he said.

“Farmers are not wanting to sell because they are doing so well, which causes a shortage of supply, and on top that many are buying the property next door or expanding into other parts of Gippsland because agriculture is doing so well and interest rates are low,” he said.

A former stock agent, Mr O’Brien said it was a rare scenario and he had never seen all farming commodities, including crops, livestock and dairy, doing so well at the same time.

“Before this boom, it might have taken eight to 10 months to see a property, but these days they sell very quickly,” he said.

But farmers are not without competition.

The agency has also seen an increase in baby boomers and people who previously bought in the semi-rural eastern suburbs of Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula, and 20 years later have found Melbourne encroaching on them and want to move further out.

Maffra-based agency Gippsland Real Estate has also experienced strong demand for any type of acreage, from irrigation to dry land, with infrastructure or without.

Director Pat Weatherley said local farmers still made up about 90 per cent of rural property buyers, but there was also a lot of interest in small acreage from people seeking lifestyle changes.

He said one example was a property in Valencia Creek of almost 17 hectares (40 acres) and with two original 1940s miner’s cottages, which drew interest from a field of about 50 local and outside buyers, and easily reached its selling target of almost $500,000 after a four-week auction campaign.

Mr Weatherley said small or large properties that had the potential to produce an income were particularly in hot demand.

“It is a lifestyle choice, but people want to be able to have an income from that property, especially with cattle prices and dairy prices so high,” he said.

One couple so frustrated by constantly missing out on their dream country property recently placed advertisements in the Gippsland Times, offering a $1000 ‘spotters fee’ for anyone who could help them find and buy a suitable 20 to 48 hectares (50 to 120 acre) property as a hobby farm.

Danielle and Alan Gal have spent about 12 months looking at irrigation properties around the Nambrok to Winnindoo areas, but after realising that most exchanged hands through word of mouth, or “neighbours talking to neighbours”, they changed tack.

“We have been trying so hard and have registered with every real estate agent, but we have a strict criteria and soon realised that the irrigation properties we sought were usually bought and sold word of mouth,” Ms Gal said.

“We didn’t even get a look in with most of them, and eventually decided an advertisement might get us noticed by the people who might want to sell.

Ms Gal said since advertising for “off the market” properties, they had received some promising leads, but didn’t want to stop their search and were still looking.

Like everyone else – or so it seems.