Drought fails to dry up bush demand
Times may be tough on the land but most farmers are sticking it out, which means big properties are at a premium, Jo Studdert reports
YOU would expect the drought to be devastating rural property prices, especially along the Murray River where water allocations are at zero or near zero levels, but values are holding up and, even stranger, there is such strong demand for land that real estate agents are sending buyers away disappointed, particularly in the eastern Riverina.
‘‘ We’ve got cashed- up city and corporate buyers ready to pay decent prices but farmers are just not putting their places up for sale,’’ Albury property valuer David Shooter says.
‘‘ They just can’t be tempted. There is an element of wanting to wait out the drought and get some decent income before they sell, and a reluctance to put the farms they love and have pride in on the market when they are looking a bit poor.’’
Bill Sargood, rural property sales manager at Elders in Albury agrees. Small places sell to local people, but in the past two to three years we have had no large properties for sale, although we certainly get asked for big places, especially from external buyers.’’
In the rest of the Riverina, water is the secret. Values are being maintained on the dryland farms of the eastern and western Riverina but irrigation properties are not doing so well.
Corporate and city buyers are especially keen on dryland country and so tend to avoid the central Riverina with its substantial irrigation component.
John Dalton, sales manager at Elders in Finley in the central Riverina, says corporate buyers are also not interested in land so far away from the cities and rarely look in his district ( a region of irrigated farms, dryland farms and dairies).
Even so, values are buoyant and are being held up by strong local and regional Victorian interest. We’ve had some quality sales. Brickkiln, an 890ha irrigation and farming project at Jerilderie, sold in February for $ 1.4 million, which was a good price for the property, and there was an exceptionally good sale through Ray White in Deniliquin of a dryland place that went for more than $ 10 million,’’ Dalton says.
‘‘ South Wangamong, a 1618ha farming and livestock property, also sold in May for more than $ 3.5 million, which was a very good price in the area,’’ he says.
Even in the northern Riverina values are strong, Dalton says. ‘‘ Places around Hay and Ivanhoe are selling for very good prices and there is sustained interest from buyers. They want dryland places,’’ he says.
James Sides at Elders Deniliquin says: ‘‘ It has gone from no movement at all to a little, but there’s lots of interest — both local and external. It has been very mixed: places with limited water have been very hard to sell but places with water have sold like mad. Now, with a rain break, even places that weren’t selling are. I have no listings left. None.’’
Over in the west there is sustained interest and again the corporates are in the picture ( again in vain), says Ian Triplett at Elders Swan Hill.
‘‘ There’s enormous demand from all over the place for cereal country since the rain. Local people are always interested but we’ve also got city money as well as NSW and Victorian irrigators who want to diversify into dryland properties.
‘‘ We’ve also got cashed- up southern cereal farmers, whose properties have been bought at top dollar by managed investment schemes for olives or almonds, coming north to buy cereal properties, which are cheaper here than where they have just sold.
‘‘ So, we have a two- pronged attack on the region by buyers and it is keeping our cereal land values good and strong.
‘‘ It’s excellent for the district and the optimism among cereal farmers is very high,’’ Triplett says.
Despite the general paucity of offerings in the eastern Riverina, there has been one notable sale: Kilnyana near Mulwala sold for $ 7.7 million in May through Brian Unthank Real Estate in Albury.
‘‘ It was a very well- maintained property, well watered and with extensive preserved areas and native vegetation and a sevenbedroom homestead,’’ Unthank says.
‘‘ It was a big price for our district but a fair price,’’ he says.
The entire Riverina has finally had some rain and farmers, including irrigators, are beginning to test the waters.
‘‘ I think we’ll see a rush now: we’ve had good falls — 40- 150ml — so it’s starting to green up and even the dams are filling a bit,’’ Shooter says.
‘‘ The rain gave farmers a window for planting, which makes a property more marketable.’’