Sea change caught before crest of wave
Some areas have it all but the big name, writes Fiona Cameron
HOW often do you hear about a place — after its property market has peaked? Well here’s something novel: a beachfront town that is yet to fully boom and has all the hallmarks of a classic seachange destination.
Real estate values in the small community of Bargara, 380km north of Brisbane, are relatively cheap while many other coastal towns and cities have boomed beyond average affordability in recent years. But with big developers now working on Bargara projects worth more than $ 200 million, that is set to change.
‘‘ It’s an affordable Port Douglas,’’ says analyst Michael Matusik, of Matusik Property Insights. ‘‘ Bargara’s big advantage — and a window of opportunity that is closing — is that it is cheap.’’
Matusik says research he did this year with the Urban Development Institute of Australia shows that six out of 10 homes in Bargara are still affordable to local residents and other Queensland buyers.
‘‘ In Cairns it was only one out of 10, Townsville it’s three out of 10, Mackay it’s two out of 10,’’ he says.
‘‘ Hervey Bay, interestingly, is two and a half out of 10, so only 25 per cent of local residents can afford to buy a house there. Hervey Bay used to be the affordable place on the Queensland coast. That has changed and now the Bundaberg region and Bargara is the most affordable location.’’
Compared to Hervey Bay, Bargara’s $ 150,000 vacant housing lots are 40 to 70 per cent cheaper.
Established houses in the Bundaberg district, including Bargara, cost an average $ 260,000 — 33 per cent less than Hervey Bay.
Bundaberg/ Bargara house prices rose 12 per cent in the past 12 months, according to Matusik research.
‘‘ But interestingly, in the last quarter, prices rose 9 per cent, whereas in most central Queensland locations, say from Mackay to Hervey Bay, the price growth has been decelerating,’’ Matusik says.
‘‘ For example, in Rockhampton, prices rose 33 per cent last year but the latest figures show only a 6 per cent increase there.
‘‘ In other words, many of these central coastal markets have already peaked. I’m not saying they are going to crash, but the Bundaberg area hasn’t peaked yet — it is accelerating.’’
Bargara, with a population of about 5000, is regarded as a satellite suburb of Bundaberg, 13km away through canefields.
Migration to the area is picking up pace: the Bundaberg/ Burnett area’s 80,000 population is growing by 2750 a year, up from 800 five years ago.
In the larger Wide Bay/ Burnett region, the current 275,000 population is rising by 6570 a year, compared to 2450 five years ago.
The Burnett Shire Council is based in Bargara, but under the Queensland Government’s state- wide council amalgamation plans, from next March it will merge with Bundaberg City Council and two other nearby local authorities to form the Bundaberg Regional Council.
Many of Bundaberg’s higherincome workers choose to live in Bargara, attracted to the coastal community for its lifestyle and natural beauty.
Big developers that have seen a future for the village include Austcorp, Metricon, CABE and Mirvac.
Sydney- based CABE first moved into Bargara in 2003 and has since completed three waterfront developments there — the ‘‘ C’’ and Manta five- star resorts on the Esplanade, and then Rockpool, boutique beachfront apartments on Kellys Beach.
The company has just started a fourth development, a beachfront project called Dune.
General manager Mark Monk says CABE started investing in Bargara because it saw huge upside there. ‘‘ Everywhere across Australia, investors and sea- changers are looking for the next market.
‘‘ There isn’t a patch of coastline that isn’t being investigated.
‘‘ But we found something quite special at Bargara. It still has all the benefits of a small, quiet coastal town with the connectivity to city services at nearby Bundaberg.’’
Bargara’s access to universities, TAFEs, hospitals, an airport, one of the largest retail centres north of Brisbane and good employment opportunities make it attractive, he says.
CABE’s Bargara resorts have won a swag of design, construction and tourism awards, including recognition from the Royal Australian Institute of Architects and selection as a finalist in the UDIA awards for excellence.
The 12 Dune apartments show just how far the Bargara market is pushing out from its humble roots: prices are between $ 1.02 million and $ 1.225 million for three- bedroom luxury apartments with timber floors, high ceilings and glazed walls that open to big beachfront timber decks.
Ground- level apartments have private gardens with direct beach access.
Monk says only a few apartments remain for sale in Manta, where occupancy is running above 65 per cent and apartments are priced between $ 515,000 and $ 800,000.
Metricon’s Breeze estate, a 98- lot subdivision at Bargara Beach, offers housing lots for between $ 155,000 and $ 205,000.
Sales manager Lance Cotterill says many neighbouring beachfront properties are selling at prices above $ 800,000.
The affordable land meant people could own a house and land near the beach for $ 370,000.
Buyer interest is coming from people who have seen first- hand the revitalisation of seaside communities like Noosa, Mooloolaba and Hervey Bay.
‘‘ I often hear people say how rewarding it would be to go back in time and invest in property hot spots before they really took off,’’ Cotterill says. ‘‘ Some see Bargara as their second chance.’’
Metricon project manager Dale Scotcher says Bargara has two taverns, more than 10 restaurants and cafes, including al fresco eateries overlooking the newly refurbished boardwalk and ocean.
Sydney developer Austcorp’s $ 120 million Coral Cove development offers one of the town’s two golf courses.
Matusik says tourists also benefit from Bargara’s affordability, with the town offering new holiday apartments with room rates between 20 and 50 per cent cheaper than the Sunshine Coast or northern NSW, and four- star hotel rooms between 40 and 70 per cent cheaper.
Tourist visitor nights were up 16 per cent in the past year, he says, helped by the competition of Qantas and Virgin flights into Bundaberg, and visitor spending also is up.
Tourists are drawn to the area as the southern gateway of the Barrier Reef, opposite the northern tip of Fraser Island, for diving and whale- watching trips and boat outings to the reef and to Lady Elliott and Lady Musgrave islands. Bargara also has the Mon Repos turtle sanctuary.
Matusik says the area doesn’t offer as many holiday activities as other destinations, but it’s an ideal location for a ‘‘ donothing’’ short- stay getaway.
‘‘ Sit around the pool, go for a walk, go out once or twice, read a book — it’s that type of holiday,’’ he says.