Give me a home among the gum trees, with lots of plum trees... John Williamson.
Ever fancied a tree change or a sea change or any kind of change - where you set your sights a few hours away from the capital cities? It's an increasing phenomenon for both investors and home owners.
What makes regional properties so attractive to investors is how affordable they are. They boast a much better entry price than their city counterparts. As capital cities such as Sydney and Melbourne become more expensive in terms of both property and lifestyle we're seeing a small exodus of renters and lower income earners to regional centres such as Newcastle or Geelong. As these areas boost their infrastructure and local economies, this in turn further encourages population expansion. It's not even just regional centres but also major towns. Certainly several experts have noticed the imminent expansion out to the country and regions driven in part by the sky rocketing prices of Sydney and Melbourne.
All of this means that well-chosen regional centres are an exciting proposition for the canny investor.
Buying in regional areas come with a whole new slate of potential risks you may not have thought of.
However, buying in regional areas come with a whole new slate of potential risks you may not have thought of. In cities you may have to contend with strict council planning permissions, aircraft noise or lack of parking. But property investors in rural or regional areas can possibly be up for anything from feral cats to flooding and fires and drought. Let's run through a few of the usual and unusual pitfalls to consider:
Flood Zones: With a rapidly shifting climate, flood areas themselves are changing across Australia. There are even parts of Sydney that are identified as flood zones. Other regional centres have a history of flooding - parts of the coastal plains on the South Coast, such as Thirroul - being notable examples. Then there can be once-in-a-lifetime, catastrophic floods, like the floods which swamped Brisbane and Queensland a few years ago. Scour through the local government records and ask to see the flood zone map for your property. While the council has the responsibility for flood prevention, in certain circumstances the property owner does too. Flood insurance will also add to the cost of the property.
Soil: It's critical to do soil tests for any property you buy in regional or rural areas. The type of soil that your property is situated on can incur extra costs for earthworks and land retention. Hire a professional engineer to carry out tests. They will look for things like contaminants, and if the property is on a large rock. All these things will affect the foundation the house is built on and also affect any plans to subdivide and add new buildings.
Fire danger: This is part and parcel of the harsh landscape of Australia. Bush fires have become more menacing and frequent in recent times. So it’s crucial you check with the local council and ask to view the bushfire prone map. This will tell you how dangerous the area you're buying into is and how susceptible to fires. You'll need to consider insurance and there may also be bushfire construction compliance codes you need to meet which will add to the cost of building the house and perhaps limit what you can do with it.
Crown Roads: Crown roads are an infrequent oddity that can catch regional property owners by surprise. Essentially crown roads are long dormant roads that run through properties. They are usually not even visible nor are they roads in the strict sense. They are more like old worn out tracks and are often only visible on survey maps. Nonetheless they can cause all kinds of headaches for the owner of the property. Crown roads mean that members of the public are allowed to drive through the property provided they stay on the road. It can be difficult to develop or renovate your property as the crown road cannot be moved and you'll find yourself working around it. And trying to get rid of the crown road is legally difficult and can be highly expensive or both. Not to mention how crown roads can create bad blood with neighbours in battles over access.
So to avoid the trauma and stress of a crown road check out the survey maps to any property thoroughly.
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Utilities: How well connected is the property for water, gas, electricity and heating? If it is somewhat self-sufficient by using systems such as rain water tanks or solar panels – then commission a report and find out the average rain levels or sunlight. Also it’s worth checking out the worst case "what ifs"... For example, what if the roads to the town are all flooded, can the property cope on its own for a few days? What kind of emergency utility back-ups do you have in case of natural disasters?
Area development: What kind of industries may move in next door? This can be anything from highly disruptive operations like coal seam mining to abattoirs and fruit harvesting. It's worth investigating the local economy generally. Country and regional areas are highly affected by any sudden changes to the local industry; for instance, if a large plant closes down or a new rural cattle station opens up. This will have a flow on effect to the economy and the population growth.
Environmental protection: You'll definitely need to investigate your land management responsibilities. This covers a whole raft of things from pest or weed control, to land degradation, removing trees or building and maintaining fences, native vegetation and health issues. Both the state government and local government may have different requirements form you the landowner. So take care to find your what your responsibilities are and factor in any potential costs.
So, to sum up, just as much, if not more research is required when buying into regional and rural property markets. There are a slate of highly variable differences to consider that can affect whether your investment is really viable. So, to paraphrase John Williamson - do give us a home among the gum trees but check that the plum trees aren't going to fall on the house.