Paul Bibby & Khaled Al Khawaldeh
Locals had expected the auction of the five-bedroom house in the hills outside Lennox Head to be a well-contested affair.
But the events that unfolded raised eyebrows among even the most experienced real estate watcher.
Straight out of the gate the opening bid for 17 Fieldcrest Drive was a cool $1.5 million – $100,000 over the reserve.
That bid immediately knocked some of the 10 registered bidders out of the running.
But it didn’t stop there.
When the hammer finally fell, the selling price was $1.841 million – way over the reserve and far above the median price for that part of Lennox.
Dramatic though it may have been, the auction’s outcome was far from an isolated event.
According to local real estate agents, and data from Regional Australia Insights, the Byron Shire and surrounds is experiencing an unprecedented spike in demand, sending prices soaring into the stratosphere and creating a desperate shortage of rental accommodation, leaving a growing number of people without a home.
‘I’ve been in this business for 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it’, said semi-retired local real estate agent and developer Graham Dunn.
‘COVID-19 has made people realise there’s a lot more to life than making money in a big office and living in a flash apartment in the city’.
‘And because everyone’s realised they can work from Zoom now, that’s what they’re doing.’
While the new owner of 17 Fieldcrest Drive is a long-term local, The Echo has received numerous reports of cashed-up buyers from Sydney and Melbourne taking a ‘whatever it takes’ attitude to buying properties in the Shire.
This includes making offers on properties on the basis of a quick video tour conducted by an agent with an iPhone.
‘I’ve heard of 14 properties being sold, site unseen, to buyers via video-link,’ Mr Dunn said. ‘Talking to agents in Lennox, Ballina, Byron, they’re all doing the virtual tour.’
Others are offering way over the asking price to secure a Northern Rivers home, leaving first home-buyers in the dust.
Further evidence of the interest in local real estate is the incredible popularity of online listings in towns such as Bangalow.
Once barely a blip on the national real estate radar, Bangalow’s soaring popularity saw it become the most in-demand regional town in the country in 2020.
On average, Bangalow’s listings averaged 11,451 views each on a multitude of real estate websites this year.
The spike in demand from outside buyers, along with the arrival of peak Airbnb season, has sucked yet more properties out of the long-term rental market.
Some in the real estate industry have described the situation as ‘desperate’, with up to 60 people showing up for rental inspections in the Byron Shire, and up to 30 queuing to see homes in Lennox and Ballina.
‘People can’t get rentals anywhere – not in Ballina, not in Alstonville, and definitely not in Byron,’ local Greens MP Tamara Smith said.
‘People who’ve bought houses from a video – they’re not planning to move here for four or five years.
‘If the owner is rich enough, the house will probably stay empty until they’re ready to move up, or they’ll just put it on Airbnb.
‘We need real incentives to encourage long-term rentals, and we need to have the 90-day cap on Airbnb in Byron that we were promised, but which the state government has now reneged on’.