For city folk stuck in choking traffic or getting outbid at yet another auction, the appeal of country life – with fresh air, wide open spaces and affordable real estate – is strong. But buying into the simple life is anything by straightforward.
Whether it’s to make a permanent tree or sea change, a long-term financial investment or as a holiday home, buying property in the country requires a strategic, unemotional approach and considering factors few city buyers ever have to think about, like mobile black spots, land use and noxious weed control.
The lure of fresh air and lower property prices can make living in the country more appealing. Picture: Kate Griffin
Rich Harvey, CEO of propertybuyer.com.au, says the number one rule of buying in a rural or regional area is research.
“Especially when it comes to a permanent sea or tree change, go and visit the place you’re considering, more than once, to ensure it is right for you and you’re not going to be dislocating yourself from your entire social network,” he says.
Harvey says many people have a romanticised view of “moving to the country”.
“They go on holidays to the Glass House Mountains (a picturesque area of Queensland’s Sunshine Coast hinterland) for example and think ‘oh it’s so beautiful, it’s peaceful’, but it’s four hours from their best friends and five hours from their grandchildren, from everything that matters to them.
“Yes, there is less traffic and less pollution, it’s sleepy. But is that the lifestyle you want permanently?
“Also look at things like medical facilities, which are needed at all stages of life, and climate. Moving from somewhere like Sydney to Bowral in the Southern Highlands is a big shift in climate, for example,” he says.
While it’s an emotional decision to follow a tree change, use your head when buying property. Picture: Kate Griffin
Harvey says whether it’s to live in permanent or occasionally as a dedicated holiday home, buyers should approach purchasing a home in the country the same way as they would in the city – with a few tweaks.
Look closely at the market, what stock is available, the average number of days to sell and other market-specific data, he says.
Also, don’t fall in love with the property.
“Even though in many ways, it’s an emotional decision to make a tree change, follow your head, not your heart. Crunch the numbers, know the market. If you fall in love with a house, the selling agent will sense that in your interaction, and that makes it harder to get a good deal,” Harvey says.
Not falling in love means doing due diligence, like pest and building inspections, and considering several country-specific factors, like rates, phone and internet connectivity, land use and environmental obligations.
Check with the local council what rates are payable, Harvey says, as rates are not necessarily cheaper in country areas.
Do your research if you are planning to buy a property to use as a business. Picture: Peter Unger
Is phone and internet service available? Many regional areas have black spots, where service intermittently drops out, while some remote areas have no service at all.
Land use & zoning
Understand what can and can’t be done on a property.
“Some people buy a property thinking they want to become market gardeners or hobby farmers, or run alpacas, but you need to check first that this is allowed by the local land use rules,” Harvey says.
Also look closely at easements, to understand what potential impact things like gas exploration work might have.
In some areas, property owners are required by law to control noxious weeds and pest animals.
When it comes to buying a country property purely as an investment, i.e. to rent out as a holiday home, think like an investor, Harvey advises.
“Look at what the occupancy rates are, all-year around. You can visit a town and everything be booked out in the summer months, but what about the middle of winter? Is it going to be vacant for three months? Is there enough demand?”
Maintenance is another big factor to consider, Harvey says.
“This is where some people can come unstuck. What maintenance needs to be done? How regularly? Salt spray in coastal locations can be a killer. If you have a place which gets lots of sea spray, it can be a real money sucker, as a lot of maintenance is required,” he says.
Using an independent expert like a buyer’s agent can be especially beneficial in country areas, Harvey says.
“Say you want to buy a place in Byron Bay, in the northern tablelands of NSW, you might think you know it well, from having visited, but a local buyer’s agent would be there every weekend, talking to the agents, outstanding what’s happening off the market.”