‘Not really that great’: The ripple effect of booming rents in Byron Bay

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‘Not really that great’: The ripple effect of booming rents in Byron Bay

By Elizabeth Redman

Rents in northern NSW have jumped over the past year, buoyed by a spillover effect from coastal hotspot Byron Bay and the shift to remote work.

It now costs $850 a week to rent the median house in the greater Byron shire, Domain figures show, a 13.3 per cent rise in 12 months and $250 a week more than in greater Sydney.

Byron shire rents are higher than Sydney, and the growth is spilling into neighbouring areas.

Byron shire rents are higher than Sydney, and the growth is spilling into neighbouring areas.Credit:Peter Braig

Living in the town of Byron Bay itself costs a median $925 a week, up almost a third in five years and even more for larger family homes.

More affordable neighbouring towns have clocked double-digit price rises as sea-changers look for less expensive options than the hippie-turned-glamour destination, while some Byron locals have had little choice but to move to a cheaper town nearby.

“Migration into regional NSW is still very high,” Domain chief of research and economics Nicola Powell said.

“COVID has put the focus on coastal areas. Australians are driven by lifestyle and, if anything shows that, it’s these areas that are showing continued growth.”

Some city-based owners of second homes in Byron Bay were utilising them rather than renting them out, she said, reducing the pool of available rentals, while new residents arriving with city wages in their pockets were driving prices to levels that locals may not be able to afford.

“It’s extremely hard for somebody on a local wage to be able to keep pace with this type of rental growth,” she said. “Perhaps they’re pushed to neighbouring areas, coastal hubs such as Ballina, which offer better value.”

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Ballina area rents have risen 18.2 per cent over the past year, to a median of $650 a week, Domain data shows, while inland, Lismore rents are up 20.9 per cent to $520.

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Tweed LGA rents rose 21.4 per cent to $695 over the year, while along the coast, Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie also rose by double digits.

Lennox Head-based Lois Buckett, of the eponymous real estate agency, was leasing homes for $650 or $700 a week a few years ago, whereas now she lets little for less than $750, and $900 to $1200 for family homes.

“It might sound great, but it’s not really that great,” she said. “We’re conscious of people leaving the area, not being able to afford to rent.”

Ms Buckett has seen new local arrivals from Sydney and Melbourne, who can get better value than they would in Byron Bay, earning a capital city income and offering $50 to $100 a week more to secure rentals. Meanwhile, former Byron residents are arriving in East Ballina, Lennox Head or Lismore, she said.

Professionals Ballina & Lennox Head principal Peter Carmont said there are very few rentals available, which has been the case for at least 18 months.

“We’ve probably had a bit of a flow from Byron’s rentals being so expensive – Lennox Head is a bit cheaper than Byron and Ballina is a bit cheaper than Lennox,” he said.

Coastal lifestyle towns have been a sought-after base for remote workers.

Coastal lifestyle towns have been a sought-after base for remote workers.Credit:Robert Rough

Aside from the Byron escapees and the sea-change influx, first-home buyers have purchased some local properties and reduced the amount of rental stock available, he said.

With little available for rent, business owners such as publicans have called him asking to find a property to house their staff.

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Further north, rental properties are leasing fast, Raine & Horne Pottsville Beach/Cabarita Beach principal Jamie Wilmen has found.

“Three, four, five people enquire straight away and one of them’s usually getting it – if anyone rests on their laurels and is a week late they’ll miss it,” he said.

“People are recognising it’s probably an ideal place to set up home, we’re seeing a lot more people come our way.”

Elsewhere, Bellingen rents have soared 41.5 per cent in a year. While not adjacent to Byron, Bellingen has a much more affordable median house rent of $520 a week – although that has risen from just $368 a year ago.

Cardow & Partners Property Bellingen property manager Daniella Atkinson said the lower end of the market is “inundated” with enquiries. Two-bedroom, one-bathroom homes, for example, would now cost about $450 to $500 but might have leased a year ago for about $300 to $320, she said.

Even for higher-end properties, above $800 a week, there would often be four or five enquiries. Some potential tenants are offering $20 to $50 more a week.

This is usually when properties are vacated and re-advertised, not when leases are renewed.

“A lot of our owners don’t like to outprice locals,” she said. “They tend not to raise the rent to market value.”

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