House prices have more than doubled in five years on Tasmania’s east coast as sea-movers and tree-movers move in

The area has long had vacation properties, but this has been increasing. More than half of homes, 53 percent, were unoccupied on census night last August, up from 46.5 percent in 2001. The population grew by 976 people to 5,012 during that time – and by more than 600 people since 2016 – and the number of registered private dwellings increased by more than 1,400 to reach 4,722 dwellings.

Sea Money changers have been drawn to Tasmanian towns such as Bicheno.

Census data shows the median rental price was $250 a week last August, up from $160 in 2011.

The proportion of tenants spending more than 30% of their income on rent more than quadrupled during this period, reaching 31.7%.

Council chief executive Greg Ingham is well aware of the housing shortage. He has rented a one-bedroom cabin in a caravan park with his wife since moving to the area almost two years ago.

Glamorgan-Spring Bay Council Chief Executive Greg Ingham and Mayor Robert Young.

Glamorgan-Spring Bay Council Chief Executive Greg Ingham and Mayor Robert Young.

“I love living in the community where I work…and that was the only thing available,” he said.

He was lucky to go anywhere, he said, with other staff traveling long distances due to the lack of affordable housing. It was therefore difficult for the council and the companies to attract staff.

“The Airbnb marketplace is not helping, it’s had a negative impact in terms of availability for the ordinary couple or family looking for accommodation,” he said. “This is a concern shared with all local authorities.

But there is no simple solution. Young said any limits or increases to taxes on short-term rentals should be carefully considered, given that around 50% of the municipality’s revenue comes from tourism.

The two would like to see more residential development in the area, especially affordable housing, but new land was scarce with rezoning limited by state planning plans.

More than half of the homes in the scenic area were empty on census night last year.

More than half of the homes in the scenic area were empty on census night last year.

Susan Wheeldon, country manager of Airbnb Australia and New Zealand, said housing affordability was a very difficult issue not only for individuals and communities, but also for governments seeking to address the policy challenge.

“It is a complex issue with a range of contributing factors such as population movements, new housing supply, social housing ratio, interest rates and wider economic conditions.

“While short-term rentals typically make up a tiny proportion of the overall real estate market, we want to continue to find ways to make a positive contribution to this important issue. Short-term rentals also play an incredibly important role in growth. Tasmania’s economy and creating jobs for locals – and we want to continue to work with locals on this front.

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KPMG demographer and urban economist Terry Rawnsley said Tasmania’s housing market had grown as the state made a name for itself with its food and wine scene, MONA and Dark Mofo.

With limited housing supply, it didn’t take much population growth to absorb available housing and put pressure on prices.

In a perfect world, land would have been rezoned five years ago when the surge started, he said.

“You would have fueled the market. But [now] you are playing catch-up.

The council recently sold land to community housing provider Centacare Evolve Housing, which will build 18 flats. A further six units will be delivered in Swansea, adding to the dozen properties the supplier has in the area.

Centacare Evolve Housing chief executive Ben Wilson said more social and affordable housing needs to be built across the state. Nearly 4,500 people were on the social housing waiting list, nearly 50% of whom were priority applicants, and shelters had to turn away hundreds of people seeking emergency housing.

“Significant pressures in the private market have driven up rents, while people can still be housed, they may be in a situation of significant financial stress, where 40 or 50% of their income is spent on rent,” a- he declared.

Half the houses were empty on census night on this part of Tasmania's east coast.

Half the houses were empty on census night on this part of Tasmania’s east coast.

He welcomed the Tasmanian government’s commitment to build 10,000 affordable homes by 2032 and partnerships with local councils to boost supply.

Knight Frank Tasmania sales consultant Leanne Dann said the property market had been “absolutely crazy” over the past year as homes received several offers before being advertised during the peak.

Price growth in areas like Swansea, Coles Bay and Dolphin Sands has been largely driven by Tasmanians buying holiday homes and second homes. Towns like Bicheno had seen more interest from mainland tree changers, including young families. About two-thirds of properties are sold to holiday home buyers or investors.

Commercial agent Paul Whytcross, of Roberts Real Estate Bicheno, said the true impact of rising rates would not be seen until spring, when more homes typically come up for sale.

“[Buyer demand] has calmed down, we are in the depths of a Tassie winter, but limited supply is coming to market, and with that…the demand rate is still relatively strong. But the phone doesn’t ring all the time [anymore],” he said.

While first-time home buyers had always been rare in the area, he felt young people were overpriced.

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“There is certainly concern going forward as to how young people will enter the market here, even in terms of permanent rentals there is plenty of work in the area…but housing is limited .”

With Tawar Razaghi

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