Land is a ripe harvest in Byron Bay
For such a laidback place, Byron Bay – the surfing and alternative lifestyle capital of Australia – has had to work hard to maintain its chill, hippie vibe.
Despite a massive influx of outsiders over the decades, from disenchanted big city types to wellness gurus, cashed-up wannabes and Hollywood superstars, successive local governments have resisted the kind of development that transformed other coastal hotspots such as the Gold Coast.
Which is why the unveiling of Byron’s first major housing estate in 30 years has created a buzz – even if it’s a peculiar Byron Bay buzz.
After a decades-long, exhaustive fight that went all the way to court, Tower Holdings’ plans for a 61-hectare block on the town’s western boundary, near Ewingsdale, was finally approved in 2020.
Harvest has plenty of covenants: water tanks, solar panels and – most controversially – cats and dogs will be banned. On top of that, about 38.4ha will be conserved, including a 2.9ha habitat to protect the endangered wallum froglet and wallum sedge frog.
The development will eventually accommodate 149 dwellings. The initial plan was to sell off the lots as house and land packages. The dwellings were to be built by either Metricon or Brighton Homes.
But as marketing agent Will Phillips of McGrath said, that idea also met resistance. When the first tranche of blocks went to auction as house and land packages last November, no-one bit.
“They all passed in, despite plenty of interest,” he said.
The real interest was in owners building their own homes – using local architects, Mr Phillips said.
So the developers went back to the drawing board and in January started marketing the first swag of 54 blocks only.
To date 30 have sold, mostly to locals. Prices have averaged around $1.6 million.
“We’ve not really targeted the Sydney or Melbourne markets yet,” Mr Phillips said.
But he’s confident when they do, blocks will be snapped up.
“Byron still represents great value to Sydney and Melbourne buyers,” he said. “They want access to beaches, the climate and lifestyle.”
And that’s the main reason why demand remains strong – the promise of a lifestyle that has attracted a gaggle of social media influencers , Hollywood stars and – inevitably – a reality TV program.
While the Netflix series Byron Baes has its detractors, it’s sure to introduce the town to an ever wider audience.
The town became particularly popular after the COVID outbreak in 2020, with many rich and famous choosing the location to hunker down during the pandemic.
Now, not even the worst floods in living memory that devastated the Northern Rivers area seems to slow down demand: “We were relatively unscathed in Byron,” Mr Phillips said referring to the area’s residential housing.
It’s also why Byron has the some of fastest-growing property prices in the country and is now more expensive than Sydney, with the median house price now sitting at $3.09 million according to PropTrack data for April 2022.
With demand for homes, comes demand for commercial properties too.
PropTrack economist Anne Flaherty said there has been a big rise in people searching for office space in Byron – up 65% over the 12 months ending Mar 2022 compared to the previous 12 months.
“Some of this demand is likely from co-working operators looking to open sites in Byron Bay which has become increasingly popular with remote workers,” she said.
The number of searches on realcommercial.com.au for medical and consulting properties in Byron Bay was up 109% over the 12 months and land/development sites have also seen increased demand, up 14% over the same time period.
Which brings us back to Harvest. One of the covenants on the development is that stages two and three cannot proceed until stage one is complete. Which means the next lot of blocks – currently selling for around $1.6million – may not become available until sometime in 2023.
And who knows where prices will be then.