Water skiing, kite surfing and fishing are among the many lifestyle attractions that lure people to the shores of Australia’s Lake Macquarie.

But it’s not just water sports attracting home buyers to the popular holiday haven, which is located two hours north of Sydney. It has an increasing array of amenities, schools and quality of life helping to underpin the top end of the market.

“We’ve seen a lot of people coming out of Sydney setting up businesses who love the lifestyle location or are being transferred here for positions in the local hospitals or schools,” Belle Property principal agent Anthony Di Nardo said.

Despite the turbulence and uncertainty around the impact of coronavirus on the Australian property market and economy, Lake Macquarie is one area bucking negative economic forecasts, with multiple record sales in the past six months as city dwellers seek homes outside of Australia’s capital cities.

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Australia’s market, in general, avoided major price downturns since the pandemic reached the country, despite unemployment levels rising to 7.1% in June, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and more than 1.6 million people seeking financial assistance since social-distancing restrictions were introduced in early March.

For Lake Macquarie, the year’s early momentum and buoyancy was strong enough to carry through to April, Mr. Di Nardo said, but endured a setback when the Australian government banned all public auctions and open homes in late March due to the virus.

Despite the restrictions on public gatherings and inspections heavily impacting transactions in May, conditions have since bounced back with record results in June.

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Figures from mid-July from the state’s health department show there were a total of 280 cases of coronavirus diagnosed in the Lake Macquarie and Newcastle area. The total number of cases recorded for the state of New South Wales stands at 3,289. Australia’s total number of diagnosed coronavirus cases stands at more than 10,250 with 108 deaths.

“During Covid, people working in Sydney realize two hours is not that far, and with technological advances, there’s less of a dependence to be based in Sydney,” Mr. Di Nardo said.

He estimates that for every listing priced at A$3 million (US$2.09 million) or more, between 50 and 110 people have attended open-home inspections and up to 500 email inquiries have been received on each property, and that’s not including the constant phone calls.

“If I look at the market before the [May 2019] federal election, prices went down 10% to 15% due to … tighter lending restrictions and economic uncertainty,” he said. “After the election, we regained that 10% to 15% prior to Covid-19, and since then, we haven’t seen any drop in prices.”

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A record suburb price was achieved for a renovated luxury home on The Esplanade, Warners Bay, selling for a rumored A$3.5 million, well in excess of its A$3 million expectation. And a four-bedroom home on Dilkera Avenue in Valentine sold in less than two weeks for A$3.6 million in April.

Understandably Mr. Di Nardo is optimistic about market conditions for the second half of 2020, given his three offices in Charlestown, Maitland and Cessnock recorded their best month ever in June, for both total sales value and number of properties sold.

Regional Draw Card

Lake Macquarie is the biggest saltwater lake in the southern hemisphere, and its laidback lifestyle has spawned several luxurious enclaves. Not surprisingly, high-end properties and acreages within close proximity to the water’s edge are in hot demand.

Combined with its neighboring town center, Newcastle, it is New South Wales’s second-largest area with beaches, world-class vineyards, restaurants and golf courses at its doorstep.

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One of the fastest-growing cities in Australia according to economic firm REMPLAN, Lake Macquarie’s rapid economic growth of the past few years is due to the local government authority’s move to leverage its diverse landscape and natural resources, pushing for jobs in key industries such as timber, agriculture, water and minerals.

But it’s the unique lifestyle that has attracted cashed-up buyers escaping from the city or looking to invest in medium- to long-term growth areas.

“The site is irreplaceable,” said businessman Graeme Thomas, the seller of one of the region’s most impressive properties.

Five years ago Mr. Thomas, the founder of Compass Helicopters and a chief pilot, paid A$1.58 million for the peninsular property Mandalay on Foreshore Street in Eraring, known for its 270-degree views and 500 meters of direct waterfront land to Lake Macquarie.

The luxury peninsular home on Foreshore Street in Eraring is expected to set a new lakeside record when it goes to auction in August.

McGrath Toukley

The 2.73-hectare property and sprawling mansion is 100 kilometers north of Sydney’s outer suburbs, and if the traffic is light, a mere two-hour drive from the central business district.

After a comprehensive renovation, the house—which features plush multiple living areas, a bar, a cellar, a sauna, a billiards room and a two-bedroom self-contained suite—will go to auction in August and is expected to set a new lakeside record.

“Within a week of listing, I’ve received multiple offers from people asking me if they’ve done enough to stop the auction from proceeding,” said listing agent Chris Smith of McGrath Toukley, referring to Mandalay.

Eraring’s current record of A$4.25million was set last month in June by real estate agency, Avery Property Professionals, which sold a six-bedroom, six-bathroom residence set on more than 5,000 square meters of waterfront reserve land on Payten Street. The home has a private cinema, a 20-meter pool, a spa and tennis court.

“Since Covid restrictions were lifted [in mid-June], it has presented a very unique opportunity for the high-end property market where a lot of buyers see safety in purchasing these irreplaceable properties,” Mr. Smith said. “They’re looking for good long-term growth properties.”

As one of the most expensive suburbs in Lake Macquarie, Mr. Smith estimates an entry-level property in Eraring is priced at about A$1.5 million—only five properties have sold in the past year according to REA figures, making median price data unreliable.

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Other prestige Lake Macquarie suburbs, which have recorded enough transactions to establish a credible median house value, have achieved price rises in excess of 10% over the past 12 months, according to REA chief economist Nerida Conisbee.

The region’s lakefront price record stands at A$4.25 million, set in January with a sale at Ross Street, Belmont, through LJ Hooker Belmont agent Joshua O’Doherty.

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While Lake Macquarie’s overall median values have increased a modest 3% in the past year, its premium waterfront suburbs such as Redhead, Caves Beach and Swansea are three examples of areas where prices have rapidly increased more than 10% in the 12 months to June, according to realestate.com.au figures.

Meanwhile, Mr. Smith said buyers who had made early offers on Mandalay were looking for assets that would be suitable for the next 10 to 20 years.

“People who were looking to do development sites in Sydney are looking elsewhere and want a lifestyle opportunity that they know in 10 years’ time will still be unique and attract high prices,” Mr. Smith said.

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