Coronavirus creates property boom on Southern Moreton Bay Islands as owners take advantage of home-builder grants
It has long been known as a haven for retirees and those seeking the cheapest land in South East Queensland, but the Southern Moreton Bay Islands have seen a renewed interest in a COVID-19 property market.
Property sales on Russell Island have effectively tripled in the last three months, while it is estimated that building activity has doubled.
Real estate agent Chris McGregor said historically around 350 blocks would sell on the islands per year, but judging from monthly figures, sales were nearly three times higher.
It is not uncommon to see bush blocks advertised as low as $16,000 on Russell Island.
Cleared land and waterfront property are more expensive, but still a fraction of the price of equivalent land on the mainland.
“We have people who sell up in capital cities, and come and buy their house outright with money left over, and we also have a lot of owner builders,” he said.
Mr McGregor said property prices were rising before the pandemic, but are now at their lowest since 2007.
“We are selling between 50 and 60 blocks on Russell Island a week,” he said.
Mr McGregor believes the $25,000 home-builder grants that were announced as part of coronavirus economic stimulus packages are driving land sales.
Zoning, planning hold islands back
John Bonett runs an earthmoving and tree-clearing business based on Macleay Island, while servicing all of the Southern Moreton Bay Islands.
He said the demand for his services had gone up, but complexities around zoning and moving machinery between islands had made the job difficult.
He said he is worried issues around infrastructure and planning could limit the region’s growth.
The company is operating out of residential areas, with very limited industrial zoned land on Macleay Island.
“At this stage, we are working out of home … and the best we can do at the moment is scatter the machines around to different employees, until we can work out what to do to better it,” Mr Bonett said.
“We have nearly 20 people working for us, and I like to think we are doing our bit for the community with keeping those people employed.
“But it is getting harder and harder when I am not only battling the everyday costing of quoting and controlling the crew, but battling neighbours and council.
“There needs to be a lot less talk and a lot more action. This is not a new issue for us … this has been going on for eight years.
“If we were having our base camp on the mainland, for example, we would be bringing people over.
“That would be taking money off the islands where we want the infrastructure to grow … we want better shops, service stations and facilities for the kids.”
Many of the roads on the islands remain unsealed, while there is no kerb and channel drainage and no access to sewage, with every new house built having to put in a septic tank.
“We have to move a bit quicker because the islands are moving quicker,” Mr Bonett said.
“If people find it too hard to build here and too complicated and expensive, they will stop building and put properties back on the market.
“So, instead of seeing a housing boom like we are now, we will see a housing slump.”
How many new residents is too many?
Redland City Councillor Mark Edwards said the area had been “chasing its tail” with infrastructure since the islands were transferred from the State Government administration to the Redland City Council.
“There is probably more building here right now than I have seen in the last 20 years,” Councillor Edwards said.
“Probably in the last eight years we have done a lot of investment into the islands, which has been a double-edged sword, because when people come out to have a look, they see all the infrastructure that has been built, and that is driving our population growth up more,” he said.
“The biggest fear for the community is, ‘When does our population get too big?’.”
He said the population had already outgrown infrastructure.
“We have a program that has been ongoing for a number of years to seal our roads,” he said.
“We have about 35 kilometres of roads left, and hopefully that will be done in the next three or four years.
“We are spending over $35 million on our jetties, but how long will those jetties last for the current capacity if we have a greater population?
“The biggest fear is sewage. We are on septic here, and we know that when we get to certain levels of density those types of systems can’t cope, so we need to look at sewerage and who is going to pay for that.
“When you put sewerage into a place the population goes up again because you get density.”
Mr Edwards said the community needed to have a public discussion about what they would like in the future.