Fabulous pandemic for Hunter wine country property as prices soar and the super-rich move in

The super rich Sydney-siders driving up Hunter Valley wine country property prices

WEALTHY Sydney-siders are driving a boom in the Hunter's wine country property market as the super-rich arrive en masse reshaping the face of the vineyards.

As many wine country businesses have suffered through the pandemic, up to 20 per cent were forced to close, the COVID effect has pushed property prices through the roof.

Insiders said the vineyard's property market boom has been fuelled at the top end by the super-rich "rediscovering" the Hunter Valley and buying trophy estates to escape the coronavirus pandemic.

In some pockets prices have jumped around 40 per cent since June last year.

Alan Jurd, owner of Jurd's Real Estate, said the top end of the market was attracting "big, big money" because the wealthy were unable to travel while international boarders where closed.

Mr Jurd said he had "never seen anything like this before" and the biggest issue was very few people were willing to sell.

He said the pandemic had supercharged the market and lifestyle properties that previously would have sold for between $1 million and $2 million, were now selling for between $3 million and $4 million.

"I've never met a billionaire in my life until this year and now I have met three. All Aussie-grown billionaires," he said.

"Some of these people used to go to Europe, or might own their own island, and they can't travel.

"They also understand the situation is not going to change quickly so are looking to buy their own private estates."

I've never sold to so many Sydney owner-occupiers. Who would have thought a holiday home in Cessnock would be something that Sydney people would consider, you think of holiday homes and you generally think of the coast. But the whole Lower Hunter is feeding off the vineyards tourism appeal ...

LJ Hooker Cessnock principal Bryce Gibson

Previously the residential sales record for the Cessnock local government area was $880,000, but since lockdown last year two residential properties sold in the village of Nulkaba for $1.2 million, a jump of $320,000 or 36 per cent.

Another two properties in Nulkaba sold for $1.1 million.

Jurd's have recently settled several lifestyle properties for between $2 million and $5 million.

Another vineyard property is expected to sell in the coming weeks for more than $20 million.

LJ Hooker Cessnock principal Bryce Gibson said there had been a "massive tree change exodus out of Sydney" to the Lower Hunter due to COVID, similar to coastal areas.

He said anecdotally prices around Cessnock had increased more than 30 per cent in the past year, which he described as "once in a generation growth".

A residential property at Neath recently went on the market for $449,000 and sold for $530,000, $81,000 over the asking price or an increase of almost 20 per cent, after 47 inspections in seven days.

"I've never sold to so many Sydney owner-occupiers," he said.

"Who would have thought a holiday home in Cessnock would be something that Sydney people would consider, you think of holiday homes and you generally think of the coast.

"But the whole Lower Hunter is feeding off the vineyards tourism appeal, there is great proximity to services and good value for money."

Across the Hunter the spring selling season took off in earnest and vendors piled properties onto the market.

The Newcastle Herald reported earlier this year that Newcastle real estate was poised to become more expensive than Melbourne's after the typical house price rocketed beyond $800,000 for the first time in September.

Data from CoreLogic revealed the median price of houses and units across Newcastle and Lake Macquarie in November was $812,000, $24,000 ahead of the Melbourne median.

The value of a typical stand-alone house in Newcastle had grown 2.6 per cent in a month and an eye-watering 31.9 per cent, or $204,000 in the past year to now sit at $844,000.

BOOMING: Owner of Jurd's Real Estate, Alan Jurd, said property prices in the vineyards had skyrocketed as the super-rich move in buying private estates. Picture: Marina Neil

BOOMING: Owner of Jurd's Real Estate, Alan Jurd, said property prices in the vineyards had skyrocketed as the super-rich move in buying private estates. Picture: Marina Neil

The median house price was $628,000 at the start of the year and passed $700,000 for the first time in May.

According to CoreLogic, listings surged 28.2 per cent nationally in the four weeks to mid-October, seeing more than 45,000 new properties added to the market.

Mr Gibson said any increase in stock would be a relief for buyers, because they will have more to choose from after an extended period of short supply.

He said strong competition across the Hunter had been driving prices in all areas.

"It's still attractive for people to get out of the rental market, investors are still keen and owner-occupiers are still leaving Sydney as they fear lockdown again," he said.

"I think we will see more of the same for the next twelve months. Compare being in nice home with space to a Sydney apartment, and it's never been a cheaper time to borrow money and pay property off."

The latest data from CoreLogic reveals 12 per cent growth in Pokolbin over the year to August with a median house price of $1.07 million, and an 18 per cent jump in Cessnock with a median house price of $438,250.

In the year to July there were 78 sales in Pokolbin, up 53 per cent on the previous year, and 428 sales in Cessnock, up 27 per cent.

Mr Jurd and Mr Gibson predicted the latest growth figures around the vineyards would be between 30 and 40 per cent in the past year.

Michael Hope, owner of Hope Estate, said the boom in property prices was changing the make-up of the region

He said many new property owners were not reliant on grapes to make an income, they were purchasing for lifestyle and it was transforming the region.

"It's a bit more like California's Napa Valley," he said.

"Prices have gone really high and a lot of people are pouring money into the area for lifestyle, that makes it hard to justify the price for a vineyard."

CHANGING FACE: Pharmacist-turned-vigneron Michael Hope said the Hunter's wine country was transforming into a lifestyle precinct as traditional grape growers were increasingly being priced out of the real estate market.

CHANGING FACE: Pharmacist-turned-vigneron Michael Hope said the Hunter's wine country was transforming into a lifestyle precinct as traditional grape growers were increasingly being priced out of the real estate market.

When he moved to the Hunter 27 year ago, Mr Hope said it was primarily cellar doors and a few good restaurants, now it was about lifestyle and experiences.

"The wine game is really, really hard," he said.

"There is a global oversupply, there is oversupply in Australia and our major export market was China and that's gone.

"The area is evolving from just being about wine, it's now Sydney's playground."

Hunter Valley Wine and Tourism Association chief executive Amy Cooper said people were bringing forward decisions to leave big cities.

A growing preference for people to work from home and live in an area with open spaces and reluctance to accept high-density living has played a major part in the shift.

Ms Cooper said Sydney's restrictions lifting was the "light at the end of the tunnel" for wine country businesses that had struggled tremendously through the lockdowns.

She said the pandemic had a devastating affect on businesses and a considerable number had changed hands.

"It has been a really tough time for industry with long COVID lockdowns and bushfires," she said.

"There is finally a sense of optimism and people have been buying businesses and looking at new developments as well."

The Herald reported in August that the Cedar Mill Group had added a 100-bed hotel, hatted restaurant and waterpark to its plans for a new outdoor concert venue and wine museum in Pokolbin.

The $107 million vision set on a 42-hectare site on the corner of Broke and McDonalds roads includes a 22,000-person concert venue and wine museum.

The venue, to be known as Cedar Mill Hunter Valley, is predicted to bring an additional 68,045 visitors and $33 million in tourism-related expenditure to the region each year, according to an economic modelling report.

Ms Cooper said the vineyards were preparing for an influx of Sydneysiders once the COVID travel restrictions were lifted.

She said some of the larger, high-end accommodation facilities were reporting they were booked solid through to mid-December.

The region's reputation as one of the state's premier tourist destinations will be further enhanced thanks to an $8.8 million upgrade of Cessnock Airport.

The upgrade has prompted Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley owner Jerry Schwartz to investigate introducing flights from Bankstown Airport to Cessnock as part of a plan to attract more visitors to the region.

The airport upgrade, which will be funded by a $6,636,100 grant from the Restart NSW and $2,212,097 from Cessnock Council, will include the widening and resealing of taxiways; the creation of aprons and aircraft parking areas, improved fuel area access and runway rehabilitation.

Work is due to commence in early 2022 and will be complete within six months.

Dr Schwartz said the airport upgrade would further drive tourism in the Lower Hunter.

"The population centre of Sydney is western Sydney," he said.

"People will be able to leave their car at Bankstown and within half an hour they will be in the Hunter Valley."

This story The super rich Sydney-siders driving up Hunter Valley wine country property prices first appeared on Newcastle Herald.