There are plenty of Hollywood A-listers who call Australia home – for at least part of the year, anyway. They’re usually busy filming big-budget flicks in exotic locations, but when they manage to squeeze some downtime into their schedules, it’s often Australia that celebs like to base themselves.
But it’s not the penthouses in Melbourne’s glamorous CBD towers or the sprawling mansions in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs that they’re flocking to…
Instead, it’s the quiet, tranquil coastal community of Byron Bay that has captured their attention, according to the Wall Street Journal – and it’s apparently pushing property values. Read the full report below:
In this seaside town, grazing animals lumber near multimillion-dollar beachfront properties. Celebrities relax alongside surfers and backpackers. Byron Bay, about two hours south of Brisbane on the sunny coast of eastern Australia, is a place of contrasts.
“One of my best friends is a yoga teacher and another good friend is a TV celebrity,” says Ron Wages, a retired electronics-business owner from the U.S. who bought a $1.2 million home in Byron Bay two years ago and now lives there full time. Mr. Wages is among a growing group of home buyers wooed to the small town—Byron Bay is just 9,400 people, while the surrounding areas that make up the Byron Shire add an additional 20,000.
Actress and singer Olivia Newton-John runs a retreat and spa here and has owned a farm in the area since 1980. “It has the best of everything—beaches, mountains, beautiful little villages,” she says in an email. According to local real-estate agents, Aussie actor Chris Hemsworth, better known as Thor in the superhero movie series, spent about $5.4 million in September on an eight-bedroom, 11-bathroom home near Byron Bay. Mr. Hemsworth’s representative didn’t respond to requests for comment.
A hippie-chic locale that mixes art fairs and farmers markets with fine dining, Byron Bay attracts a less flashy, if affluent, crowd. “There’s a very simple lifestyle,” says Graham Dunn, a real-estate agent who has lived here for 25 years. “It’s more about dressing down than dressing up.”
While many homeowners buy property as vacation homes, real-estate agents say more people are moving here full time because of Byron Bay’s geographical setup. It’s only 45 minutes from the Gold Coast airport and close to Brisbane, allowing executives to get in and out relatively quickly. And yet the area feels secluded and remote, with rivers on its northern and southern sides, hinterlands to the west and the ocean on the east. The lighthouse at Cape Byron stands on the most easterly point of all of Australia.
Another appeal for many homeowners is the town’s aversion to density. Commercial buildings can’t be taller than three stories and residential heights are capped at two. Properties with less than 100 acres can’t be subdivided, leaving “a lot of land that won’t ever be developed,” says luxury real-estate agent Nicolette van Wijngaarden.
One of the newest projects under way—the first in-town residential development in about 20 years, according to local real-estate agents—is Fortyfive Lawson, a beachfront complex that will have nine apartments ranging in price from about $2.3 million to $3.8 million. Mr. Dunn, the exclusive listing agent of the development, says sales began in November 2013, and one unit is left.
The market is picking up, following the recent strength of the national real-estate market. Mr. Dunn’s real-estate firm, for example, has about 40 listings, compared with 142 in the fall of 2013. The median single-family home price in Byron Bay was about $513,000 at the end of 2014, up 21% from December 2013, according to Andrew Wilson, senior economist at the Domain Group, a real-estate website in Australia.
Living here seems to have a few downsides. Residents say traffic in the township is horrendous during peak times, which include Christmas, Easter and music-festival weekends.
Property developer Greg Crane and his wife, Philippa, have been coming to Byron Bay since the 1980s. They recently decided to take advantage of low interest rates, buying a $4.5 million home in the exclusive Wategos community in May. The home, which locals call the Wing House because of its contemporary design with a sweeping roof, was originally on the market for around $5.4 million. The steel, timber, concrete and glass home includes an ionized lap pool, 23-foot-high curved ceilings and terraced gardens.
After traveling through Byron Bay during a motorcycle trip when he was 17, Ned Rockman, now 45, knew he wanted to get back to the area someday. In June 2013, Mr. Rockman, who used to run an organic-foods store in Melbourne, bought a four-bedroom, three-bathroom home in Newrybar, surrounded by plantations and farmland with views of the ocean, for $1.4 million.
“When I have coffee on the veranda I pinch myself,” Mr. Rockman says. “You can’t get sick of the views.”