Where are Victoria’s empty homes? Hint: It’s not just the city

Victoria’s holiday home market has reached new heights because cashed up downsizers are buying multiple properties after selling their family home.
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As the state government moves to introduce a new tax on vacant properties in the inner city, thousands of houses remain empty in popular holiday destinations along the Mornington Peninsula, Surf Coast and Macedon Ranges.

There are 50 Victorian towns that have more vacant properties than occupied properties, according to the latest census data from the n Bureau of Statistics.

The Victorian locality with the largest portion of empty houses is Taylor Bay near Lake Eildon, where 89 per cent of private properties were unoccupied on census night. In Portsea, 1244 properties were empty, compared to just 199 that were occupied.

Vacant houses make up at least 80 per cent of property in Separation Creek, Sandy Point, Wye River, Silverleaves, Smiths Beach and Kennett River. Other areas with high numbers of holiday homes include Loch Sport, Lorne, Mount Buller, Sorrento, Blairgowrie and Venus Bay.

Usually completed on a weekday evening in August, it’s unlikely holiday homes are occupied at census time. But while the census gives a reliable indication of where vacant dwellings are concentrated, it does not explain why a property may be empty.

The property industry says the trend of baby boomers purchasing multiple properties emerged off the back of Melbourne’s exponential house price growth.

“The equity that has been created [in Melbourne] is now being borrowed against or sold to fund purchases on the coast,” says Marty Maher, a real estate agent with Great Ocean Properties.

“They’re selling the house in Camberwell, buying a unit somewhere in Melbourne and then buying something on the coast down here.” Related: Peninsula hot property for Melbourne buyersRelated: Downsizers buy Coburg house for $1.56mRelated: Where you could live outside of Melbourne

Mr Maher says the holiday home market is flourishing as empty nesters look to split their time between the city and the beach.

“They’ve been workaholics, so they couldn’t imagine doing nothing,” he says. “So they have less professional responsibility, a bit more time on the coast, some travel and an apartment in town.

“We’ve seen that over and over and over again.”

This new class of weekend warrior have driven prices up in popular holiday destinations as they vie for a limited number of houses that hit the market.

“Our biggest issue is low stock levels,” says Mr Maher. For example, Anglesea has roughly 3100 properties while Aireys Inlet has about 2000.

Research conducted in 2014 by Roy Morgan found one in 20 Melburnians owned a holiday home. This is supported by recent ABS data showing one in five households own at least one residential property other than their usual home.

Property manager Regina McInnes sold her family home and bought two inner-city apartments and a holiday house in Blairgowrie last year.

“I bought an apartment because I didn’t need the big house,” she says. “And now I’m at that stage where our children are having children and we want them to come and visit.”

Ms McInnes says her coastal property, with its garden and proximity to the beach, is better suited to “making memories” than an apartment.

“We love it. We go down almost every weekend. We go down on a Friday and come back on a Monday and go to work.”

Buyers advocate Greville Pabst, from WBP Group, says holiday home buyers are making a “lifestyle decision”.

“They’re not necessarily property investment decisions. You’re not going to, in most cases, buy … and expect to get a lot of capital gain.”

Mr Pabst says the exceptions are places like Sorrento and Portsea, which have recorded significant price growth.

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