PHOTO: Coonamble real estate agents say there is a distinct lack of suitable housing availability in town, particularly for people looking for rental options.
By OLIVER BROWN
THE INCREASE in people moving to rural areas for work opportunities is not being matched by suitable rental housing in Coonamble and this situation is made worse by the lack of locally-based property management services, according to those in the real estate industry.
At a recent forum held by the Australian Local Government Association, the role of country towns in leading job recovery was highlighted, though it was acknowledged that councils need to work with larger government bodies to tackle more crucial issues like a shortage of suitable housing options.
In smaller towns any shortage of properties is complicated by other factors such as lack of private investment in new builds or no professional property management services outside of public housing.
Meeting market expectations
Coonamble currently has no rental property managers in town, which real estate agent Fiona Foodey from Halcroft and Bennett said normally comes as a surprise for people who move to the area for work.
“Pretty frequently – probably at least two or three times a week – people will come in here looking for rental options, which we don’t offer – they’re pretty shocked but real estate is only a small part of this business,” Ms Foodey said.
Halcroft and Bennet mainly focus on property sales but Mrs Foodey says they do offer limited management services for government-subsidised houses made available for rotating teachers and police.
She believes another service offering rental options for the general public would be welcome.
Private rentals are far more common in Coonamble, according to Ms Foodey, with many property owners citing previous bad experiences with property managers as a reason to go it alone.
“There was one here before, but I don’t think they did their job properly,” she said.
“It would be great if we had a decent property manager in town – there is a market for it, but they’d have to be strong person to do that kind of job, especially with the properties we’ve got available in the area.”
“We need more better (standard) properties for families to get them out here – a lot of families are looking for a two bedroom, two bathroom home which is hard to get in Coonamble.”
Lack of local options
Despite this, Ms Foodey said she wouldn’t define the situation a crisis, rather a shortage of available listings across the board, not just in rental properties.
Gilgandra-based real estate agent Katherine Gaff says she does manage around 50 properties in the Coonamble area.
Ms Gaff agreed that there was a definite lack of housing options in Coonamble.
She said current availability was likely at one of its lowest points in a long time.
“It’s really low at the moment – probably the lowest it’s been in years – the one vacancy we’ve had in a while only happened recently,” she said.
“It does make it hard for (people who move out there for work) – I would recommend anyone moving to Coonamble for work to call ahead – we can’t predict availability but if we know they’re looking, we can keep them in mind.”
However, Ms Gaff acknowledged this can be hard for some people who end up staying in short-term accommodation like motels or caravan parks which can prove expensive while they get to know the area and tap into the word of mouth network.
Making do in Gular
The shortage is not limited to the Coonamble township. David Frazier from the Gulargambone Caravan Park said he occasionally sees a new person arrive in town and have to live at his park for a period of time while trying to find a long-term option.
“There is a shortage at times and we don’t offer long-term vacancies – we’re more of a tourist park,” Mr Frazier said.
“The trouble is that there’s a lot of older houses here (in Gular) that get derelict.
“When you do look around town, there are quite a few empty houses, but they’ve fallen in such disrepair that there’s often no point in doing anything to them.”
Mr Frazier said they usually “make-do” without a full-time real estate agent in town, using personal connections to track down people with vacancies in private properties.
Coonamble Chamber of Commerce Co-President Lee O’Connor says while renters struggle along the problem is not going away.
“The limitations on the local property market make it hard for would-be renters and also reduce the ability of employers to attract the staff they need,” she said.
“With the workforce shortage getting critical right across the west, we will need to think about getting proactive on this issue in our local area.”