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Whitsundays, Hamilton Island and Airlie Beach are enjoying the sun

By Mark Beale

The early signs of an improving Whitsundays property market may have been subtle, but Hamilton Island developer Nigel Moore says he was ready for them.

First up, sales of luxury yachts by the once troubled brand Riviera began to gather pace. Next, new property sales in southeast Queensland’s holiday heartland of the Gold Coast picked up, followed by the Sunshine Coast. That’s when Moore knew it was time to head north.

“They’re clear indicators that the type of buyers attracted to our market were spending again; people were back buying toys,” Moore says.

He is not even troubled by the $60 billion sharemarket rout this week, saying: “We have ridden these tides before, it might give us a bump, that’s about it.”

Backing himself, Moore purchased north-facing beachfront land on Hamilton Island overlooking Dent Passage, in preparation for the island’s first new development in almost 10 years.

“I suppose it was an educated guess that comes from knowing who your market is after building there for 17 years,” he says. He previously developed Hamilton Island’s Shoreline, Pinnacles and Panorama buildings.

The 22 apartments in Hidden Cove went to market in April. Priced from $980,000, the luxury units are to have ocean views and an emphasis on privacy.

Hamilton Island Real Estate principal Wayne Singleton says all but four apartments have since sold and the entry-level price has increased to $1.24 million, putting its value at $7000 a square metre, near the island’s 2007 peak.

Despite Hamilton Island’s integrated tourist resort status, which negates the need for overseas residents to seek Foreign Investment Review Board approval on purchases, interest is predominantly flowing from Australia’s southern states.

“A lot of people are making serious money or are realising a lot of equity in their homes and are looking north for a lifestyle investment,” Singleton says.

“People are looking for a second home and the rental returns have been extremely healthy as the Australian dollar has come down. Plus you have to take your hat off to the Oatley family (Hamilton Island’s owners) for building a bigger, stronger and better brand.

“Hamilton Island looks amazing; they’ve resurfaced all the roads, the gardens are immaculate, there are new amenities and the power supply has improved. It has really helped lift the bar.”

Singleton says this has been a year of month-on-month sales records, with $22m worth of real estate sold in July and August.

Rental returns also have improved and the island’s occupancy rate is consistently above 80 per cent, unharmed by the reopening of nearby competitor Hayman Island.

A spate of premium and high-quality homes on Hamilton Island and the Whitsunday mainland at Airlie Beach also have been listed in the past two months.

Altronics founder Jack O’Donnell and his wife Lynette Leonie are selling their spacious Melaleuca Drive home, No City Limits, after 13 years.

The electronics businessman with a penchant for kite surfing and speed boating says it takes 1½ days of travel to reach Hamilton Island from his Perth base, compared with a 4½ -hour flight to their second home in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

Gracing the top of a 30m cliff, with a rear entertainment deck with 180-degree ocean views, the Chris Beckingham-designed home sits between George Harrison’s former estate and the palatial holiday home belonging to Cotton On millionaire founder Nigel Austin.

Offers of more than $6m will be considered for the property, which occupies almost 3000sq m of land and features five bedrooms and an open-plan layout with extensive use of natural timbers and stonework.

“Chris has got a knack of integrating the indoor and outdoor space and anything he designs sits so comfortable within its environment,” O’Donnell says. “It’s a breathtaking location. It provides solitude, and that’s a major attraction — to get away from an otherwise chaotic life with lots of commitments.”

In the two months since it was first listed a “healthy” number of genuine offers have been made, according to Singleton, who says confidence is improving as buyers look for better value outside Melbourne and Sydney.

“The wave is certainly coming up the coast. We see improvements in Brisbane and the Gold Coast, and we generally lag behind by about 12 months,” he says.

Queensland Waterfront agent Mark Meallin has three of the region’s highest profile prestige listings in the Whitsundays, ranging from $7m to a heavily discounted $19.9m.

Mandalay House is listed in conjunction with Gold Coast Sotheby’s International Realty agent Carol Carter. The grandiose 2649sq m Mediterranean-style house took more than three years to build and originally was listed for $25m by owner-developer Neil Murray.

Heaven’s Gate, a six-bedroom eco-friendly home on 1450sq m at 860 Gloucester Avenue, Hideaway Bay, also has been listed with Gold Coast Sotheby’s International Realty and Queensland Waterfront, and carries $10m price expectations.

Mechanical engineer Ian Bishop and his wife Missy, who bought the property in 2006 for more than $4m, are reluctant vendors as they downsize.

Newly listed Botanica House, which owners Janet and Ralph Hogan have made into a wedding destination since building the property in 2008, has received offers in the four weeks since it was listed with Meallin and joint agent Ray White Whitsundays.

Expressions of interest of more than $7m are being sought, with a leaseback of $300,000 a year in place until the completion of the final booking in December next year.

“We’ve experienced a 10-fold increase in inquiry on properties worth $2m or more in the past 12 months,” Meallin says. “For the overseas-based buyers out of the US, UK and China, the Whitsundays represent great value. For many Australians, they holidayed here or they’re coming back to fulfil a dream.”

Despite the rising median price, many prestige homes are being sold below replacement cost.

“The values are definitely improving at the top end,” Meallin says.

“There are more buyers on the ground and provided there are no major global events I think we’ll see a 10 per cent increase in values in the next year.”

Additional reporting: Lisa Allen

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