The downturn in Melbourne's property market looks likely to settle in for a while - so is this good or bad for Ballarat?
On a positive note for homeowners, the slowdown shows no sign of spreading here. Prices are still increasing steadily in most areas of the city, with demand increasing in places - such as Sebastopol and Ballarat East - that had historically lagged behind.
All sectors of the market, from first-time buyer homes to high end properties, are "buoyant", according to three estate agents who spoke to The Courier.
There is also strong evidence of a shifting demographic in the city as more and more people from Melbourne either move to or invest in Ballarat homes. One suburb, Alfredton, has welcomed more than 700 new residents in the past year alone, new Australian Bureau of Statistics suggest.
According to the REIV, the slowdown in Victoria's biggest city is not likely to filter out to the regions for the moment.
The number of sales in Ballarat may have dipped in 2018 compared to a bumper 2017, but it was still up by around 11 per cent compared to 2016 (2,682 compared to 2,403). That reflected the trend in other comparable regional cities, and in fact showed a faster rate of growth than greater Geelong. In Melbourne sales were down by 23 per cent in the same period.
Prices in Ballarat too have performed very strongly during the same time, with the median selling price of a house in the city rising by 19 per from $325,000 in 2016 to $387,000 last year.
The CEO of REIV Gil King cited uncertainty and tighter lending standards having an effect in Melbourne, with owners more likely to hold off putting their homes on the market.
"On the flip side of that, the property market in regional Victoria is bucking that trend," he told The Courier.
"This could be due to a range of factors including affordability, flexible working arrangements, improved infrastructure and services and a more relaxed lifestyle."
It's an assessment that chimes with Tony Douglass, a director at Hocking Stuart, who believes there is currently a tale of two markets in Australia: a decline in the big cities and a much more positive robust market in regional areas.
"Certainly regionally, we're seeing a higher demand for all types of property," he said.
He also said in Ballarat 48 per cent of properties they handled came from out of town buyers, mostly from Melbourne. With a shift in the city's demographics, he also predicted there would be a change in the way property was used in the centre - and that interest in in-fill in central properties was likely to increase.
Areas such as Sebastopol and Ballarat East, which may in the past have lagged behind, are not lagging behind nowRon Morrison of Ballarat Real Estate
"Shop fronts with apartments above will become more popular," he predicted, saying they would appeal both for people looking to downsize and Melbourne buyers looking to live near the CBD. The Mayor of Ballarat Samantha McIntosh earlier this week also suggested this as an area that could be developed to allow more people to live in the CBD as the population increases.
For Ron Morrison of Ballarat Real Estate the central area is still the most in-demand area for buyers as is traditional - but he said other parts of the city were now much busier.
"Areas such as Sebastopol and Ballarat East, which may in the past have lagged behind, are not lagging behind now," he said, also citing inner Wendouree as an area where buyers were showing a lot of interest.
Ben Halsall of Buxton suggested a variety of factors at play in Ballarat's rising market, including low unemployment, affordability, investment such the Ballarat GovHub, as well as accessible healthcare and education. He also said that demand could accelerate further if the city succeeds in improving its rail links with Melbourne.
As far as he is concerned, the outlook for the property market in this area remains bright. "A lot of the indicators are still very positive," he said. "We hope that will continue."
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