The Australian Ranch: A Unique Lifestyle and a Smart Investment

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American country music band the Dixie Chicks said it best in “Wide Open Spaces,” a 1998 song which made them famous not only in the U.S., but on the other side of the world in Australia. They tapped into a sentiment that many busy people can relate to: a craving for time in the countryside. 

With a similar landmass to the U.S. but a population around 93% smaller, Australia has a lot of open spaces from which to choose. They include enormous cattle ranches; verdant dairy farms; olive groves and vineyards; tropical tea, coffee and fruit plantations; or simply homes built amid vast stretches of wilderness. 

Known as “acreages”—a long-standing colloquial holdout against the country’s conversion to the metric measurement system—they typically come with resident families of kangaroos, wombats and myriad other marsupials and birds. 

And at the expensive end, these properties offer more than just serenity and a space to think. They woo friends and business associates from far and wide with comfortable guesthouses, helipads or runways for fast access, and second-to-none party facilities. 

Some wealthy buyers opt simply for an amazing home in a beautiful location. But more often than not, a viable farm is part of the package, even if its management is completely delegated. Beyond the appeal of enjoying fresh produce or wines that nobody else has tried, or the fascination with having working operations on the property, there are practical reasons for this. 

Viable farms are categorized differently than established houses under Australia’s strict foreign investment regime, making it much easier to get approval for non-residents from the Foreign Investment Review Board to buy them. They also keep a property looking and feeling fresh, and bring in income that can cut into the maintenance costs. 

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“Even the bullet-proof buyer is looking for something which is going to generate some income and offset their expenses,” said Chris Meares, chief executive of real estate group Meares & Associates, which specializes in rural property and agriculture. “They don’t want a bottomless pit.” 

Some of the Best Are Now for Sale 

Australia currently has some spectacular acreages on the market, scattered across the continent in different climates and landscapes. Mr. Meares said this is partially to do with a relatively soft market for these kinds of properties. 

Australia’s biggest capitals are in the grip of a real estate slowdown, which has seen home values in Sydney and Melbourne fall more than 10% since peaking in mid-2017, driven in part by banks tightening their lending requirements. 

Drought and abnormal seasonal weather has also hit the demand for acreages, especially in eastern Australia, Mr. Meares said. 

For those in the market, this could mean less competition—an advantage because Australian regulations mandate agricultural properties be openly marketed before they are sold, leaving less scope for privately negotiated transactions. 

But Andrew Bell, CEO of the Ray White Surfers Paradise Group in Queensland, said acreages in the Gold Coast hinterland were hit by the market slowdown last year, but demand appears to have returned this year, particularly from buyers from Sydney and Melbourne looking north for solitude and space they haven’t had before. 

“Many of those interstate parties had been holding on trying to capitalize on the maximum they could achieve on their properties interstate,” Mr. Bell said. “When the market corrected last year, they had to reassess what to do and by this year they just decided to get on with life and make the move irrespective.” 

One stunning property now for sale is called Bundarbo, a 2,400-hectare (6000-acre) holding near Jugiong—a small town around 280 kilometers southwest of Sydney with a pub and a superb cafe called the Long Track Pantry. 

Listed for A$30 million (US$20.75 million), the property is that of the late media executive Sam Chisholm—who shaped Australia’s media landscape as he worked over the decades for media barons Kerry Packer and Rupert Murdoch—and his wife, Sue. 

One of the most outstanding rural properties Australia has to offer, it has 20 hectares of gardens and a 4 kilometer frontage to the iconic Murrumbidgee River. The estate also has a four-bedroom homestead dating to 1832 with a commercial kitchen, theater and separate staff quarters. 

A match at the Sydney Polo Club.

Christie’s International Real Estate

The property also has abundant guest accommodations in two self-contained three-bedroom houses, the original Bundarbo Farm Cottage and a renovated five-bedroom shearer’s quarters. A building called “the Pub” that was once a stable is now fitted out as an entertainment area for 80 to 100 guests. There are currently about 1,100 breeding cows and heifers on the property. 

On the other side of the country near Toodyay, a town about 75 kilometers northeast of Perth, another spectacular acreage called Deepdale Farm is for sale with a price guide of A$20 million. 

Owned by Denby Roberts, a private investor and daughter of the late John Roberts, who founded Australian construction giant Multiplex, the 1,558-hectare farm runs along the Avon River and has been in continuous use since the 1830s. 

It includes a four-bedroom homestead, a four-bedroom guesthouse and a manager’s residence, along with a pool, tennis court, gym, cellar and party barn. It currently has about 150 Angus breeding cows with the capacity to increase this with pasture improvement, and has a 300-tree olive grove. 

Significant buyer interest has come from overseas, according to Graham Bowie, group managing director at South Australia Sotheby’s International Realty. A group from Singapore, for example, was interested in running it as a luxury farmstead for tourists from around Asia. 

“They would be picked up from the Perth airport, taken straight to the property by helicopter and they could see sheep being shorn and join the Australian lifestyle on a farm,” Bowie said. “Not a bad idea.” 

Better If it Has a Farm 

Having a viable farm on a property is actually an advantage for overseas buyers, as it makes estates available for purchase that would otherwise be off limits due to Australia’s restrictions on foreign purchases. 

Australian regulations generally ban non-residents from purchasing existing housing stock, limiting them to new homes or apartments. But when a property is characterized as a working farm, it can be purchased subject to an approval process through the Foreign Investment Review Board. 

But the board will look closely at whether the property truly is fulfilling this role, said Marcus Clark, partner at law firm Johnson Winter & Slattery and author of the book “Foreign Investment in Australia.” 

They look at things like the proportion of land taken up by the dwelling compared to farming land, whether the buyer or the outsourced team has expertise in farming and how the purchase is structured from a taxation perspective. Hobby farms are considered dwellings and subject to the restrictions on existing housing stock. 

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“If there’s no actual current primary production business being undertaken, that’s a problem,” Mr. Clark said. “So you want to buy something with a working farm. You can also run into problems if you have multiple dwellings on a property that are beyond what would be required for an agricultural workforce.” 

Another avenue for foreign buyers is subdividing a portion of the land to create additional houses, Mr. Clark said. But this second option can depend on the location of the property, he says. “If it’s at the edge of an urban area, it may be viable,” Mr. Clark said. “But if you’re looking at a large property in the middle of nowhere, that could be difficult.” 

A Wide Range of Landscapes 

Acreages are as varied as the Australian landscape itself. In picturesque Gerringong on the New South Wales south coast, a 40-hectare oceanfront property with grazing pastures is on the market. 

Owner Robby Ingham, a fashion pioneer and heir to the Inghams chicken business, and his wife, Sarah, are hoping for more than A$8 million. Ray White Gerringong agents Neil Campbell and Roirda Harper have the listing. 

In Australia’s lush tropical north near Port Douglas, broker Barbara Wolveridge—Sotheby’s director for Tropical North Queensland—is marketing a three-bedroom home plus one-bedroom guest-house sitting on four acres of gardens and five acres of natural rainforest, seeking A$3.25 million. 

Christie’s International Real Estate broker Ken Jacobs has marketed and sold a number of high-end acreages, and now has the listing for the 116-hectare Sydney Polo Club in Richmond, Western Sydney, with an asking price of A$75 million. 

It is hard to generalize what aspects buyers are looking for in these kinds of properties. 

Mr. Bell said there is often greater demand for properties where the owner can drive to the coast within 15 or 20 minutes, and flat land for equestrian use or cattle grazing is a plus. Having plenty of trees or even a small creek tends to play into the dream many have of living in the bush. 

Mr. Jacobs said demand tends to be higher for properties within a two-or-three-hour-drive from a capital city, but some buyers will want a property far from the city and access it by plane or helicopter. 

Australia’s stable governance and proximity to the powerhouse economies of Asia, along with other factors like terrorism in Europe, are among the motivations he sees regularly in buyers, he said.

“The single biggest requirement is separation from people, to give yourself that sense of space and not have your neighbors watching your every move,” Mr. Jacobs said. 

And for those pursuing farming options, getting your hands dirty is not a requirement for owning an acreage. Graham Bowie, broker for the above-mentioned Deepdale Farm, said many already have a farming team in place that can continue operations under the new owner. 

“I would say you don’t have to be terribly interested in farming,” Mr. Bowie said. “This particular property has farm managers who look after it for the current owners who are not living on site.”

This article originally appeared on Mansion Global .



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