Australian dream still strong for UK buyers

Despite the weak state of the pound, British interest in Antipodean property has soared over the dark winter months. Alison Shepherd reports
Click to follow

Yearning for warmer climes and year-long barbecues, and has been the lot of many northern Europeans as we struggle through the dark, cold days of winter. Now more of us are no longer satisfied with the fantasy, and are taking steps to turn it into a permanent reality.

In the past two months, searches on the Rightmove Overseas website increased by more than 50 per cent, with traditional "emigration destinations" leading the way, with searches for homes in New Zealand rising by 91 per cent, and in Canada by 80 per cent. But the biggest rise was for property in Australia, which increased by a massive 114 per cent.

"We always see a pick-up in January and February of 'dreamers' visiting the site," says Robin Wilson, the head of Rightmove Overseas. "But nothing on this scale before. It is also noticeable that searches for white-village properties in countries like Spain and Portugal are down on previous years. People seem to be moving towards wanting more authentic destinations."

Which country's properties attract attention is closely correlated to national and world events, Mr Wilson said. "I suspect when we review this month's figures searches, New Zealand will be down, following the earthquake, while those for Australia may well be up again after a series of TV programmes on relocating there."

But, whatever the January dreams, by Easter interest will decline, says Mr Wilson, as the reality of transporting your family and your worldly goods loses its appeal. That, and discovering that your money probably won't go as far as you might have hoped. The strong Australian dollar aligned with a weakened sterling means that you will get less for your pound. Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Canberra and Adelaide are in the top 100 most expensive cities in the world to live, according to Mercer's 2010 Cost of Living Survey. So unless you are moving from London, the only UK city with comparable costs, you will feel the pinch.

A quick search on Rightmove Overseas shows that £246,000, the average house price in the UK, could buy you a one-bed apartment in Melbourne city centre. Admittedly, it is in a luxury new-build complex, but widening the search to the state of Victoria brings up only off-plan three-bed bungalows. To get a whiff of sea breeze and the smell of barbecued prawns you are looking at considerably more for a family-sized home.

House prices are rising in Australia, as the country has proved to be more recession-proof than most. Prices in the first quarter of 2010 rose 18.8 per cent, according to Paul Collins, the editor of, which offers advice on all things related to overseas property purchases. "These rises have since stalled a little and recent data from the RP Data Rismark Index show prices rising by just 1.2 per cent in the year to January," he said.

But the increase has led analysts to fear that Australia may be caught in a property bubble. If that bubble were to burst, Britons fleeing to Australia to escape austerity here may find they have jumped into the fire, particularly those looking for work. But, on the plus side, mortgages are still relatively easy to obtain, with most lenders offering 80 per cent loans for non-residents and up to 95 per cent when you obtain permanent residency.

To be eligible for a working visa for Australia you need to be on one of the state lists of prescribed occupations, mainly skilled tradesmen, healthcare workers, engineers and IT technicians, that are in demand, with points awarded to those that are most needed. There are also points for your youth and English language abilities.

Visas are broken down into four main categories: residence, temporary residence, migration and visitor. Temporary residents tend to be skilled migrants who can live in Australia for four years, usually after receiving sponsorship. Alternatively, the investor retirement visa allows people over the age of 55 to stay for up to four years by investing at least A$500,000 (£312,500) into their chosen state.

Once you have jumped through the visa hoops, and have arrived in Australia, you may need to get permission from the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) before you can purchase a property, unless you wait to become a citizen or a permanent resident. "Some new builds. or rural homes are exempt from this requirement," says Mr Collins, "But your solicitor will be able to advise you on individual properties and the process of gaining the permission."

Don't forget to include the fees that always accrue when house buying. Mr Collins suggests that you add another 5 per cent to the purchase price for the various bits of red tape: land transfer registration fee, which varies from state to state; legal fees, which generally range between A$500 and A$1,200; mortgage application fee; local tax; a survey, which will cost in the region of A$500 and buildings insurance.

And if the high cost of living and the recent weather disasters have not destroyed your winter daydreams, Mr Collins has one more word of advice. "If you are determined to make the move, you will find the whole application process easier if you employ the services of a professional immigration consultant who knows how to deal with the myriad small, but important, cultural and legal differences that you will face."

Case Study

Nic Barnard, Communications officer

"Buying a house in Melbourne was one of the most terrifying things I've done. The vast majority of houses are sold at auction; on a Saturday, in the street, in front of the house you're trying to buy," said Nic (pictured with his partner, Ann Tanket). "They can attract dozens of people – nosey neighbours, estate agents, developers, families gauging the market, plus potential buyers. But, no one knows who they are until they stick their hands up to bid."

There's no cooling off period. It's straight into the house to sign the contract and hand over a 10 per cent deposit. "We bid for three houses in the end," said Nic. "The final one was a three-bed detached Victorian home in North Fitzroy. I'd hardly given a thought to it because the price was close to our limit, and I turned up not really expecting to buy it. But when the only other bidder threw in the towel, we were $25,000 above the top of the range. I was shaking as I signed the contract."

Looking for credit card or current account deals? Search here