BOOM TOWN: 154 Witt St in Berserker is an accurate sample of the average Rockhampton rental according to McGrath Real Estate’s portfolio. A house like this is now one of the region’s hottest commodities. Picture: Contributed
BOOM TOWN: 154 Witt St in Berserker is an accurate sample of the average Rockhampton rental according to McGrath Real Estate’s portfolio. A house like this is now one of the region’s hottest commodities. Picture: Contributed

BOOMING: What's driving the Rockhampton rental surge?

A MARKET surge may be the last thing you would expect in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, but according to vendors and industry leaders the rental market is booming.

With vacancy rates as low as 1.4 per cent in Rockhampton and 1.2 per cent in Livingstone, agents say they haven't seen traffic like this since pre-2014.

McGrath Real Estate Rockhampton and Capricorn Coast's Principal Todd Brandon
McGrath Real Estate Rockhampton and Capricorn Coast's Principal Todd Brandon Contributed

Todd Brandon from McGrath Rockhampton has recorded a huge spike in enquiries and applications when comparing March 2019 to March 2020, and in turn, rental prices are increasing across the board.

In March 2019, the business recorded 921 rental enquiries but this March 1627 prospective renters enquired about properties.

"There are definitely more people enquiring and making applications for properties," Mr Brandon said.

"When rents were dropping and there was a better offer down the street, people would literally choose to move down the street to save $20 or $30 a week, now we're seeing tenants say it's too expensive to move, we'd prefer to just stay where we're at."

Monthly rental applications at McGrath had jumped from 115 to 155 and the average price comparison had risen from $270 in March 2019 to $314 this March.

Mr Brandon said the "gut feeling" of the situation was that people were moving to the region for job potential associated with upcoming major projects.

"The gut feeling is there are an increased amount of people moving to Rockhampton for work and so on - that segment of the market has increased as opposed to 12 months ago," he said.

"There is a lot of pipeline work for our region and that will continue to bring people to town, when more people move to town it becomes more competitive."

According to Mr Brandon, most properties turned around in four weeks and were vacant for less than two weeks.

However prosperous the highly competitive market may be for those holding the portfolios, Mr Brandon warned the market could be tough for renters.

"We're talking about a 10 per cent drop in supply and significant rise in demand so it is becoming more competitive for tenants getting into the market - there's no doubt about that," he said.

"But for tenants finding it difficult, that's where it becomes important to make sure you're a good tenant and get those good referees, do the right thing in your previous home - that's really important.

"But we do have really affordable rents here compared to the rest of the state."

Mary Carroll, CEO of Capricorn Enterprise.
Mary Carroll, CEO of Capricorn Enterprise. Kerry Kerr

A March report from Capricorn Enterprise found the rental surge associated with people moving to the region was ringing true - and had been for a while.

The Rockhampton Regional Council population increased by 461 people, taking the city's total to 81,512 between June 2018 and June 2019 - the biggest population spike in five years.

The Capricorn Coast also proved a popular sea change destination with an additional 449 people moving to the Livingstone Shire in this period, taking the total population to 38,078.

The report attributed the larger than normal population growth to major public infrastructure and commercial projects, including the Shoalwater Bay Remediation Project and Australian Singapore Military Training Initiative, Highway upgrades, Rookwood Weir, Clark Creek Wind and Solar Farm and Rockhampton Ring Road.

Members of 16th Regiment armed with their RBS-70 watch over the battle field as two US Army Apache Attack helicopters demonstrate their capability at Shoalwater Bay Training Area in Central Queensland.
Members of 16th Regiment armed with their RBS-70 watch over the battle field as two US Army Apache Attack helicopters demonstrate their capability at Shoalwater Bay Training Area in Central Queensland. SGT W. Guthrie

CEO of Capricorn Enterprise Mary Carroll hoped more people moving to the region would assist in increasing business confidence amid the unknown future presented to businesses during these uncertain times.

"It is promising to see both the Capricorn Coast and Rockhampton communities growing in numbers again, and more people appreciating the towns, natural surroundings, amenities and easy lifestyle that our destination has to offer - we are lucky to live in a pretty special place."

Alternatively, as the COVID-19 pandemic exposes vulnerabilities in the mining and resources sector associated with fly-in, fly-out workforces, some are hinting a living within driving distance to mines may be an appealing (and potentially long-term) model.

Earlier this month, Resources Minister Keith Pitt told The Australian Financial Review COVID-19 would prompt mining and energy companies to permanently reduce FIFO workers in favour of those who live close to mines.

Mr Pitt said while extremely remote projects like offshore oil rigs would continue to FIFO, many workforce changes prompted by the pandemic may not be reversed.

SAFETY: New authority will be up and running from July 1.
SAFETY: New authority will be up and running from July 1.

Queensland Resource Council CEO Ian Macfarlane said the mines were currently in the process of relocating workforces.

"Companies are doing everything they can to reduce the rate of FIFO into regional communities in response to the COVID-19 outbreak," he said.

"Interstate FIFO has been cut by almost 70 per cent, (less than) 1000 workers and where possible, companies are re-positioning southern Queensland and interstate workers within driving range of the mines and gas fields."

However, he was hesitant to speculate whether the current measures were likely to be long term.

"We can talk about long- term FIFO alternatives ... when the COVID-19 situation is under control and workers aren't worried about how they'll feed their families if they lose their job," he said.

There were more than 550 mining jobs advertised on Seek.com in CQ.

Todd's tips for a winning rental Application

- Be aware of what you can afford . Your rent should be no more than one third of the household income.

- Keep a clean rental history and take good care of your current property if you're planning to make a move to another.

- Get a good written reference from the previous landlord - this has a big weighting on what the new owner will decide.