Welcome to the surf town with no empty rentals - it's at COVID capacity
The pandemic has brought on a property boom for surf towns as cashed-up city dwellers make a sea change. But while that is great for homeowners selling at high prices, it has created a nightmare for some renters.
Data supplied to ABC News by CoreLogic shows just how slim the availability of rental homes has become in several key coastal regions, including Byron Bay, Newcastle and the Gold Coast.
Demand has risen so far beyond supply that there is almost nothing sitting empty for potential renters.
Victoria's Surf Coast is the most impacted and has an official rental vacancy rate of zero.
The strip of coast an hour from Melbourne includes popular surf towns Torquay, Jan Juc and Anglesea.
Its rental market is always tight during the summer months as people flock to the beach.
But local real estate agent Simon Bogdanov said in the last four months there had been a "staggering increase in property demand" from Melbourne residents making a COVID sea change.
"The incoming enquiry level and applications from prospective tenants wanting to make the sea change has been overwhelming at times for our rental team," Mr Bogdanov said.
"Rentals are being snapped up in a matter of hours from being advertised.
"There is a 0 per cent vacancy rate. The last time this happened was over 30 years ago."
Another local real estate agent, Kellie Papworth, told ABC News that another factor putting pressure on vacancy rates was that some people who normally leased out their homes over summer were not doing this during the pandemic.
"Residents were also not taking risks to buy investments or upsize or move around, therefore creating fewer leasing opportunities," Ms Papworth said.
"We also saw a lot of tenants' employment affected by inability to travel internationally and ski fields being closed, resulting in those tenants needing to find alternate accommodation quickly."
It's not just the rental market that's getting more competitive.
CoreLogic data shows Surf Coast houses sold for almost 6 per cent more on average in December 2020 than they did one year earlier in December 2019.
That has officially pushed the region's average house price over the $1 million mark.
The situation is, of course, great for landlords who can rent out their homes easily and sell houses at high prices.
But it has also created a situation where some renters are giving up hope.
'It's utterly disheartening'
Serena Leitmanis and her partner both grew up on the Surf Coast and love its relaxed coastal lifestyle.
They moved to the regional city of Geelong, a 30-minute drive away, a few years ago to chase their careers but had always planned to move back near family and have a child enrolled at a school on the Surf Coast.
When they started looking at rentals midway through 2020, they quickly realised the rental market had escalated to new heights.
"Five years ago we were living in Jan Juc paying $270 [a week] for a house. Now we're lucky to get a non-renovated bedroom for $500 [a week]," she said.
"We've just stopped applying at this point because it's become too expensive.
"It's so competitive now.
"It's really utterly disheartening and we can't get home. It's breaking my heart."
Another locally born-and-bred single mother, who didn't want to be identified, told ABC News she had to move back in with her parents in Jan Juc after her Surf Coast rental lease ended and she could not find another one.
"It's always hard to find a house here but this is worse," she said.
"I'm not even bothering to look because there's just nothing. I don't have a huge budget and prices are increasing."
Another local single father whose Surf Coast lease ended just before Christmas told ABC News he had to move into a caravan on his friend's property because he could not find a new rental.
"Locals like myself are being forced into temporary emergency accommodation like my caravan situation," he said.
"I just don't feel very safe and secure and it's starting to take a toll on my physical and mental health.
"It's just totally unfair."
Some renters are frustrated after having homes that they were living in sold over summer to sea changers, putting them in a precarious position.
Some long-term locals are angry and feel they are not being prioritised for rentals.
Others worry that the relaxed nature of the region will be lost forever if locals are priced out of the region by sea changers.
"I now call it Toorak by the sea," one local said.
Ms Leitmanis compared the situation to when Byron Bay boomed and all the long-term locals moved inland into the more affordable Hinterland.
"The culture will change and that's a real shame," she said.
Frustrating situation for sea changers
But nobody technically owns a lifestyle, as much as locals would like to.
And if sea changers have the money to buy in to the Surf Coast, then the sky is the limit.
However, some are not in a position to do this and the rental squeeze is seeing some people from out of the region go into precarious arrangements too.
After enduring Victoria's two lockdowns, Jane Macdonald and her partner are so keen to leave Melbourne for the Surf Coast, they are taking a chance with a two-month lease.
"We've been excited to move to the Surf Coast, but since October we've watched rental availability dry up," Ms Macdonald said.
"At times it's felt quite hopeless.
"Networking with the local community helped us find a short-term lease with a private landlord. People have been really lovely.
"Fingers crossed we land a rental long-term!"
Speaking to the ABC earlier this week, CoreLogic analyst Tim Lawless said the substantial rise in property prices in regional Australia during the pandemic could see many town's affordability decline.
At least on Victoria's Surf Coast, that issue is already leading to heated debate.
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