Property managers predict this winter will be the busiest ever for Sydney’s northern beaches holiday house market as cooped up Sydneysiders make the area their weekend playground.
They also report Christmas bookings are being made at an unprecedented rate, fuelling fears of a holiday home shortage.
Premium stock is already running dry with many owners who would normally travel and put their houses on the short-term rental market staying put this year.
Meanwhile, there’s increased buyer interest in holiday homes when normally they are the first asset to be liquidated during a recession.
But, as we are all discovering, COVID is different.
Maranda McLaren, Director of Cushie.com, says weekend bookings post-COVID are at record levels.
“June, July, August are definitely usually the quieter months but since travel restrictions have eased, we are getting a lot more weekend traffic than normal,” McLaren says.
“A lot of them are Sydney locals from the eastern and western suburbs who are sick of being at home and just want to get out for a couple of days, to get a break.
“We’re pretty much booked out every weekend, which is unheard of at this time of year. “
Betina King confirms that winter business has never been better.
“Normally in July it’s like trying to rent out a ski chalet in summer,” says King, who manages up to 30 properties around Whale and Palm Beach.
But not this year.
“Everyone’s feeling a little trapped and they want to mix it up a bit, they want to pack up and explore and ride their bikes, fish, walk and get off the screens and do some puzzles, cook and do all the things they’ve lost touch with.”
Matt Fleming, CEO, Contemporary Hotels, also reports strong demand – part of a broader trend which has seen Sydneysiders embrace holiday destinations within an easy drive of the city.
“The weekend trade from Palm Beach to the Southern Highlands since early June has been 100% in terms of occupancy and we expect that to continue should we not get any major shocks,” Fleming says.
Most popular are (relatively) small homes with all the trimmings – a pool, a sauna, a media room – so guests can relax onsite and stay contained, away from other people.
Fleming adds that that a couple of his Sydney owners, whose properties Contemporary Hotels manage when they travel, have bought holiday homes.
“They can’t go to Aspen so they’re buying a house instead.”
Peter Robinson from LJ Hooker Avalon says bookings are pouring in for both winter weekends away and the Christmas holidays.
He says on a recent weekend his business had 62 bookings compared with 12 for the same time last year.
“The market has really switched on from a holiday rental perspective and we think we’re going to have the busiest period we’ve ever had at the end of this year,” says Robinson.
“Quality homes up here have never had such demand and we think we’ll be struggling to find properties in the next couple of months that will be available over Christmas because people are staying home.”
Robinson says he is concerned about stock levels due to the early booking onslaught and staff are scouting for new properties to fill the expected void.
“We’re taking bookings consistently at the moment when it’s usually been much later in the year.
Robinson adds that buyer interest in premium holiday homes in Avalon, North Avalon, Clareville Newport is at all-time levels.
Betina King says there’s “huge, huge demand” for Christmas bookings and that one country family had just booked a Palm Beach home for two weeks at $20,000 a week.
“I’ve probably got two properties left – the rest are booked out.”
King is also wary that other owners she could normally call on will want to stay in their own home, hurting stock levels.
Maranda McLean from Cushie.com concurs.
“Clients that are usually calling me from now to the end of September to get their house on the market because they are doing that international trip, are not doing it this year.”
And while business is good, for now, her business was hard hit by the January bushfires, which had a “huge impact on tourism in this area and no-one talks out loud about it.
“You’d drive around Avalon, the cafés were empty, the restaurants were empty, there was hardly any cars around.
“And then we had COVID, so for some of us there’s a lot of catching up to do.”