Finance Property Beware the pitfalls of that sea-change dream Updated:

Beware the pitfalls of that sea-change dream

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As the capital-city real estate market begins to falter, time-poor but asset-rich residents of suburban homes across the country might be dreaming of an easier life in a pretty rural town.

Is it time to make that sea or a tree change, while the market is still in reasonable shape? Could a quick sale be the key to a carefree and mortgage-free life breathing in the sea air?

Real Estate Buyers Advocates’ Association president Rich Harvey said it might be a good idea – but it depends on your particular circumstances.

“Especially for those with property in the Sydney or Melbourne markets, where there’s been so much growth in the past five years, to get maximum return,” he said. “I wouldn’t be suggesting it for those in smaller markets where there hasn’t been that same growth.”

Such a plan might particularly suit those in an older demographic who have paid off their city houses. But the fundamentals for other buyers – such as first home-buyers – remained the same, Mr Harvey said.

Rural life has many attractions. Photo: AAP

Identifying a sea or tree change investment opportunity does not guarantee it is a brilliant bargain.

“You have to be really careful about following the herd,” he said. “Those [non-metro] areas aren’t going to rocket up like they have in Melbourne or Sydney.’’

He said property prices would continue to be driven by the same forces they always had been – population pressure and a lack of housing supply. Buyers leaving the big smoke for a rural lifestyle should also ensure they were near a major centre with a hospital, airport and employment opportunities.

“If you buy in an area with a lot of available land then that could be zoned and developed and you suddenly have an oversupply of housing stock,” he said.

Real estate website has identified popular and emerging tree and sea change towns and city-fringe suburbs.

Among them is the affordable town of Seymour, on the Hume Freeway 104 kilometres north of Melbourne, where median prices have jumped 40.4 per cent from $225,000 three years ago to $316,000.

Meanwhile, in the once-sleepy town of Umina Beach, 85 kilometres north of Sydney, median house price rose 54.4 per cent from $480,000 to $741,000 in the same period.

But Seymour and Umina Beach offer very different lifestyles. Umina Beach is on a beautiful coast, only 15 kilometres from the major centre of Gosford, whereas Seymour is a more utilitarian town surrounded by farmland.

In both areas, price rises have been driven by buyers escaping the soaring property markets in Sydney and Melbourne. It seems more likely that will continue in Umina Beach than in Seymour – the NSW town is an attractive lifestyle choice for buyers seeking a sea change.

Umina Beach real estate agent Ricky Zappavigna, of Central Coast Realty, grew up in the area and said it was now more cosmopolitan, with a growing population of young couples forced out of the Sydney market.

“The train from Woy Woy [five kilometres away] is one hour and 20 minutes to Sydney and many buyers are choosing to commute,’’ he said.

NorthConnex, the tunnel that will link Sydney’s M1 and M2 motorways, will cut driving time to the city when it is completed in 2019.

Mr Zappavigna said older Umina Beach locals had taken advantage of rising prices in the past three years to sell and settle further north, where it is cheaper to buy.

It seems that, while Sydney keeps on growing, one sea or tree change begets another.