Mixed feelings on the Grantham land swap

Mixed feelings on the Grantham land swap

Posted on Thursday, January 12 2012 at 3:46 PM

This week signalled one year since Grantham, in Queensland, was ravaged by flash flooding. In this time a new town has resurfaced just up over the hill from the old town, with sweeping vistas and flood-free land. Some locals say it’s an exciting fresh start while others say the land swap deal by the government could have been fairer.

Miles uphill from the increasingly abandoned old Grantham town to where the new land lots have been distributed in a Lockyer Valley Regional Council ballot system – an Australian-first land-swap deal – a couple of houses have already been relocated, a handful are under construction and one has recently been completed, according to Herron Todd White Toowoomba director Bradley Neill.

However Neill said the matter is quite complicated because while the majority of property owners participating in the land swap appear content, others would have preferred to have been offered the opportunity to sell their block back to the council for the value their block was worth pre-flood, rather than be offered a flood-free block in exchange for their flood-ravaged one.

Others couldn’t afford to relocate or rebuild, even with the government funds available, said Neill.

Then, of course, there were those who weren’t given their preferred block of land.

“Some blocks have steeper sloping contours so it might be more difficult to build a slab home than other blocks,” said Neill.

The Lockyer Valley Regional Council reported that 49 per cent of the 72 flood-affected Grantham families participating in the independent ballot were granted their first choice of land lot; 75 per cent of participants were granted their top three preferences, and 85 per cent received their top five preferences.

Of the 105 flood-free blocks offered for exchange, sizes ranged from 1000 square metres, to 2000 square metres, up to 4000 square metres and 10,000 square metres, reported the council.

Neill said there are no sales through yet to provide an accurate valuation on how much higher the new land lots will be valued at compared to the old Grantham blocks.

“However in theory if they moved their flood-affected dwelling up to the new block it should be worth more than when it was sitting in old Grantham,” said Neill.

The same applies to the valuations of the flood-affected blocks recently handed over to the council, said Neill. “There’s only been two flood-affected dwellings bought by a local; one of the blocks was in front of his own property so he bought it for $92,500, pre-flood it was valued at around $200,000.”

Elders Gatton principal Barry Niemeyer said that “considering the blocks have elevation, views and no possible flooding”, it’s very likely they’ll be valued higher than the blocks in the flood-affected areas of Gatton.

Like Neill, Niemeyer said that until a block is sold in the new area it’s only going to be “a guessing game”.

Allison Graham of Gatton Real Estate said her agency recently listed one of the exchanged, elevated blocks for sale; it’s a 2020-square-metre vacant block and the asking price is $118,000.

Graham said the council had already set the new value on the rates notice at around the $130,000 to $140,000 mark.

A similar size vacant block “on the flat” with services pre-flood would have been valued at around the $90,000 mark, she said.

Niemeyer’s real estate agency in Gatton has taken a good proportion of Grantham flood-affected families onto its rental list and said the pressure on rental demand in nearby Gatton has been enormous.

He said when the families do move onto their new land lots the pressure will be eased a little, particularly important at a time when the first stage of the new Gatton prison was just opened last week, signalling the arrival of 350 prisoners and the 1.5 jobs per prisoner they’re expected to generate in the town.

“This new stage will drive demand for 600 dwellings. On my rent roll I have 280 properties and only four are currently vacant,” he said.

Neill said the investors were the ones who lucked out because the owner-occupiers were able to use the State Government handout – some reportedly received up to $150,000 in assistance – to pay for house relocation costs or to help fund the new build, while investors were denied these funds.

“A lot of the investors have taken up the land swap because even though they may be faced with a big capital outlay in the long term they’ll have a more saleable asset,” said Neill.

Graham said that while there weren’t a big proportion of investment properties affected – “because most of the rentals are generally in the more elevated part of lower Gatton near the school” – she knows of one rental property that was flood damaged however it was brick so the owner just made some repairs and renovated a little then moved some new tenants in.

“Another investment property was sold at a reduced price, the investor received an insurance payout, then the new owner even bought it in time to qualify for the land swap,” she said.

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