Interview: Deborah Cullen, Director, Cullen Royle
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Interview: Deborah Cullen, Director, Cullen Royle

“We don’t have enough stock to satisfy clients waiting to purchase their escape out of the city.”

By Terry Christodoulou
Thu, Jun 10, 2021 2:16pmGrey Clock 4 min

Deborah Cullen has worked her way through the real estate industry, from boutique agencies and corporate heavy-hitters, to selling Sydney’s finest homes.

However, through 2020’s pandemic, Cullen saw an opportunity to specialise her skillset, partnering with Richard Royle to open a boutique (and luxurious) agency with a renewed focus on rural estates and coastal escapes away from the capital cities.

We caught up to discuss the capital city exodus of COVID and how the second-home market continues to play out.

 

Kanebridge News: I guess we’ll start at the beginning of your property career – you were a Personal Trainer before, why property?

Deborah Cullen: Fitness and real estate are passions for me. Firstly, real estate – for me it was a love of renovating and styling that made me fall in love with properties. I used to go to inspections, view beautiful homes and get ideas for what current trends were for my own family and future homes.

Working as a fitness coach is all about communication and care, all easily transferrable skills into selling property I think.

 

KN: In 2020 you launched a new boutique agency – Cullen Royle – what was the catalyst there? What makes it different?

 

DC: After starting and heading up a prestige team within a large corporate business I saw the opportunity in a COVID affected market to provide a very personalised boutique service and one that focused on family and lifestyle properties rather than one that concentrated on volume and transactions. I

Working together with my business partner Richard Royle, who also came from large corporate background in rural and agribusiness, our work is based on personal referrals and repeat business. We have seen an incredible amount of business come our way since starting Cullen Royle and we feel very honoured and blessed to look after our clients most important and valuable property assets.

Deborah Cullen and Richard Royle.

KN: How is it different selling a rural estate to a waterfront Sydney mansion?

DC: They both can be emotional purchases. Country lifestyle estates are usually driven by family desires to getaway and be together. Waterfront homes are wonderful estates to represent as we see a huge response from our expat database –  but they also usually include the added check list of requirements such as best schools, transport, shopping, entertainment etc. So, it needs to work on many more levels to be a perfect fit.

 

 

KN: What about your personal preference, rural or coastal?

DC: That is a tough one but luckily I get to spend time at both for my clients. It is very common for our clients to have a city base, country estate and beach house. I really enjoy the coast myself, but I have to say, wintertime in the country with the fireplaces lit and the glass of red is very hard to beat.

 

KN: How noticeable was the shift away from the cities to regional pockets of Australia?

DC: It was and still is an amazing shift that gained momentum very quickly. Country and coastal homes were always popular but then when the COVID experience hit us, the desire to be away in nature and fresh air everyday escalated to a new level. It is still there, we don’t have enough stock to satisfy clients waiting to purchase their escape out of the city.”

Olio Mio estate, one of Cullen’s premier listings.

 

KN: Are prestige buyers still looking to move out of the cities permanently, or is the market returning to those looking for a 2nd home? What’s the split like?

DC: It is very definitely still a split lifestyle between a city base and lifestyle retreat. What we have seen is the city base become the smaller home and the coastal or country home be a larger investment. Those who are moving permanently are doing so to be with family or making it a definite business relocation. Most of our clients want the flexibility to still stay in the city when needed so have a foot in both camps.

 

KN: What regional areas do you think are growing with popularity now, and which do you see as having potential over the next few years?

DC:  We have seen areas come back to life again that are still an easy drive to big cities. In particular the Hunter Region is now a strong lifestyle draw and has the inclusion of tourism and entertainment on its doorstep. The other area is the South Coast of Sydney, the Blue Mountains and Mudgee regions which continues to draw those from the city out. There is a tremendous amount of luxury stays and farm getaways in these areas that are making people consider these regions as options.

 

KN: What of the prestige property market as a whole – is it to continue to be as safe and as in demand as ever?

DC: The resilience of the Sydney prestige market in particular has shown continually to be a sound investment. It really comes down to the amount of quality properties being available in blue ribbon areas.  Sydneysiders are driven by the desire to be near the harbour and beaches plus have a stunning country retreat. These quality estates will always attract a discerning audience to assess. We see this continuing for the foreseeable future for sure.

 

KN: What do you make of the trend of downsizers or rightsizers? Do you think that will continue to grow and perhaps lessen the appeal of a sprawling country estate or coastal home in the future?

 

DC: Rightsizing is all about finding the right home for a particular time in your life. At the moment, we are seeing an abundance of clients purchasing estates to have the opportunity to share and gather for celebrations and to create precious memories. I don’t think that will change for a while with COVID still being an influence in our lives.

In 2021, luxury estate purchases are now about the experience shared together as a family and the options of where they can do this? Well, that, can be anywhere now. So let us at Cullen Royle do the hunting and find it for you.

 

Cullenroyle.com.au

 

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Companies bought around 66,000 homes in the 40 markets tracked by real-estate brokerage Redfin during the third quarter, compared with 94,000 homes during the same quarter a year ago. The percentage decline in investor purchases was the largest in a quarter since the subprime crisis, save for the second quarter of 2020 when the pandemic shut down most home buying.

The investor pullback represents a turnaround from months ago when their purchases were still rising fast. These firms bought homes in record numbers last year and earlier this year, helping to supercharge the housing market.

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But ballooning borrowing costs have kept investors from buying as much recently, said John Pawlowski, an analyst at Green Street. Buyers and sellers are also agreeing less often on pricing, stifling sales.

“It leads to a lot of people just putting down the pen,” Mr. Pawlowski said.

Rent growth has also begun to slow. Rents for single-family homes rose 10.1% year over year in September, down from 13.9% in April, according to housing data firm CoreLogic.

That rate of growth is still very high by historical standards, however, and much stronger than in the apartment market. Multifamily rent increases are now much lower by most measures. Near record-high rental prices are failing to attract as many new tenants, and demand in the third quarter fell to its lowest level in 13 years.

Demand for rental houses has held up better, in part because many of these homes are leased to relatively high-earning people who have found the for-sale market too expensive to buy, some analysts say.

That rent growth for single-family owners hasn’t translated into stock-market gains this year. Investors have lumped these owners in with home builders and sold many of them. Shares for the three largest publicly traded owners, Invitation Homes, American Homes 4 Rent and Tricon Residential, are each down more than 25% year to date, underperforming the S&P 500 over that period.

Rental landlords also face headwinds from rising property tax assessments that have come alongside enormous increases in home-price appreciation.

At the same time, large rental landlords are coming under greater scrutiny from federal and local governments. Congressional Democrats have hosted a series of hearings focused on eviction practices and rent increases. Three Congress members from California this month introduced a bill called the “Stop Wall Street Landlords Act,” which proposes levying new taxes on single-family landlords. It would prevent government-sponsored enterprises like Freddie Mac from acquiring and securitising their debt.

Many of the places where investors have eased purchasing are the same cities where they had counted for an outsize share of total sales. That includes Las Vegas and Phoenix, where investor sales dropped more than 44% in the third quarter compared with a year ago.

Fewer purchases by online house-flippers, or iBuyers, may have contributed to those declines, according to Redfin. Redfin decided to close its own home-flipping business, RedfinNow, earlier this month.

Nationally, investors still accounted for 17.5% of all home sales in the third quarter, a higher share than they held at any time before the pandemic, by Redfin’s count.

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While a recession could bring down borrowing rates, it would likely be accompanied by higher unemployment, making it difficult for traditional buyers to take advantage, said Daryl Fairweather, Redfin’s chief economist. For investors, however, that could offer an opportunity to acquire homes at favourable prices.

“An investor may have more resources to jump in at exactly the moment when rates decline,” Ms. Fairweather said.

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