Neighbourhood Watch: Kiama Offers Picturesque Coast And Hobby Farms
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Neighbourhood Watch: Kiama Offers Picturesque Coast And Hobby Farms

The seaside Australian town, home to the world’s largest natural blowhole, has boomed amid the flight to less dense areas

By Sue Wallace
Mon, Mar 7, 2022 1:02pmGrey Clock 6 min

Sparkling Kiama, a small coastal town with a bustling harbour in Australia’s New South Wales, has become a magnet for city dwellers looking for a change amid impressive scenery and a laidback lifestyle.

Lifestyle changes and unprecedented demand have buoyed real estate prices to heady heights in the past 12 months even above Sydney’s median house value.

Just a two-hour drive from Sydney, three hours from Canberra and 40-minutes from Wollongong, Kiama is a tourist haven with its natural blowhole claimed to be the largest in the world that shoots walls of water up to 30 metres high through a 2.5-metre opening.

The area, which is a rich agricultural centre, is surrounded by pristine surf beaches, rock pools, national parks and has seaside cafes and restaurants.

The Sydney International Airport and Sydney Domestic airport are both a 90-minute drive, while the nearest airport to Kiama is Wollongong Airport, which is 13.7 kilometres away.

Boundaries

The Kiama Municipality is in the Illawarra region of the state, south of Shellharbour and the City of Wollongong. Kiama is situated near the Minnamurra River and is framed by the Pacific Ocean, the Princes Highway and the South Coast Railway Line.

Price Range

A surge in city dwellers moving to this coastal area during the pandemic has seen demand for houses in Kiama increase dramatically reflecting a price hike and shortage of quality properties.

According to Eliza Owen, property data company CoreLogic’s head of research, the Kiama house market has vastly outperformed the broader region, with Kiama houses seeing value increases of 43.9% compared with 31.0% across the whole of regional New South Wales.

The apartment market has been more in line with growth in the state’s regional markets in the 12 months to January, with Kiama units up 24.6%.

“The surge in values has resulted in the median house value across the broader Kiama region reaching $1.6 million, which is above Sydney’s median house value, albeit Kiama is a smaller lifestyle market.” Ms. Owen said.

In his current portfolio, Daniel Watt of South Coast Prestige Properties lists a six-bedroom, two-bathroom house on Kiama’s coveted beachfront enclave for $6 million but said prices average from A$1.5 million for a quality home with coastal views.

This six-bedroom luxury residence on Kiama’s coveted beachfront enclave is asking for about $6 million. South Coast Prestige Properties

Housing Stock

Sprawling luxury properties hug the beachfront or are on the edge of rural parcels, and there are some beautifully restored heritage cottages built for quarry workers in the 1880s. There are also high-and low-rise apartments with coastal and ocean views.

Kiama now has more houses and units for sale compared to the last six months of 2021 when agents described the market as “sizzling.”

Mr. Watt said quality housing was snapped up as soon as it came on the market last year and buyers had little choice, but the market has stabilized and there is now more for sale.

“Housing in the exclusive headland area with views up and down the coast always sells quickly but there’s been more choice for buyers of quality homes in the past few months,” he said.

A Kiama house that changed hands for $3.4 million in late 2021.
South Coast Prestige Properties

What Makes It Unique

It’s all about lifestyle in Kiama, where nature stars in the form of stunning seascapes with magnificent beaches, where whales can be spotted from May to July and September to November.

The nearby hinterland is a lush green belt of dairy farmland, which gives it an English-country feel.

You won’t find any traffic lights and parking isn’t a problem.

The Budderoo National Park, Seven Mile Beach National Park and Barren Grounds Nature Reserve all within a 30-minute drive of Kiama are great for bushwalks and exploring.

Hikers chase waterfalls in the area, too, including Minnamurra, Carrington, Fitzroy and Belmore Falls.

Vivienne Marris, principal and owner of Elders Jamberoo Real Estate, said many residents commute to Sydney and Wollongong by rail to achieve a great work-life balance and enjoy a vibrant community.

“It’s a perfect lifestyle mix and there’s still a country feel about it with the sea one side and rolling green hills and farmland the other,” Ms. Marris said.

Mr. Watt agreed, saying it’s unique because of the close proximity to Sydney.

“That’s definitely a sweet spot—the city rail is excellent, and you can be there in less than two hours,” he said.

Kiama is an indigenous word that means “where the sea makes a noise” in reference to the famous Kiama Blowhole.

A luxury home in Kiama features 180 degree view of the neighbourhood and the beach.
South Coast Prestige Properties

Luxury Amenities

Kiama has grown into a gourmet hub with seafront restaurants and quaint cafes that showcase the fresh regional produce the Illawarra region is known for.

You can pick up supplies at Wednesday’s Kiama Farmers’ Markets at Coronation Park with the surf beach as the backdrop.

The market kicks off with the ringing of a bell and produce includes fruit, vegetables, seafood, oysters, local Wagyu beef, honey, eggs, milk straight from the dairy, gelato made from local milk, cider, wine, mushrooms, cakes and tarts, preserves and sourdough bread.

Some great coffee spots include Wild Patch Cafe, which serves Byron Bay coffee and lots of healthy options.

Set on Kiama’s surf beach, Silica showcases homegrown produce from its own organic vegetable patch at Dapto Community Farm—the fish and chips and bar bites have a following.

Hanoi on Manning has been serving authentic Vietnamese food since opening in 2009.

For a sweet treat, head to Parfait Patisserie for delicious pastries plus breads and fruit tarts. The Little Earth Cafe near the Little Blowhole is an organic cafe and general store and is great for coffee and treats; and Flour Water Salt bakery, cafe and food store is known for its artisan sourdough, pastries and cakes.

The Pines Pantry located in a historic Collins Street Terrace House stocks award-winning cheese, bottled milk, yogurt and a range of artisan gelato made from the family-run micro- dairy The Pines on the nearby South Coast.

Mix art with food at the Little Blowhole Art Bar known for its cool tunes, clever cocktails and it’s a boutique art gallery. Book lovers will enjoy Bouquiniste with a selection of interesting books and coffee.

For shopping, Beachside Emporium sells art and design pieces by local designers and artists and Australian-made products. Meanwhile, The Inside Story has a great selection and for more retail therapy Deer Willow is stocked with global homewares and fashion, spread over two floors.

There are excellent schools in the area including the Illawarra Grammar School at Wollongong and Shellharbour Anglican at Dunmore as well as other schools in the highlands, all within 50 minutes.

Who Lives There?

Kiama is home to young professionals, families, retirees and many who have made a recent move but who commute to Sydney or Wollongong for work.

Ms. Marris said the hinterland attracts “hobby” farmers who want to run a few animals and have space.

“The demographic is moving to a younger element as traditionally it was farming and retirement, but we now have middle- to high-end-income residents, so the first home buyer is no longer as much a proportion of the community as it was, say 15 years ago,” she said.

An interior view of an $3.4 million luxury house in Kiama.
South Coast Prestige Properties

Outlook

Like many high-performing markets across Australia, Kiama has likely hit a peak growth rate for the current cycle, with quarterly movements already starting to ease, according to Ms. Owen.

“Affordability constraints and a shift in the interest rate cycle (as well as significant progress in vaccination and easing of social distancing) will see growth rates soften across this market over 2022, with the potential for price falls when the [interest] rate rises,” she said.

Long term, however, Kiama has excellent prospects for further growth and development.

“The Covid crisis has awakened many to the possibility of living in a commutable, regional center, and the south coast of New South Wales continues to develop an appealing lifestyle with wineries, breweries, gift shops and cafes,” Ms. Own said. “Like most areas that undergo this kind of shift and demand from relatively high-income earners, this will present a mix of opportunities and disruption for locals, as employment opportunities expand, and real estate markets continue to rise in value.”

Ms. Marris said the past year is not really a good indicator, as some areas saw values increase 60% in only the last six months.

“FOMO—the fear of missing out—has played a large part in the peak of the market in August, September, October when we had little to offer and a demand not quite seen before,” she said.

“That has now cooled, settled with more property coming on to the market.”

 

Reprinted by permission of Mansion Global. Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication:  March 5, 2022.



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They Were About to Move In When the Ocean Almost Washed Away Their New Home

Gail and Ron Fink’s property in Jupiter Inlet Colony sustained major damage during an unusually windy day. ‘The whole backyard is shot. All the landscaping is gone.’

By E.B. SOLOMONT
Fri, Feb 23, 2024 8 min

Gail and Ron Fink weren’t home the day the ocean swallowed their backyard.

The Florida couple, who are in their 70s, were a few miles away on Feb. 6—an unusually blustery day in the Sunshine State—as waves pounded their beachfront property in Jupiter Inlet Colony, sweeping sand, dirt and trees out to sea. When it was all over, the Finks’ newly-built, roughly 10,000-square-foot home was intact; so too was their free-form swimming pool, improbably balanced on exposed concrete-and-steel pilings.

“That’s what saved the whole thing,” said Ron, founder of an air- and-water purification company. “The pilings are holding up the house and pool.”

Gail and Ron Fink recently finished building a roughly 10,000-square-foot home. PHOTO: JAMES JACKMAN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Drone footage and pictures from local photographers and the Finks’ builder show the severity of the destruction, which left their pool suspended in the air, with pipes protruding from the earth. Town officials said erosion claimed 7 to 10 feet of sand and created steep drop-offs in front of about half-dozen homes, including one belonging to Kid Rock , the rapper-turned-country rocker, who paid $3.2 million for the property in 2012. Conair heiress Babe Rizzuto also sustained damage to her property down the street, which she bought for $6.3 million in 2015 and currently has listed for $22.5 million, according to Zillow.  Neither responded to requests for comment.

But the Finks house, located just past the end of a granite revetment wall—a kind of sea wall—bore the brunt of the heavy wind and waves.

 

“The whole backyard is shot. All the landscaping is gone,” said Ron. Also gone are fully matured Palm trees and an ipe-wood deck. “It’s out floating in the ocean someplace.” Ron is self-insured and the repair work will be quite expensive. undefined

A New Jersey native, Ron is an engineer by training who worked at nuclear-testing sites in California and Nevada before moving to Florida in the 1980s. He is the founder of RGF Environmental Group, which makes air- water-and food-purification systems.

For almost 40 years, the Finks—who have three adult children and eight grandchildren—have lived in Admirals Cove, a gated community in Jupiter about 5 miles from their new house. They paid $180,000 for the Admirals Cove lot in 1987 and built a roughly 6,000-square-foot house, Ron said. The Finks also own homes in the Cayman Islands and Bahamas.

Until now, the Finks have lived in Admirals Cove, about 5 miles from their new house. PHOTO: JAMES JACKMAN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Ron said they began looking for property in Jupiter Inlet Cove years ago. “It’s a neat place, just a closed little colony right on the ocean, low key and quiet,” he said.

About 20 miles north of Palm Beach, Jupiter Inlet Colony is at the southern tip of Jupiter Island. The town, founded around 1959, has approximately 240 homes and is surrounded on three sides by water—the Atlantic Ocean, Jupiter Inlet and the Intracoastal Waterway. Long a destination for wealthy homeowners, homes in Jupiter Inlet Colony tend to trade for between $2 million and $5 million, although one sold for $18.6 million in January, according to real-estate brokerage Redfin. Last year, a home on the Intracoastal sold for $21.4 million, a record for the town.

In 2020, the Finks paid $4.9 million for a vacant beachfront lot and subsequently built a coastal-style house with a copper-and shake-style roof, covered loggia, pool and outdoor fire pit. “You know, it’s kind of a dream home,” Ron said. “We have built quite a few homes, but this is the end of the line for us, hopefully the last one.”

He said the property originally belonged to the singer Perry Como, one of the town’s first residents. A prior owner demolished Como’s house, and when the Finks bought it, there were concrete-and-steel pilings sticking out of the ground.

Ron Fink said he never removed about 60 pilings, he simply added roughly 30 more. “Now I’m glad I did,” he said. (Pilings are based on the design of a house, so Ron retained some pilings that he didn’t necessarily need.)

John Melhorn of design-build firm Thomas Melhorn, which built the house, said the Finks were a final review away from obtaining a certificate of occupancy when the backyard was destroyed. “They were right there at the goal line,” he said.

The Finks’ house and pool are standing on about 90 concrete-and-steel pilings. PHOTO: JAMES JACKMAN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Melhorn said the erosion began in late October amid unusually high winds and ocean swell. During the first week of February, sand beneath a row of sea grapes that stabilized the dunes between the house and ocean began to wash away. By the evening of Feb. 6, the plantings disappeared. The yard was gone by the next morning.

Melhorn said a pre-existing, low wall between the ocean and house—described as a cinder-block retaining wall on land surveys—also washed away, as did a walkway and steps to the beach. But he said the 2-foot-high wall was less of a retaining wall and more like a curb between the street and sidewalk. In this case, a prior owner used it to hold sea grapes back from encroaching on the property. The Finks replaced the wall with decorative stone, now lost to the ocean. An outdoor fire pit is still there, cantilevered over the ocean. “We tried to pull as many things out as we saw the erosion coming, but we lost a lot,” Melhorn said.

In Florida, erosion is increasing because of more frequent, more severe storms and sea-level rise, said Cheryl Hapke, a research professor at the University of South Florida and the chair of the Florida Coastal Mapping Program. But she said it isn’t just hurricane-level storms that cause major damage. “One thing I have found about barrier islands [like Jupiter Inlet Colony] is that sometimes a series of smaller events can have as big an impact as a major hurricane,” she said. “But people get caught off guard. It’s something they don’t think of.”

In Jupiter Inlet Colony, longtime residents said this month’s erosion is the worst the area has seen in years, possibly ever.

Mayor Ed Hocevar, who has lived there for 17 years, said it has been a particularly cool and challenging winter with an abnormal number of Nor’easters. On Feb. 6, local news channels warned of high winds, with gusts between 40 and 50 miles an hour. (There were also reports of an earthquake off the coast that week, causing high waves.)

Since the 1980s, Jupiter Inlet Colony has had a granite rock revetment wall that extends from the northern end of the community past 11 oceanfront homes. “But we’ve got 28 homes along the beachfront, so it isn’t complete,” Hocevar said. “Where the wall ended is where the significant damage occurred.” Hocevar said he doesn’t know why the wall wasn’t completed, although local lore is that homeowners building the wall ran out of money.

Last week, the town hired a local mining company to bring in 7,000 tons of sand to replace what washed away. Hocevar said it would cost about $500,000, which will come out of the town’s reserve fund. Long term, he said, extending the revetment wall isn’t a strong possibility.

Hapke, the coastal geology expert, said that in recent decades, sea walls and hardened structures have fallen out of favor as scientists discovered they are detrimental to the environment around them. “Storm water wants to flow, so it will redirect water to the area without a sea wall,” she said, adding that the most ideal long-term solution is to move homes away from the coastline.

 

Hocevar, 67, who has been mayor of Jupiter Inlet Colony for about a month, said the town is working closely with the Department of Environmental Protection on its response. He said the DEP’s recommendation, should erosion like this occur again, is to bring in more sand. Hocevar emphasised that the community is rallying together. “Think about it as a fortress and your wall has been breached,” he said. “You want to protect your neighbourhood and that’s what we’re trying to do here.”

Holly Meyer Lucas of Compass, who represented the seller when the Finks purchased their property, said Jupiter Inlet Colony is a “special little enclave” where sales exploded during Covid. “Listings sell after a day or sell off-market,” she said.

Lucas said the consensus among local real-estate agents is that property values will hold, despite the erosion. “I think this is a really rare, weird, fluky event,” she said. “I’ve sold everywhere up and down the coast and I’ve never heard of anything like this.”

The couple were close to getting their certificate of occupancy for the newly-built home. PHOTO: JAMES JACKMAN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Babe Rizzuto, whose house is two doors down from the Finks, listed her house for $24.5 million in December 2023 and cut the price to $22.5 million on Feb. 6, according to Zillow.

“She’s going to continue to sell,” said Milla Russo of Illustrated Properties, who is marketing the property with her husband, Andrew Russo. “Even though the timing isn’t great, it is what it is.”

Russo said there has been erosion in the past, and during hurricanes residents of Jupiter Inlet Colony are the first in the area to evacuate. But in general, people are not preoccupied with the weather. “Maybe because we live here, when the hurricanes come, we all have hurricane parties. We go to people’s homes and we barbecue and grill. Of course we’re careful and we lock up and all that, but weather is weather,” she said. “We’ve never been terribly scared.”

(The Russos were also involved in selling the Fink property. However, in 2020 the closing agent on the deal, Florida-based Eavenson, Fraser & Lunsford, PLLC, sued Milla Russo and Illustrated Properties as part of a commission dispute. The seller, Michael Cantor’s Range Road Developers, was named as a defendant and cross-plaintiff in the suit, in which a judge ruled in favor of Eavenson, court records show. Milla Russo declined to comment on the suit. Eavenson declined to comment beyond the judge’s findings and Cantor did not respond to requests for comment.)

Ron was also matter-of-fact about the state of beachfront living. Bring a life jacket, he jokingly told a photographer who inquired last week about taking his picture.

However, the Finks are facing weeks of costly repairs. Although the town is bringing in sand to replace the decimated beachfront, the couple is self-insured and will be on the hook for the cost of rebuilding. Several major home insurers have pulled out of Florida, and Ron said insurance on the house would have cost $100,000 a year. Now, he estimated they could face about $1 million worth of repair work. “We gotta eat it,” he said.

The couple, who was supposed to move into the house this month, has put those plans on hold—for now. An engineer recently inspected the property and deemed the house safe, Ron said. “We’re doing wallpaper today,” he said. “We can put it back together again.” The patio and pool area, meanwhile, are roped off while the area underneath is backfilled with sand.

Ron said being near the ocean makes it worthwhile. “I just love the ocean, we both do. It’s important to us,” he said. “It isn’t easy to look at, but I’ve been through a lot worse.”

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