FOCUSSING on the northern Wheatbelt rural real estate market, agents have said there is still an imbalance between the extremely high buyer demand and lack of listings.
Such an environment has existed since 2018, during which time land values have shown strong growth - so strong that there is speculation as to whether they have peaked and will slow down or decline, remain stable, or continue rising.
It's an unknown that is weighing on many people's minds and while agents are reluctant to give predictions, they said the 2020 growing season will be a major factor.
Landmark Harcourts rural real estate specialist Kevin Manuel, who specialises in the Victoria Plains and Wongan Hills-Ballidu shires, said most enquiry had been from family or individual farmers and generally the demand had been for cropping country.
"Sales have been slow because of limited properties coming onto the market, but the enquiry is still strong with buyers," Mr Manuel said.
"Demand is mostly coming from local farmers within the district and we are getting a bit of enquiry from the northern and eastern Wheatbelt areas with people wanting to relocate because they are in search of higher rainfall."
He said areas where there has been particularly high demand was right through the main Victoria Plains corridor, from Toodyay, to Bolgart, Calingiri and Yerecoin and areas west.
Goomalling has also been very tightly held in recent years, with Mr Manuel recalling limited evidence of sales activity.
"Wongan Hills is such a big area so it is really diverse for rainfall, so sales vary a bit depending on where the properties are situated within the region," he said.
While Mr Manuel said he has received interest from corporate buyers, most tend to make transactions privately.
"Aside from the original people such as Malcolm McCusker and the Panizzas, there are no corporates in the Victoria Plains shire, but there are some at Wongan Hills," Mr Manuel said.
With a 27-year career in real estate behind him, Mr Manuel said he had "never seen land values this strong before".
"In 2008 they did touch up fairly high and then came back a bit for four or five years," he said.
"But now land values have gone beyond 2008 values."
Mr Manuel also said that there was high demand for leased land and leasing values had also remained high.
Moving further west, it has been a similar story of limited listings and good commodity prices driving the market from strength to strength.
Elders real estate specialist Kris Teakle who services this region, including the areas of Moora, Dandaragan and Badgingarra, said there had been considerable interest from corporate buyers wanting farmland with water licenses for horticultural pursuits, making properties with large water licenses extremely sought-after.
She said these buyers are wanting to convert traditional farmland into horticultural properties, "but to do that they need a water license, which is their criteria of what they are after, but there are not a lot of properties that have huge water licenses".
"There are lots of properties with big water licenses further south but these buyers are going north to make enquiries to spread their risk and for cheaper land values," Ms Teakle said.
Ms Teakle also said there was a big appetite for cropping and livestock properties (about 50:50) from corporate buyers and family farmers.
"(Corporate buyers) are interested in cattle, sheep and cropping, but a lot of properties that have been set up for farming previously need to be re-fenced and water points need to be put back into place, so it's a costly exercise because of the price of sheep at the moment," she said.
"I'd say that corporates are more looking at mixed farming with cattle and cropping, as well as those wanting to run a horticulture operation."
With land being so tightly held within this region, particularly over the past year, Ms Teakle said properties tend to sell reasonably quickly "because it's such a safe area that people like to invest in".
"Any farms that are well run and have a good fertiliser history and yields behind them are sold very quickly, so presentation is paramount to get the top dollar," she said.
"Corporate buyers have a model they follow when buying a property - so they want about 4000 hectares, they have a criteria of about 400 millimetres plus rainfall, good infrastructure and good soil types.
"If they are looking from a cropping point of view, they want a good fertiliser history and soil tests.
"There are some buyers who want a good mixed farming enterprise, so they want to see the seller has improved the pastures."
Ms Teakle said most of the corporate activity in the region was from foreign-owned or backed companies and a lot of the recent foreign players were from Singapore, India, the United States and the Middle East.
"Western Australia is a food bowl and we get the like of overseas investors coming in because they can see the value and they don't look five or 10 years ahead, they look 50 years ahead," she said.
"If someone has decided to sell, then it is to be sold and whoever buys it, whether it is an overseas buyer, corporate or local, our job is to get the best price for them."
Ms Teakle said it was difficult to predict the near future of rural land values.
"While land prices are getting up there, the figures need to work - it would be great for land prices to keep going but it's all relative to those that are borrowing money and have to prove to the bank that they are getting their bang for their buck with what they are investing in," she said.
"But all good properties will sell for a good price."
While there are many buyers and sellers enjoying the benefits of the market, Ms Teakle said it was important to note that "the industry isn't all rosy and there are some harsh realities in the mix" (across the State).
"Some people have been feeding sheep since August because they haven't had any rain," she said.
"So it is important to be mindful that it is very patchy across the State."