PETER Dunn has been selling real estate in Singleton for more than 40 years.
In that time he's never seen a boom not linked to the mining industry - until now. Traditionally property prices in the Upper Hunter have seesawed with the fortune of coal. A double-edged sword of boom and bust.
"What's happening now is the first time in 40 years that a boom hasn't been attributable to mining," Mr Dunn says. "It all started with the Hunter Expressway, people in Maitland are buying in Singleton now because you can't debate the value. It's an hour from Singleton to Newcastle beach."
Upper Hunter residents know only too well what it's like during a mining downturn. Around 2013, the Upper Hunter went from one of Australia's hottest property markets to a bargain hunter's playground in less than two years. With the exodus of mining construction contractors, hundreds of for sale signs sprung up advertising properties for tens of thousands of dollars less than what they sold for 18 months before.
Muswellbrook agent Sandy Warburton says despite all the conjecture about the coal industry's future, the past year has been the best of his 26-year career. He agrees it's the first time he's seen a boom in the Upper Hunter not linked to mining.
"The COVID factor has seen many people from Western Sydney move to the area, over the past twelve months the median house price in Muswellbrook has gone up 23 per cent," he says.
"The rental market has been squeezed because jobs growth has been there and investors have been moving back into the market."
Days on market in Muswellbrook sits around 22 and there is a lack of stock.
Both men agree Upper Hunter residents know coal will no longer be the region's long-term future. Mr Dunn says Singleton residents are "fully across" the global shift away from coal.
"The town of Singleton is very understanding of what's happening," he says. "Maybe we're going to get one more generation out of mining, but we can't rely on it like we used to. There are no surprises here. If people outside think this is a surprise, they are wrong."
What's happening now is the first time in 40 years that a boom hasn't been attributable to mining.- Peter Dunn
Over decades the Upper Hunter has filled NSW government coffers with billions in coal royalties. Mr Warburton says he hopes this contribution is repaid by government intervention to help attract new industries.
"If they just turn the tap off in relation to mining we'll be in huge trouble," he says. "But I would like to think that there will be a great deal of effort go into ensuring that doesn't happen."
Mr Dunn believes Singleton has never been better placed to face a transition away from coal. The town had its first million-dollar property sale in January, a four-bedroom house in Hunter St, off the back of annual median house price growth of around 30 per cent. Blocks of land at Singleton's Bridgeman Ridge estate were selling for $210,000 in January last year, similar blocks sold for $340,000 in December.