Page last updated at 05:52 GMT, Friday, 16 May 2008 06:52 UK

Russians snap up Australian luxury

By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia

Australia's sun-drenched Gold Coast with its high rises, endless beaches and tranquil inland waterways is a magnet for just about anyone with a taste and budget for the good life.

Gold Coast surfers
The surfer lifestyle attracts people from all over the world

Tourists, retirees and investors not to mention surfers - have long flocked to this ritzy coastal strip south of Brisbane, where the climate is so mild summer never seems to end.

Hardly surprising, then, that record numbers of cashed up Russians are buying prized real estate in one of Australia's fastest growing regions.

Flush with wealth from oil and mining, Russian entrepreneurs are snapping up multi-million dollar waterfront mansions and luxury penthouses in Surfers Paradise and surrounding districts.

Stable market

This is a place that refuses to stand still.

Moscow-born estate agent Elena Shakirova
Most of them are looking for waterfront homes, new penthouses, luxury apartments
Moscow-born estate agent Elena Shakirova

The daytime's cheery preoccupation with shopping and sunbathing is replaced after dark by the inviting hum of al fresco dining and swanky bars.

Cranes dominate parts of the cloudless skyline and developers are busy reshaping the landscape.

Traditionally, overseas interest in this sub-tropical tourist hub has been dominated by buyers from New Zealand, Britain, Japan and China.

But these days, Russian involvement in the glamorous Gold Coast is soaring. They have become its biggest foreign investors.

But in 2006-07, Russians bought $34m (17m) worth of real estate, a threefold increase on the previous year.

"They know they are buying into a politically stable market place," explains Paul Barratt from property company DTZ Australia.

Developers arrive

It is not the overall amount that has the Gold Coast buzzing, though, but rather the spectacular rise in their purchasing power.

There are lots of people in Russia that neither you nor I would have ever heard of, but they have made quite a lot of money
Associate professor Steven Fortescue from the University of New South Wales

After all, the level of Russian investment in the early 2000s was negligible.

"We are seeing a huge increase in the money that they are spending," says Rob Sainsbury, director of residential sales at Colliers International Gold Coast.

"Developers are now starting to come here from Russia as well."

They are attracted by the solid returns of recent years and the expectation that their investments will grow in the future, although rising interest rates have dampened the market nationally.

Waterfront homes

The Gold Coast's 3,000-strong Russian community is tight knit.

Gold Coast waterfront development
Waterfront developments are popular with Russian buyers

There are few overt displays of wealth and this group of Eastern Europeans has quietly blended into the area's rich multicultural mix.

"First of all, it is a real nice place for holidays and some Russians choose to live here," says Moscow-born estate agent Elena Shakirova, who specialises in properties in Runaway Bay north of Surfers Paradise.

"They can move their business from Russia to Australia.

"Most of them are looking for waterfront homes, new penthouses, luxury apartments, and some of them are just looking to buy a block of land so they can build a house that they really want."

Wealthy Russians

Then, of course, there are the ultimate accessories for a stunning waterside home in an area that bills itself as "Australia's favourite playground".

"One of our dealers is actively in conversation with a couple of Russians," says Denby Browning from Gold Coast company Riviera, Australia's biggest luxury boat builder.

Gold Coast construction
Russian developers have arrived in Australia

"We've got some superb boats which would ideally suit their lifestyle."

Large amounts of Russian wealth are being spent abroad - not only in Australia but in the United Kingdom, Cyprus, Spain and Israel too.

Associate professor Steven Fortescue from the University of New South Wales says Russian entrepreneurs are looking to buy a safe place in the sun.

"There are lots of people in Russia that neither you nor I would have ever heard of, but they have made quite a lot of money," he says.

"They won't necessarily be in resources, but in retail and wholesale trade.

"They might not be in the billionaires' class, but they have got enough to buy real estate abroad. They have got the money to have a house somewhere that is nice and pleasant, so why not?"

But at the bustling Harbour City retail park opinion among the locals about the Russian influx is mixed.

"I would prefer that Australians buy up our own land rather than have too much foreign investment," says Graham Wallace, who has recently retired to the Gold Coast.

Shantelle Jones, a life coach, has a more relaxed approach to the influx of Russian dollars.

"I am sure our government will do its best to make sure that our economic interests are protected," she says.

Australia has largely been insulated from the global credit squeeze by its booming minerals sector.

There are signs the economy is slowing but this faraway continent is likely to remain a safe bolt hole for international investors.

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