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Life as an agent in Alice Springs

By Orana Durney-Benson
12 February 2024 | 13 minute read
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Right in the centre of Australia is a transient town, where residents often drift away after just two years. How do you sell property to such an ephemeral population?

Around the green fringes of Australia, real estate agents are grappling with huge levels of undersupply and ever-growing demand for more housing.

But for Gail Tuxworth, a longtime sales agent of LJ Hooker Alice Springs, the challenge is not a surplus of demand, but a lack of it.

“Alice Springs is a transient town,” said Ms Tuxworth. “The average stay in Alice Springs is often two to five years.”

“We’ve never had so many interest rate rises in a row, which, coupled with the fact that we’ve got more people leaving town than coming into town, means we have a lot of property on the market but not a lot of buyers coming in.”

Known as Mparntwe in the Eastern Arrernte language, Alice Springs sits on the banks of the Todd River from which it got both its settler and Arrernte names. The town is encircled by the distant MacDonnell Ranges, and a few hours to the west lie the raw, red slopes of Kata Tjuta and Uluru.

Despite the regular flow of residents in and out of the community, life in Alice Springs is not lonely. In fact, the unique combination of work opportunities, geographical centrality and history has made this closed community a cosmopolitan and culturally rich urban centre.

Alice Springs has a sizeable Indian community of families from Kerala and Punjab, a longstanding influx of Americans working at the Pine Gap facility, and newcomers from New Zealand and coastal Australia – all of whom make up Ms Tuxworth’s pool of buyers and vendors.

“I absolutely love it,” said Ms Tuxworth. “I’ve met a lot of people, not just in my real estate career but just living here for the last 54 years, and so the fact that people come and go is great because when you go on holidays you’ve got somewhere to stay.”

Over the last few decades, Ms Tuxworth has worked as a motel owner, a hire car operator, an investment property salesperson, and even as the owner of a hair and beauty salon.

“I’m a people person, and I’d be just as happy standing outside all day talking to whoever came by,” said Ms Tuxworth. “So many people know me and I know them, so it makes life pretty good here.”

Eventually, Ms Tuxworth took up a position as a sales agent of LJ Hooker Alice Springs, and 28 years later she still asserts that this was “the best thing I’ve ever done in my life”.

“Here in the Northern Territory, I have sold property from Borroloola through to Tennant Creek through to Ti Tree through to Alice Springs,” she recalled. “There are not many agents in the country that would have a 1,500-kilometre distance for their backyard.”

“I’ve been in real estate as an employee for 28 years, and I’ve never, not even once, not wanted to come into work,” she said. “It’s still an exciting place to come every day.”

As a low-demand market, real estate sales in Alice Springs have always been challenging, but recent years have been even harder than most for the sales team at LJ Hooker Alice Springs.

While COVID-19 had a lighter effect on outback towns in terms of lockdowns and physical distancing restrictions – Ms Tuxworth recalled that she spent just “half a day” working from home – buyer sentiment still took a hit.

“A lot of people were a little bit nervous about purchasing during the COVID period,” said Ms Tuxworth, who had to remind buyers that “in times of difficulty, you are a lot better off with your own roof over your head than someone else’s.”

In July 2022, a second challenge came when 15-year-old interventionist-era alcohol bans suddenly lapsed, leading to a rise in crime and violence. In February, alcohol bans were haphazardly reintroduced by the Albanese government, in a move that Tangentyere Women’s Safety Group coordinator Shirleen Campbell described as a “band-aid” approach to intergenerational trauma.

The chaos of this period, and the subsequent media firestorm, had significant impacts on the local community. One consequence of the media coverage was a sharp decline in buyer sentiment.

“Our market has been a little challenging to say the least,” said Ms Tuxworth. “It’s not just in Alice Springs, but a lot of northern Australia is challenged as we are – it’s a difficult time.”

“We have our challenges, but this is what good agents do: they rise to the fore and are able to meet all challenges in all markets.”

Looking forward, Ms Tuxworth’s ambitions are oriented firmly around her local community.

“In the past, we’ve been putting teams through the Relay for Life, Daffodil Day, and we had a barbecue out here outside LJ Hooker,” she said. “We do things that pass over our desk that we know are worthy causes.”

Within her own agency, she looks forward to continuing to foster the talent of young up-and-coming agents, such as the office’s newest sales agent, Tabatha Dew.

“I have been privileged during my time to be working here,” Ms Tuxworth said. “It’s the team that helps the individuals to shine.”

To find out more about how agents are operating across Australia and beyond, check out REB’s previous articles in the Life as an Agent series.

We spoke with Michael Barrett on Kangaroo Island, who battles snakes and bushfires in his bid to find his clients the perfect property.

Up in Queensland’s Daintree Rainforest, Mark Whitham has seen his local community flooded out of their homes after the most extreme flood event in written record.

Shannon Fergusson, a real estate principal in Jindabyne, sees his local area triple in size each winter as Sydneysiders head down south to hit the slopes.

In the underground desert town of Coober Pedy, Warren Andrews must operate across two time zones and 3000 kilometres to sell property across Australia’s red centre.

Rose Evans sells property on Norfolk Island, a place where residents are few, homes are fewer, and all building supplies must be shipped in by sea.

Life as an agent in Alice Springs
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