By MARY MANN and BRIAN BIGG
BASTIAAN KALISVAART considers himself one of the lucky ones.
He's just found a home in Ballina at a price he could afford. Not everyone can do that.
A recent assessment by the Urban Development Institute of Australia says housing prices around here have become markedly less affordable, leaving more and more home buyers struggling to put a roof over their heads.
And if interest rates go up today as expected, it could get even worse.
The UDI assessment found Sydney was by far the state's most unaffordable city, but Ballina, Lismore and the Tweed featured prominently. The three centres have moved from the affordable column to the unaffordable column in the past five years.
The average price for a home in the region between Ballina and the Tweed had leapt from about $150,000 in 2001 to almost $400,000 in 2006.
For the UDI an area is deemed affordable if people on an average wage can afford to buy more than half the homes in the area. It's unaffordable if those people can buy only 15 per cent or fewer of the homes.
For Bastiaan Kalisvaart, relocating for work put him into the Ballina real estate market. He worried he might not be able to find a place without going into more debt than he planned.
"The problem for me was that 90 per cent of the places I saw I didn't want and the other 10 per cent I couldn't afford," he said.
One weekend recently Bastiaan heard about a house being sold by a widow who wanted to move quickly to Western Australia and was prepared to take an offer. Bastiaan made a bid and is about to get a new roof over his head.
"I was lucky. The market in Ballina is ambitious. I think they are only relying on people with money to live here," he said.
Real estate agent Brett Jones, of PRD Nationwide Lennox Head and Ballina, said he was not surprised by the results of the UDI assessment.
"PRD Nationwide Research statistics back up the findings," he said.
"We go through peaks and troughs but overall house prices have continued to climb since the beginning of time," Mr Jones said.
"More money is being splashed around the North Coast so affordability for first home buyers has definitely risen.
"I don't see any reason for that to change. It's based on figures of what has been happening over a very long period of time."
According to PRD Nationwide Research, the median house price in Ballina has gone from $201,000 in 2002 to $370,000 in 2007; in Lismore from $120,000 in 2002 to $243,000 in 2007; in Byron Bay from $435,918 in 2002 to $775,000 in 2007; and in Casino from $79,000 in 2002 to $197,000 in 2007.