IN REAL estate there is a market for everything, even accommodation for the dead. Location and views still matter. Sydney's land shortage, coupled with an increasing preference for cremation, has led to a growing trade in burial plots worth thousands of dollars.
Advertisements offering burial plots are appearing in online classified ads. Some vendors are taking a more direct approach - erecting "For sale" signs on their unwanted graves.
The NSW president of the Australian Funeral Directors Association, Warwick Hansen, said owners were now offloading plots they no longer needed. "It's becoming an increasing request from families," he said. "When burial plots were selling for $70 to $100 they might have bought a lot of reserved graves alongside each other for the whole family. Now those grave sites can sell for several thousands of dollars."
The prices of some sites have risen tenfold over the past 15 years, driven up by a critical shortage of cemetery space in Sydney and regional centres as well as the cost of maintaining graveyards to a high standard. For example, a top-of-the-range double plot in Macquarie Park Cemetery at North Ryde costs $65,000.
Those who sell plots often pocket a profit, although most owners are divesting them because of a change of heart or location.
"The other point is people are living longer and they're far more mobile these days," Mr Hansen said. "They might buy plots in Sydney but then retire up the coast or down the coast.
"They find they have these burial plots they no longer have a need for, they're worth a couple of thousand dollars and they'd rather use that money in retirement."
The owner of two plots at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Leppington, Bill Hayes, 64, is selling them after deciding he could use the money to help his small business. They have been valued at $4000 and he is offering them for sale on the classifieds website Gumtree.
He bought the plots and two funeral plans in 1975 when he was 28, for $1086.
"A door-to-door salesman convinced me I wouldn't have a place to be buried with the land shortage," he said. "Projections were there would be no land. There was talk of pulling up cemeteries."
Mr Hayes now plans to be buried in Young, where many of his wife's relatives are interred.
Lynne Pramana, of Ballina, is selling two plots at Pinegrove Memorial Park, Minchinbury, on behalf of a family member.
"Her father bought 10 plots altogether, thinking that he was taking care of the whole family," she said. "Circumstances change and the family moved to northern NSW so there is no need of the remaining plots at Pinegrove. Better to sell them at half price to someone that needs them."
Mr Hansen said burial preferences were also changing. "Over a period of time the cremation numbers have increased."
The economic forecaster IBISWorld says the number of cremations has risen from 55 per cent of funerals a decade ago to 65 per cent. This is expected to increase to 70 per cent by 2016.
Mr Hansen warned that every cemetery had its own policy on the resale of graves, so plot owners needed to contact the administrators before putting up a "For sale" sign.
"Many cemeteries don't directly buy the graves back themselves," he said. "If people do wish to sell them they might put a 'For sale' notice in the paper, which sounds curious but is becoming increasingly common.
"I have seen instances where people have put a notice on the grave they own to say it is available for sale."
A company that owns 14 cemeteries and crematoria in NSW and Queensland, InvoCare, has also recorded an increase in people wishing to sell or transfer plots.
"A number of people make arrangements for a burial at an earlier time and then they change their decision in favour of a cremation so the burial space is no longer needed," said an InvoCare spokesman, Karl Wolfenden.
"The other point is we are going through a period of tough economic conditions and this may be a way for families to make ends meet at this point in time."
The president of the Cemeteries & Crematoria Association of NSW, George Passas, said turnover was high at popular graveyards such as the historic Waverley Cemetery, which is also one of a handful in the state that allows renewable tenure of plots in which sites are effectively "leased" for a fixed period.
"There is a very good turnover there because people know they can extract a very good sum of money," Mr Passas said.
"It has the best view in the cemetery business in Sydney. Views are not only important for the living but also for the dead. It's something that's very important to the living members of the family."
The cost of dying
Start at $17,026 for a right of burial certificate with 25-year renewable tenure.
Rookwood Anglican and General Cemetery, Rookwood
Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park, Matraville
Macquarie Park Cemetery and Crematorium, North Ryde
Pinegrove Memorial Park, Minchinbury
Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Leppington