Sun Herald -- Chris Simmonds with his kids Chloe and Mark  - Chris sold his plumbing business in Sydney to become the publican at the Great Northern Hotel in Teralba  15th February 2013 pic by RYAN OSLAND
Settled … publican Chris Simmonds with Chloe and Mark outside his pub in Teralba. Photo: Ryan Osland

For nine years Christopher Simmonds searched for the perfect country pub to buy. He travelled widely, from the Hunter Valley to Port Kembla, Yass to Kempsey.

But rising interest rates and falling investment returns stopped the 42-year-old buying what he considered overvalued properties.

Last May, his patience was rewarded. The former plumber bought the two-storey Great Northern Hotel in Teralba, south of Newcastle, for just over a million dollars.

''Three years ago it would have cost me an extra million,'' Mr Simmonds, originally from West Ryde, said.

''It was a good time to buy because the market had peaked and the returns had improved.''

Country pub brokers are predicting strong sales after a surge in the number of properties sold last year. The average time to sell a regional pub has also reduced from a year to three months with high levels of inquiries.

Four of the main hotel brokers - Gilchrist, Knight Frank, CBRE and Jones Lang LaSalle - have 55 country pubs for sale ranging from $200,000 to $10 million for freeholds, their websites show.

Hotel broker Gerry Quinlan from Manenti Quinlan and Associates had four out of 10 properties on his books under contract in the first month of business this year.

''I haven't had a start like that for ages,'' he said.

He sold 13 country pubs last year, and hopes to exceed 20 this year. "People were keen to get into the city before but now they sense opportunities in regional areas.''

He pinpointed Orange and Bathurst as locations with high employment security, hospitals and police, where a well-run pub could flourish.

More than half of the state's 2185 pubs are in regional areas, excluding Newcastle and Wollongong, latest figures from the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing show.

Murray Gilchrist, from hotel specialists Gilchrist Business Brokers, sold 60 freehold and leasehold pubs in the past three years, with the highest number of sales last year. Most were genuine sales rather than distressed or receivership, often seen in previous years.

Half the inquiries came from first-time buyers. ''We also have a lot of mums and dads looking to be their own boss and do a tree change.''

Mr Simmonds quit his job, sold his house and moved up the coast with his children, Mark, 9, and Chloe, 13, to begin his dream. He plans to renovate the 1923 building while preserving its heritage verandah, press metal ceilings and open fireplace. ''This one's going to have sentimental value,'' he said. ''This is my pub for life.''

The director of policing and membership at the state's Australian Hotels Association, John Green, said increasing sales was good news.

''The sector has actually experienced retraction - 2 per cent of country hotels shut their doors in the past two years,'' he said.