With the housing market deflating, my daughter has been tiptoeing into the market to see what’s left. The boom wiped many favourite suburbs from her map of dreams and left her on the edge of that 10km circle from the epicentre. The search starts there and, like a prospector late to the goldfields, she has to be strategic.
First, the geography. As a child of the inner city, the 10km radius is the limit. Beyond that lie hours of commuting, less connection with family and friends, fewer opportunities for latenight milk runs and a feeling of missing out.
The transport arteries into the city must be walkable. Fifteen minutes fast walk to a train or bus service is doable but the run into town has to be reliable. She studies the public transport routes like a surgeon scanning an X-ray — gaps, blockages, flow, frequency are noted.
She narrows the search to the poorer edge of the fashionable postcodes — just within the 10km charm circle — and finds a suburb that’s changing. It’s an old industrial area, the factories are leaving, some old shops are shuttered and the streetscape is scruffy but there are signs of better times ahead.
Cafes were once a signpost of rejuvenation but they’re everywhere now, even those with milk crates and bearded baristas. She looks instead for craft breweries, often the first business to reclaim old factories. She eyes off barber shops to check whether they’re still serving postwar clients or if they now serve beer. Do they know how to shave a part along the scalp?
The plant nurseries can give a clue too. Are they still selling compost out the back or have they snuck in a cafe or a bar so you can peruse the plants with a glass of wine in hand. Hybrid retail is a sign of life, so too are spaces for startups, studios for craftspeople, witty signs outside shops, bicycles propped against light posts and rescue dogs on leads.
She crunches the demography. The census figures tell of who is moving out, who is moving in and, more importantly, who’s likely to be moving on. This is a postwar migrant haven so the Italians and Greeks who staked tomatoes in backyards and set up shops along the main street will be going soon. As they age, the housing stock begins to look tired — much loved once, beyond them now. Time for a refresh.
The biggest clue that this unfashionable suburb might be the next big thing is the crowd at the “open for inspection” days. Not long ago, the sort of buyers filing through the doors barely looked at the decor or stopped to imagine how they might refashion the home for a new family. They arrived alone in swank cars and counted rooms, floor space, maintenance costs and rental returns. On the day, they sat at the back of the auction with steely eyes and a line of credit. The crowds this spring are different.
They are mostly young couples like her and her partner. They are well-dressed, whether because they’re from better suburbs or they think it might make them better prospects. They whisper as they pass through rooms, suggesting changes, sharing possibilities, deciding what they could live with, what they couldn’t live with. They’re nervous too, as if they can’t believe that they might have a chance to finally become homeowners in their own city. A lot carry young children, a sign their life’s journey — marriage, home, children — has been inverted by the two-decade-old property boom that made city homes a global commodity.
It is this crowd that will make this suburb the next best thing. They are the most powerful change agents. Their presence at the inspections confirms for my daughter that she’s guessed right in her research. They are her people — or, rather, people like her — and if they can claim a stake in the area, they will be the ones to create the change they want.
Soon the census figures for the area will reflect their faith. The average age will decline, the number of widows will decline, the education levels will lift, the occupation status will shift into professional and trades, the number of children will once again increase, the ethnicity will diversify and the barber shop might start serving craft beers.
My daughter eyes her competition nervously. They could knock her out of the market on the day, but if they don’t, they could end up as neighbours — and she could live with that. gmail.com