The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Deirdre Macken macken.deirdre@

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.

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