How five suburbs, equal distance to the city, measure up

Sold: This 3-bedroom home in Reservoir sold for $921,000 at auction last week.
Sold: This 3-bedroom home in Reservoir sold for $921,000 at auction last week.

If you were to travel 14 kilometres from Melbourne's city centre, you could end up in Sunshine or, alternatively, find yourself in Camberwell. Perhaps you would head north to Reservoir, south-east to Bentleigh or south-west to Altona North.

Though they all share the same distance to the CBD ??? on the road rather than as the crow flies ??? it appears the suburbs' similarities end there. There are different house prices, streetscapes, schools, crime rates, public transport options, heritage overlays, amenities and types of development.

But each postcode is attracting waves of new residents every month, who have weighed up the pros and cons of moving into the neighbourhood.

For the dozens of young couples and families that have bought into Sunshine, affordability was a key issue. The potential for strong capital growth was undoubtedly also appealing. Sunshine is the cheapest of the five suburbs, but it has recorded the strongest annual growth in house prices, clocking a surge of 19.6 per cent in the past year.

Brimbank mayor John Hedditch, a resident of Sunshine for 30 years, said the suburb's early urban design had stood the test of time.At the junction of two railways, the area is full of period homes that new residents are increasingly paying top dollar for.

"The liveability is really good and it's improving week by week," Mr Hedditch said. "This place is taking off."

Waves of European, African and Asian migrants moved to Sunshine after the war, and many second and third-generation residents remain in the area. "Sunshine has always been a melting pot of the community," Cr Hedditch said, pointing to a new SBS television drama that explores the suburb's rich cultural diversity.

Real estate agents in Sunshine have reported a spike in interest from Sydney investors, as well as local first-home buyers.

The property market is also heating up in Reservoir, an up-and-coming suburb that has boomed off the back of the growing popularity of its trendy neighbours to the south: Northcote, Thornbury and Preston.

Reservoir, also a 14 kilometre drive from the CBD, is attracting droves of young people searching for an affordable first home. But the median house price has risen more than $100,000 in the past year alone, and now sits at $760,000, according to Domain Group data. Last weekend, 18 properties sold under the hammer.

Siblings Cat and James Laskie opened a new cafe, Gellibrand, on a small shopping strip in Reservoir last year. Their grandparents lived by the lake for 60 years so they were familiar with the suburb, which sprawls 19 square kilometres and had a population of 50,000 at the last census.

"We'd go to take our nanna out for coffee and there was just nothing," recalled Mr Laskie. But since their cafe opened, they have seen a rejuvenation of local businesses. "In the past six months, there's been two other cafes pop up in Reservoir and I've heard whispers of other places opening."

The suburb has a reputation for being a crime hotspot, and Mr Laskie admitted particular pockets felt "dodgier" than others. But overall he said it was "quite a sleepy neighbourhood" that was attracting lots of young families. "You see a few more designer prams cruising around," Mr Laskie joked.

If the prolification of decent coffee options is a gauge of a suburb's gentrification, Reservoir has firmly cemented itself as a suburb to watch. But despite not having a buzzing cafe scene or a train station, Altona North has also experienced a boon in demand for property.

RT Edgar director Joanne Royston said developers seeking large blocks of land had pushed up prices. With next to no heritage overlays to contend with, the suburb is ripe for development, making it increasingly difficult for anyone with a penchant for a big backyard to secure their own place.

But Ms Royston said new townhouses were attracting families to the area, and property value was quickly catching up to neighbouring suburbs. "That growth has nearly caught up to some sections of Newport," she said. "It's becoming a more contemporary suburb."

Melbourne's inner east and south east has traditionally been made up of blue-chip suburbs with wide streets, big blocks and heritage-protected houses. It is unsurprising then that Camberwell is far more expensive than its northern or western counterparts.

Property prices in Camberwell have exploded since 2010, and growth has only showed signs of slowing in the past year. Buyers head to these parts looking for big houses and protection from over-development.

Heading south, Bentleigh's housing market is also steadying as scores of new townhouses and apartment developments hit the market.

Jellis Craig's Calvin Reid said the area was particularly well serviced by public transport with five train stations in the area. But it is access to reputable private and state schools, such as McKinnon Secondary College, that is the major drawcard for families, he said.

"The median prices in that catchment zone are a little higher because of the reputation that school has."

This story How five suburbs, equal distance to the city, measure up first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.