Northern beaches sought-after suburbs, mind-boggling prices ... and what happens next

The rush to buy the Beaches

This year will go down in history as the Golden Era of real estate in the northern beaches. No one could have predicted that COVID-19 would usher in a period of unprecedented growth in property values on the peninsula. And the demand from buyers seems to be insatiable.

Take Newport, for example. According to CoreLogic, the median price for a house skyrocketed a whopping 71 per cent in just one year, from $1,737,987 in August 2020 to $2,977,569 in August 2021.

Cunninghams' Jonathan Fletcher sums it up: "The cat's out of the bag." In other words, the world has finally discovered the northern beaches. It's also been given the imprimatur of style bible Vogue, which prominently features Turimetta Beach on the cover of the current September issue along with a six glossy pages talking up the "magic" of the peninsula.

To put it bluntly: people want to get in and are willing to pay a premium to live in paradise.

On the pointy end: Avalon

The evidence is in the numbers. In Avalon, the median price of houses has increased from $1,829,341 to $3,068,886 in the same period. That's a phenomenal growth of 68 per cent in a mere 12 months.

Jonathan Fletcher, who grew up in Avalon, says: "This area is still perceived to be relatively cheap. People might look at a property, which could have been $3 million years ago, and it's now $5.5 million. But if they are coming from the eastern suburbs, they're used to paying $8 or $9 million for something similar in Coogee or Bondi.

ON TOP: Agents - such as Cunninghams' Matt Nicastri and Emily Crosweller - have been working overtime on seductive local content. Picture: Geoff Jones

ON TOP: Agents - such as Cunninghams' Matt Nicastri and Emily Crosweller - have been working overtime on seductive local content. Picture: Geoff Jones

"There are also more people who are buying homes sight unseen - or only viewing it through Facetime or video - like expats and people from interstate. They don't have the option to travel here and they feel the pressure to commit."

McGrath Pittwater's James Baker is also an Avalon local. "The lockdown has been incredibly positive for our local area," says Baker. "Every time we get locked down, it pushes people to look at buying in the northern beaches. We've seen it happen all over again.

"Commuting is now a thing of the past and people want to move away from the city and have a nicer lifestyle."

Baker believes this spring will be a "purple patch for vendors". However, he anticipates that a sense of normality will eventually return next year. "There may still be sales with crazy prices - but there will be less of them," he says.

In the heights: Bilgola Plateau

Another strong performer is Bilgola Plateau, where the median house price has increased 59 per cent, from $1,700,101 to $2,696,298. This is no wonder, considering many properties have spectacular bird's-eye views of the water.

McGrath Pittwater's Adrian Venturi knows the suburb like the back of his hand. "I live in Bilgola and I've seen the trends in the area," he says. "It's in demand now for a lot of reasons. An IGA supermarket is coming to the Plateau. Here, you can go for a walk, get a coffee at the beach, and be surrounded by a beautiful environment. You're not in an area where there is a block of flats on every corner.

Bilgola Beach. Picture: Geoff Jones

Bilgola Beach. Picture: Geoff Jones

"I think it's one of the safest suburbs on the northern beaches. It's also a lot more accessible these days. With Keoride, it's great for commuters and kids who want to get off the plateau and down to the flat. If they want to go into Avalon or Mona Vale skate ramp, the Keoride comes straight to your house."

Top of the props: Newport

Nik Vuko of Domain Residential believes that properties in the northern part of the peninsula have always been undervalued compared to the southern end. "If you go to Freshwater or Curl Curl, your entry level house is $3 million," says Vuko, a long time Newport local. "Here, it's around $2 million. But it's catching up now because people are seeing the value here relative to other suburbs and the prices are going up."

The demand for property has been reflected in Vuko's sales. "We've had over $400 million in sales of property this year," he says. "And that's just with four directors and one salesperson in this agency. An increasing number of sales are happening off market. In the first half of this year, more than 50 per cent of our business was off market."

Another Newport specialist is McGrath Pittwater's David Eden, who has been an agent for 35 years. He says the boom on the beaches "defies logic". However, David emphasises: "It's a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon that we're experiencing right now but there is an unquenchable demand for our lifestyle on the beaches. It's also a lot less densely populated and there is a real sense of community. It's a dynamic that you just don't get in Greater Sydney."

Eden also agrees there has been an increasing number of off market transactions, particularly at the prestige end of the market. And he says dealings with vendors and buyers have come full circle. "In many respects, we're returning back to how we used to work 20 years ago - more one on one with buyers, developing relationships, understanding what's driving their move to the beaches."

Hidden jewel: Bayview and Church Point

While most Sydneysiders are familiar with the more popular beachside suburbs, there are still many who aren't aware of areas like Bayview and Church Point. However, this is changing rapidly. Di Jones's Simon Rawson says: "Covid put Bayview and Church Point on the map. Two years ago, many people didn't even know where Church Point was, or they thought it was the end of the world. Now, this area is highly sought-after."

Rawson says that local buyers used to comprise 70 per cent of enquiries, with 30 per cent coming from buyers outside of the area. These days, he says the ratio is reversed.

Another current trend is the rise in popularity of apartments. "A three-bedroom, single level apartment is in high demand," he says. This is partly due to the changing demographic, where locals who have lived in big houses in the area need to downsize and are keen to stay near their friends, family and Pittwater lifestyle. And they're willing to pay.

Rawson recently sold a three-bedroom apartment at 2/5 Fermoy Street, Bayview that's still under construction, due for completion in March 2022. It went for a whopping $4 million. While it has some water views, it's not waterfront. "Not long ago, that would have been the price of a waterfront home," he says.

Church Point. Picture: Geoff Jones

Church Point. Picture: Geoff Jones

McGrath Pittwater's Sam Thompson is also a specialist in Church Point and Bayview and says buyers are often attracted by the space. "In Bayview you often get 800 to 1200 square metres," he says. "And when you go up to Bayview Heights, there is acreage. When you look at the lifestyle, as well as cafes and restaurants, buyers are seeing it's been underpriced.

"You have the beaches one side and Pittwater on the other, which is one of the best waterways in Sydney. There are also fewer people in general so you are not in hustle and bustle. In the next 10 years, the growth in the beaches - especially in Bayview - is going to be phenomenal."

In the last year, the median house price in Bayview has increased 57 per cent from $1,967,270 to $3,080,874.

Community feel: Freshwater

Once considered a bridesmaid suburb to the world famous Manly, Freshwater has come into its own. In the last year, the median house price has increased 53 per cent from $2,261,266 to $3,470,045.

SOLD: 171 Wyndora Road, Freshwater didn't attract a nibble when advertised at $2.55 million in 2019; two years later it sold off market for $4,215,000.

SOLD: 171 Wyndora Road, Freshwater didn't attract a nibble when advertised at $2.55 million in 2019; two years later it sold off market for $4,215,000.

Cunninghams' Michelle Galletti specialises in Freshwater and also lives in the suburb. "The main demographic of buyers are from the lower north shore and eastern suburbs," she says. "They are coming over this way because they can live a better lifestyle for less money, they get so much more value here than what they would buy in somewhere like Bondi."

At the heart of Freshwater's appeal is the sense of community, according to Galletti. "Everyone is close knit, you can walk to everything and it feels very safe," she says. Galletti recently sold 171 Wyndora Road, Freshwater, off market for $4,215,000. The five-bedroom house had been on the market for 50 days in 2019 with a guide of $2,550,000 with another agent ... but did not attract a successful buyer.

Sand, surf and sophistication: Manly

With the iconic Manly Beach at its heart, the suburb of Manly is still as popular as ever. Its median house price increased 58 per cent from $2,744,877 to $4,349,814 in the last year alone. This is no surprise to Clarke & Humel's Michael Clarke, who recently sold a three-bedroom house in Manly for $4,250,000. Exactly a year before that, it sold for $2,725,000.

Clarke has noticed a greater interest from buyers outside of the local area. And once they arrive there is a knock-on effect. "This is especially at the super top end where people have the budget to live anywhere but they choose here, so it's almost like badge of honour," he says. "Then they become passionate advocates, they tell their friends - who previously would never have considered moving out of Mosman - and then they buy into the area too. When they experience it here, they can't believe how good it is. One buyer said to me the other day: 'My God, I never saw a sea turtle when I was living in Cremorne.'"

Small suburb, biggest gains: Fairlight

The adjacent harbourside suburb of Fairlight has also seen massive gains. The median house price also increased 58 per cent from $2,394,502 to $3,785,897 in the past year. Jake Rowe from Rowe Partners has been an agent for 20 years. He says buyers interested in Fairlight are a mix of investors and those who want to live there. "It's walking distance to Manly so there are all the shops and restaurants," says Jake. "A large percentage of homes have a view of the harbour and there is access to the beaches as well as the more protected harbour beaches."

Jake also points to the high proportion of apartments in Fairlight as being attractive to downsizers who want views and proximity to amenities. This is reflected by statistics that show Fairlight apartments boasting the biggest gains over all suburbs in the northern beaches. The median apartment price increased 43 per cent in the last 12 months, from $1,248,150 to $1,786,801.

Best of both worlds: Balgowlah

A gateway suburb to the northern beaches, Balgowlah median house prices have increased 60 per cent from $2,018,266 to $3,207,035. Angus White of Whitehouse is a specialist in Balgowlah but is also opening a new office in Freshwater in October. "The jump in prices has been phenomenal," says Angus. "With Balgowlah, people have the best of both worlds. It's a cracking mix of harbourfront property and apartments. People love the proximity to the harbour, pristine beaches and the CBD. It's the opportunity to create an enviable work/life balance."

However, it's not just Sydneysiders who want a piece of the action. "I'm seeing more expats coming back. They are seeing that they're going to get value for money and they are keen to buy so they are driving the prices up. I still see huge scope in Balgowlah, there is the top end of the market there but there is also the security and convenience of apartments."

  • All median house and unit comparisons are from August 2020 to August 2021. Source: CoreLogic

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