Inner West Sydney – its charms and challenges

March 18th, 2018

It is generally agreed that the Inner West region of Sydney begins about 4 klm west of the Sydney CBD in an arc that starts at Tempe and runs north through Erskineville to Glebe and ends at the Sydney Fish Market on Blackwattle Bay. From that eastern boundary, the region extends about 13 klm west to Homebush West with the Parramatta River and Cooks River respectively being its northern and southern boundaries.

So defined, this region comprises a whopping 53 suburbs.

As Inner West buyers’ agents, Curtis Associates has worked and bought millions of dollars worth of on and off market property in nearly all of those suburbs over the past 11 years. We therefore know them very well.

We have also passed The Hindsight Test TM every time.

One of the clearest recent examples of having done so was our purchase on 25 March 2017 of 23 England Street, Marrickville for $1.675 million. There, The Hindsight Test TM was passed by the off market sale a week later of the semi next door at 25 England Street, Marrickville for $1.8 million. In six days our clients made an on paper 7.5% capital gain and did so while the rest of the market was falling.

For many residential property buyers especially in professional and managerial occupations, it offers better value for money than the alternative inner and middle ring eastern suburbs and lower north shore.

And, you get diversity!

The Inner West is home to relatively more persons of Chinese, Italian, Greek and other non Celtic ancestry than its rival regions. According to the 2016 Census, those of Australian ancestry accounted for 13.7%, compared to Chinese at 12.6% and Italian at 7.5%.

In Strathfield, Burwood and Ashfield 16.7% of persons were of Chinese ancestry compared to 11.1% Australian while Marrickville owes much of its feel to persons of Vietnamese ancestry and those of Portugese ancestry help shape Petersham.

The result is an array of cuisines and cultural influences matched by diverse housing styles. The architecture includes detached terraces and semis as in Erskineville, single fronted workers’ cottages in Leichhardt, weatherboards in Balmain, double fronted Federation houses and Californian bungalows in tree lined Haberfield, Hurlstone Park, Ashbury as well as modern waterfronts in Abbotsford, Birchgrove, Chiswick and Drummoyne facing the likely still contaminated Parramatta River.

Despite Citi in August 2017 ‘blacklisting’ Stanmore, Sydney Olympic Park, Strathfield, Enfield, Concord, Liberty Grove, Homebush and Marrickville as being oversupplied, medium to high density buildings are also popular.

At the prestige end where Curtis Associates specialises, the reputations of Malvern Hill Estate in Croydon, Appian Way in Burwood, the Toxteth Estate in Glebe, Victoria Avenue, Ashfield and the sprawling, recession proof mansions of Strathfield are undisputed.

Many buyers are drawn to the region by a perception that its edginess, grunge and authenticity provide the best chance of avoiding gentrification. The funky micro breweries, hipster beards, tattoos and pierced body parts all add to that perception.

Realistically, that vibe is mostly confined to the suburbs with a high concentration of tertiary students and members of the LGBTQ community such as Glebe, Camperdown, Newtown, Enmore, Erskineville, Petersham and parts of Marrickville.

In those places, graffiti is State sanctioned ‘street art’ and the west reaching tentacles of the Hemmes Merivale empire are reason to protest.

Buyers preferring such suburbs are also prepared to accept an increased crime rate caused by the overflow of revellers locked out of Kings Cross and the CBD.

Concord, Croydon, Summer Hill and Annandale are the only suburbs whose village like feel does not come from those influences with the majority of the remaining suburbs being distinctly suburban in feel and serviced by ubiquitous retail strips.

Tramsheds at Forest Lodge is the notable exception; leaving the Bakehouse Quarter at North Strathfield in its wake.

Despite its positives, the Inner West faces challenges; many of which, like the inundation risk from Sydenham/Tempe to south Marrickville and in ground lead contamination risks in Balmain, Camperdown and Glebe, are usually known unknowns and unknown unknowns for unrepresented buyers.

Few Dulwich Hill buyers know for example that the lush and coveted Abergeldie Estate was once a brickworks surrounded by heavy industry,

Schools are another challenge: despite a reputation for having good schools, the 2016 Census confirmed that inner west government primary and secondary school enrolments are well below the rest of NSW and that non government enrolments are barely on par with the rest of NSW.

Another is public transport: while that Census records 34.5% of people travelling to work by public transport compared to just 16% in the rest of NSW and 47.7% travelling to work by car compared to 64.6% elsewhere, only 22 of the 53 suburbs are serviced by heavy rail and a handful by the already at capacity light rail Dulwich Hill Line. In addition, four of the heavy rail stations will effectively be off line for several years as they are converted to the Sydney Metro.

Apart from a few ferry catchers, most travel by bus along choked arteries like Parramatta and Victoria Roads.

Without doubt, the two biggest buyer turn offs are:

  • the conversation stopping aircraft noise in the corridor west of Newtown Station to Summer Hill and running south to north from Tempe to Drummoyne and
  • WestConnex which has cut a swathe through Haberfield and will see a spaghetti junction in St Peters disgorge more traffic into already congested local roads.

While proximity to WestConnex tunnelling has also caused property price discounts, the seven ventilation stacks which risk contaminating local air with unfiltered vehicle particulate are an even bigger concern. With four such stacks slated for Rozelle it, as well as Lilyfield, Balmain, East Balmain, (already affected by pollution from the White Bay Cruise Terminal), Glebe and Annandale will undoubtedly have their air quality degraded.

Nevertheless, as an Inner West buyers’ agent, we find overwhelmingly that even after alerted to such risks, many more property buyers, just like their diverse predecessors, still say ‘yes’ to the Inner West than ‘no’.