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If you think that home buyers in the fringe Growth Area LGAs are predominantly young renters buying their first McMansion, then think again.

A survey released today by property consultants Oliver Hulme profiles home buyers in the Growth Areas LGAs i.e. Wyndham, Melton, Hume, Whittlesea, Casey and Cardinia.

Given the brouhaha in The Age today over foreign investment on the fringe, the media might give attention to the finding that 23% of purchasers in these areas are investors. However it is not possible to deduce from the report how many of them live overseas.

But there are plenty of other interesting nuggets of information.

Rather than moving out of rental accommodation and into their first home, most fringe purchasers already own a house. Only 36% are first home buyers. Of the 64% who are ‘upgrading’ from an existing owner-occupied dwelling, a third are buying their third or fourth home.

It is therefore no surprise that the average buyer is not ‘starting out’ on the great suburban journey. Nearly half (48%) of adult buyers are aged 35 years or more. In fact 14% are aged 50 or more.

And while some bought large houses, almost three quarters (74%) purchased a single level dwelling. Moreover, 70% of homes are less than 30 squares and 47% are less than 26 squares. That suggests the great bulk of dwellings are roomy but they’re hardly McMansions. However, small dwellings don’t cut it – even though 12% of buyers are single, only 1% of dwellings are smaller than 15 squares.

One possibly surprising but very important finding is that 50% of purchasers deem access to public transport to be very important to their purchasing decision and 45% say it’s important. Only 5% say it’s not very important (see chart). So even though car use is high – 80% of households have two or more cars – access to public transport matters. In this context that probably means access by car to a rail station.

On the other hand, a mere 17% say proximity to their workplace is very important and a staggering 39% say it’s not very important. Only 18% of workers purchased a home within 10 km of their existing workplace whereas 46% bought more than 20 km away. This supports the view that Growth Area buyers trade-off accessibility to work for other attributes, like land/dwelling size, ‘leafy’ amenity and affordability. The top reason given for the purchase is ‘location’.

82% of buyers who work already commute by car and, as noted above, 80% of households have at least two cars. There is a chart in the Appendix to the report showing most purchasers come from established parts of the outer ring suburbs. Although not conclusive, this could mean that the sort of people who settle in Growth Areas are largely the sort of people who prefer to drive to work i.e. there is a process of selection.

Yet the high valuation given to public transport is intriguing and I would like to see this aspect developed further. I have a feeling it’s important. I don’t think it means residents’ would prefer not to drive, but availability of public transport is clearly valued. That might be for teenagers, for trips to the footy in the city centre, or as insurance against the risk of stratospheric petrol prices.

There is much fascinating detail in this report and it’s well worth a look. Unfortunately there’s no mention of the methodology so caution is in order.