While looking for a property to purchase in the Illawarra recently, Gemma Gillett and husband Tom were "surprised at what we couldn't get" for around the $1 million mark.
"Considering we had been looking three years ago and six, eight months ago, we were shocked," she said.
"We would go and see them, and it would be some decrepit estate and they were asking like $1.4 million. We would be thinking, 'are you for real?' "
The couple had been renting in Sydney's eastern suburbs, and in August began renting in Woonona.
"We couldn't afford Sydney, and we had spoken about moving down to the Illawarra for the past three years," Mrs Gillett, 39, said.
"After the birth of my second child we just needed a bigger house."
The first home buyers had a budget limit of about $950,000 in mind.
Mrs Gillett said they had hoped to buy in Woonona, due to the schools, commuting distance to Sydney and lifestyle, "but we just couldn't".
"If we'd bought last year it would have been a different story, but we just couldn't afford to," she said.
In February, they bought a four-bedroom, three-bathroom house on 734sqm at 16 Lemrac Avenue, Corrimal for $1,050,000.
Mrs Gillett said while Corrimal wasn't necessarily their first preference, they recognised its potential.
Mrs Gillett said they would be renovating the new place, and move in during May.
She said they would likely live there for a few years and then maybe look at buying elsewhere.
According to CoreLogic, as of March 31 this year, the median dwelling value in the Illawarra was $765,425.
Trever Molenaar from Molenaar + McNeice was the selling agent for 16 Lemrac Avenue.
He said in the north of the Illawarra, $1 million was probably the entry level price now.
"Even nice townhouses are creeping up towards a million dollars," he said.
"We've sold three above $900,000 in Woonona in the past couple of weeks.
"Anywhere Corrimal and north, you're going to be paying a million bucks just to get into a house.
"I think most people have the understanding now that that's the entry level or thereabouts, and they're just trying to get into the market.
"Even a year ago, you could get so much more bang for your buck. You could get quite a nice, modern home, let's say a year or two ago, and now it's your entry level coming in [the northern suburbs]."
Further north, the property at 19 Otford Road, Helensburgh sold this week for $965,000.
This three-bedroom, original cottage, sitting on a 750sqm block was previously owned by the same family for more than 65 years.
Selling agent, Monique Napper from Ray White Centennial Park said the property sold prior to auction to a southern Sydney buyer.
She said the property would require a renovation.
"In the northern Illawarra, a million dollars now gets you a good parcel of land with a house that needs a good renovation," she said.
"I lived in Thirroul as well and sold a lot there, and that's just gone absolutely through the roof in the past six months. Bulli too.
"They're cashing up in Sydney and then coming down south ... that's why the prices have gone up."
Back down south, among Neil Webster from Stone Real Estate Illawarra's listings is 80 Ocean Street, Mount St Thomas.
The home sits on an elevated 550sqm block, and has three bedrooms and one bathroom. It's currently under offer for $900,500.
Mr Webster said they had seen a jump in demand for sub-$1 million homes.
"The shift post-COVID to working from home, and hence wanting a home with lifestyle options, has seen the Illawarra market flourish," he said.
"The majority of these out-of-area buyers with $1 million in their pocket are a mix of first home buyers and upsizers moving from inner Sydney apartments/townhouses.
"While properties at this price point are well maintained and in great locations, some will require updates to bathrooms, kitchens or if renovated inside, may need work externally - 80 Ocean Street is an example of inside renovation, but the outside needing a refresh."
Mr Webster also offered some advice to buyers who are looking to buy around the million-dollar mark, but can't seem to find the right property at the right price.
"My advice is to widen their search net," he said. "Look in areas just outside their preferred suburbs and even consider suburbs that are still to bloom where there are great lifestyle options/access to transport and schools.
"We've seen great growth in suburbs such as Mt St Thomas recently for example, but other areas I think are yet to be picked up are Kanahooka, Oak Flats and Coniston."
Meanwhile, 20 O'Mara Place, Jamberoo recently sold for $1,040,000 to an Illawarra buyer.
Sitting on 1472sqm, the house includes three bedrooms and two bathrooms.
Selling agent Vivienne Marris from Elders Real Estate Jamberoo said they also had a property on the market at the moment, "which we've got offer and acceptance on, it's under $800,000".
"It's in a beautiful spot, but it's a two-bedroom, one-bathroom place," she said. "But a house in the village now, you would be hard pressed to find something that's under a million."
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