More than 20 years ago, Costa Rippis was living in West Wollongong and looking for a suburb where he could afford to buy a home.
He was drawn to Unanderra, where properties were within budget while still being close to amenities and transport, ignoring protestations from friends who said he should buy elsewhere.
"It was close to the train station for my sport, and still close enough to go to Sydney," he said.
"When I first moved here, it was a bit rough, it had a reputation.
"People said, 'you're moving into a crap neighbourhood, buy in Figtree instead. Don't go to Unanderra, Berkeley or Dapto. Birds fly upside down through Unanderra, because it's not worth shitting on'."
Although viewed by many at the time as a less desirable area, Mr Rippis said he "just liked it".
"It's what I could afford at that time, and just fell in love with the house," he said. "I never came across any trouble either."
Mr Rippis, now 43, works in transport and said he'd seen "heaps of changes" within the suburb during his time there, including it becoming far more family-friendly.
He recently sold his place on Cummins Street, saying he'd outgrown the home after renovating it, and was looking for a new challenge.
"I thought I'd go out while the market's hot, and move to a quieter area," he said.
The suburb also appears to be attracting a new generation of buyers from outside the region, who are enticed by factors such as generous-sized blocks and access to facilities.
One recent buyer in Unanderra, who didn't wish to be named, said he and his partner were relocating from Cronulla.
The 30-year-old said much of their research into the region had been conducted online due to the lockdown, but they liked the accessibility of Unanderra's price point, and value for money.
"Wollongong, Mangerton, Figtree, everything else we looked at was already $1.1 million, $1.2 million, so [we were] pushed out a little there," he said.
"I could either buy a shoebox here for a million, or get a good-sized block and a nice house that we can grow into, and it's still the same commute to work."
The man said there were other benefits they quickly identified.
"It was close to the highway, close to Wollongong.
"When we drove around it seemed like it was established homes... All the new developments we looked at, every block was like 350 square metres.
"From what I can tell, it used to have a bad rap, but over time it seems to have become a nice place to live."
According to CoreLogic, the predominant age group in Unanderra is 30-39 years.
The median sales price of houses in the area is $630,000, up from $527,500 in May 2020.
Neil Webster from Stone Real Estate Illawarra said Unanderra offered value for money, with solid, established homes, as well as accessible services and facilities.
He said Unanderra was attracting plenty of first home buyers.
"A lot of the people who were looking to get into Figtree or Mangerton, they're getting priced out of those suburbs," he said.
"So they're going, 'what's the next nice family suburb along?' and moving into those areas.
"[It's] not only first home buyers, but second home buyers, people who are upsizing. People who are selling small apartments and looking to buy a house with a big yard."
Mr Webster said the perception of the suburb has changed, with more restaurants appearing, as well as an emerging cafe culture.
"Like Berkeley, it's an area that is rapidly changing in terms of its demographic. What was previously considered a low socio-economic area is now becoming a bit more white collar in terms of home ownership.
"You're getting a different demographic of people who are buying homes in the area and seeing the value of it.
"They know they can get good value for money properties that are still close to the CBD, has good schools nearby and good transport options."
Cliff McGrath from PRD Dapto said Unanderra was drawing interest from a wide range of buyers, including families who were getting priced out of the Farmborough Heights/Figtree market but wanting to stay nearby.
He said the suburb's location was appealing to buyers.
"It's straight on to the freeway, north and south," he said. "You can shoot straight into Wollongong or Dapto if you want, it's just a great location.
"Those suburbs, like Unanderra and Berkeley, those types of areas, they had that stigma about them, but they've almost been a hidden secret for a lot of other people from the area.
"They probably got left behind a touch when the market went bang, but they've certainly caught up now. They've become a very viable option for a lot of people."
Vicky Dukleski from Harcourts Wollongong said interest in the Unanderra area was coming from 60-70 per cent Illawarra buyers, with buyers from Sydney making up approximately 30-40 per cent.
"The demographic making up the largest percentage of buyers is couples with children aged 0-2," she said.
On the market
Recent sales in Unanderra include 3 Beatus Street for $780,000, 56 Beatus Street for $850,000, and 6 Robert Street for $560,000.
Ms Dukleski is the selling agent for 81 Cummins Street, Unanderra.
Set on 708 square metres, the four-bedroom, one-bathroom home has a price guide of $820,000 to $880,000.
Mr McGrath is the selling agent for 20 Waples Road, Unanderra.
Set on a 721 square metre corner block, the three-bedroom, one-bathroom home has a price guide around the $850,000 mark.
Mr McGrath said it went on the market last week, and was attracting interest from a range of parties, including entry-level buyers and developers.
The home has an advertised price guide of $570,000 to $620,000, although is currently under offer.
Set on 643 square metres, the three-bedroom plus a sunroom, north-facing home has a council reserve at the rear.
Mr Spinelli said the interest in the property was mainly from first home buyers/young couples.