Meet the millennials who've made a tree change
In their late 20s, Laura and Ernez Dhondy were living in a Carlton sharehouse when they began to entertain the idea of home ownership. 'We lived with a friend. It was a good way to stay close to the city and manage the rent between three of us,' Laura says. But sharehousing was never the long-term plan. So, they set their sights on a one-bedroom inner-city apartment. Moving to the outer suburbs was definitely not a consideration. Their friends, work and favourite pubs were all within a stone's throw. If they had to buy a smaller place to stay in the hood, so be it.
But as prices continued to rise and the young couple became a family of three, sucking up longer commutes in return for a home among the gumtrees was inevitable.
Step one: get into the market
'We set up a separate high interest savings account, so every pay day an amount would be transferred,' Laura explains. They turned off their direct debit payments in order to track their spending mindfully. Public transport replaced driving and they took their lunch to work, too. Plus, looking at properties all day every Saturday meant brunch, lunch and drinks were off the agenda. 'Even though we didn’t have the deposit to buy straight away, it was a good way to see what was happening in the market and what places were going for.'
'We bought a one-bedroom house in Footscray. We loved the west, the community and the diversity of the area. We thought we would eventually buy something bigger there,' Laura says. But when their son was born they were faced with renovating their little place or selling. Ultimately, the couple was forced to look further out. 'We couldn't find what we wanted in the west for the budget we had in mind,' she explains.
Step two: the big, bold move to the burbs
A tree change wasn't part of the plan, but after being invited to housesit in Melbourne's northern suburb of Eltham, the pair, now in their 30s, began to consider a very different lifestyle. 'My husband was sold on Eltham from day one. But I was a bit worried about the distance,' Laura recalls.
Housesitting enabled Laura and Ernez to trial the area before making a commitment. The green open spaces, wine bars, farmers' markets and cafes were easy selling points. 'It only took a month before I knew this was it,' Laura says. After a six-month search, they bought in Eltham. More than a year later, it's become home.
Of course, it had its challenges. A longer work commute meant rising ealier, but express train services made it manageable. And the advantages far outweighed the difficult bits. 'We have enough space for my son to play, an outdoor area to hang washing and we don't feel like we're living on top of everyone in the street.'
Laura and Ernez are far from alone in the decision to give up city living. 'After a few months we noticed more people who were at the same life stage as us sussing out the neighbourhood. It does help foster a sense of community. It's like a silent recognition that we’ve all made a similar decision and taken the plunge to move further out.'