Wagga is earning a name as an affordable housing oasis for young families squeezed out of the Sydney property market.
At a time when more than one in four Australian workers report feeling financially stressed, the high cost of housing is leading families like the Buchtmanns to question whether living in Sydney is a good idea.
David Buchtmann used to drive 100 kilometres from the family home in Penrith to work in Wollongong. The round trip would take about two-and-a-half hours, which combined with 12-hour shifts, meant he would leave home at 5am and get home at 8.30pm.
The couple moved to Wagga with their two daughters and found a better lifestyle, friendly people and a house at a fraction of the cost it would go for in Sydney.
Claire Buchtmann said friends couldn’t find a home for less than $600,000 in western Sydney, whereas the Buchtmanns had been able to ‘upgrade’ to their new home for less than the value of their old one.
“We’re able to go and do things at the school that we couldn’t get to before,” Mr Buchtmann said.
“It was a conscious decision to come to Wagga and lifestyle was a key part of that.”
Property valuer Chris Egan said the average home in Wagga cost $330,000, far below the million-dollar price tags seen in Sydney.
“We are seeing the population in Wagga increase partly because families in western Sydney are feeling the squeeze,” Mr Egan said.
“We have seen quite a few people decide to make a ‘tree change’ – they can sell their three-bedroom home in Sydney, buy one of the best homes in Wagga and still have a lot of change in their pocket.”
Wagga builder Wayne Carter said first-home buyers were among his biggest customer base along with repeat homeowners and investors, but a lot of professionals were looking to relocate from Sydney.
“The cost of Sydney is giving people a real reason to look at coming here,” Mr Carter said.
“I have been getting enquiries from couples from Sydney who can't afford to buy in Sydney but can afford to build in Wagga
“They then rent out their investment home for a good rental income – at least they’re in the home owner market somewhere!
Property investors were also attracted to Wagga, Mr Carter said.
“I built a house for a young bloke – it’s got four bedrooms and he rents the other three out,” he said.
“In Sydney he probably wouldn’t have gotten a loan for a start.
“People are finding it easier and more affordable here.”