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The gravitation back to the city begins

By Anthony Cowie
A little bit of the old world (pre-COVID) is returning. What this means for the market and how buyers are behaving towards different areas might surprise you.

I went to a concert in the city last weekend. Yes, that’s right, a real live orchestra. Music, drinks, friends, three-dimensional performers and all. It was a little taste of the old norm – socialising, going out for the night, seeing friends in person – and a little bit of the new norm in that we left the house with sanitiser and a mask, of course. It was refreshing experiencing a little bit of the old world and new norm in its hybrid form. That new- and old-world hybrid can be seen throughout society today.

John Carroll, a professor emeritus of sociology at La Trobe University, wrote something in The Australian recently that struck me as true. “The bubbling entrepreneurial energy needed for a dynamic contemporary society requires some acceptance of self-denial, slog and hardship. And it needs resilience. The buzz that makes a great city, the interconnections with others in the office, meeting in CBD cafes, and even bumping into people in the street, all contribute to creativity and engagement. That depends on density, fluidity and movement.”

Here are seven signs that the buzz (and slog) of city life is returning.

1. Gradual gravitation to CBD. Omicron had delayed the return to offices that was expected following vaccination thresh­olds being met. Despite the rise in remote working seen since the onset of the pandemic, demand for office space is recovering, albeit office occupancy is still well down on pre-COVID levels.

Nonetheless, owner-occupier demand is increasing and many investors are continuing to display confidence in the future of the sector. February and March activity is well up on January and December. In real terms, the CBD has to come back to life because big global and domestic financial institutions have a lot of real estate in the city – and they need them used so that they’re increasing in value. Those major institutions are huge proponents of the in-office culture and will have a vested interest in dispelling the myth of the remote work white-collar dream.

2. City apartments are selling. After prolonged lockdowns and extended restrictions of the past two years, agents are saying they have witnessed the “strongest demand ever experienced over the past two six month periods” for CBD units.

3. Theatre is back in production. From the introduction of restrictions for greater Sydney in June 2021 until reopening in November, 335 Sydney Theatre Company performances were cancelled across nine productions, resulting in a box office revenue loss of $10.5 million. Last month, Artistic Director Kip Williams unveiled Act 2 of its 2022 season, with nine shows to round out the year from May to December which he says are “the result of the perseverance and boundless dreaming our artists and creative teams have done during successive lockdowns”.

4. Tourists are coming back. The data shows that interest in travel to Australia is already on the rise: flight bookings were up 200 per cent following the border-opening announcement compared to the week before, according to Forward Keys, a travel analytics company.

5. CBD transport is cheaper. With average fuel prices soaring to an eight-year high in February, discounting public transport into the city is just one of many ­incentives being considered to bring life back into Sydney’s struggling CBD. Private transport in inner Sydney is 13 per cent below pre-COVID levels even now, while public transport usage has dropped 65 per cent.

6. Al fresco dining is on the table. Pubs, bars and restaurants are now allowed to serve drinks without council approval and meals in areas which had previously been deemed off limits, like car parks, to provide more outdoor space for patrons.

7. Long lunches are encouraged. NSW Treasurer Matt Kean is considering taking ­another look at how to scrap, or reimburse, fringe benefit tax on long lun­ches. This should compel more city-workers to head to the office, knowing they can take clients and colleagues out for the time-honoured business tradition of a long lunch.

What does this mean for the Lower North Shore property market?

Cammeray is a serious winner in the resurgence of the CBD. Its proximity to the city – just one stop to Wynyard – is generating plenty of buyer attention. Not just from the usual suspects (returning expats, of which another 180,000 are expected to hit our shores in 2022) but also from locals.

Interestingly, we’re receiving a lot of enquiries from Mosman residents. And, because Cammeray is such a small market with only 3000 houses and apartments, the buyer competition has been fierce in the face of slowing growth elsewhere in the nation.

That indisputable COVID trend towards buyers seeking more light, a spare room for an office and views is perhaps being superseded by a desire to be back near the city, around the buzz: to have a drink and a laugh, treating yourself to a night at the theatre or indulging in a lavish long lunch…

The new norm was great for a while but there was nothing wrong with the old norm. The hybrid is here to stay – and it’s most welcome, if you ask me.

For advice on your property in this market, speak to Anthony and his team.

Anthony Cowie
Director, Cammeray – LREA
+61 405 285 502
+61 (2) 8969 4120
anthony.cowie@raywhite.com

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