The many sides of Manly

Manly – like Bondi and Byron Bay – is one of the most iconic beach locations in Australia. Every year, countless tourists board the ferry to Manly to enjoy its 1.5km beach strip and iconic harbour, not to mention its thriving scene of cafes, restaurants, bars and shops.

But it hasn’t always been this way. The Sydney beachside suburb had humble origins that it has slowly shaken off over the years to become one of the most sought after lifestyle locations in all of Sydney.

In this interview, 26 and Sunny digs into the culture of Manly, why it’s so hard to buy a house there, and the changing dynamic around the suburb’s apartment stock with Stone Real Estate’s Adam Moore.

Apart from having one of the most well-known beaches in Australia, what draws people to Manly?

A big drawcard is Manly’s access to the city. While the whole of the Northern Beaches is fantastic, Manly is closest to Sydney’s CBD. So if you work in the city, it makes sense in terms of convenience.

Another plus is how Manly is situated – there is just 200 meters between the harbour and the surf. So in summer when the nor’easter winds come through and hit the beach, blowing it out, you don’t have to go home.

Instead, all Manly residents have to do is walk across to the harbour side where there’s not a breath of wind, meaning you can have a swim or a sail or whatever you want to do without wind being a factor.

There’s also the ‘Silicon Valley’ vibe of Manly which is a plus.  There’s not a lot of old money in Manly but there’s a lot of people who come to Manly to make their fortune. It brings a great energy to the suburb.

What’s the culture of Manly these days? Who’s moving into the suburb?

It used to be considered a bit of a rough suburb, but every year it gets better, with trendier cafes and restaurants coming in all the time as gentrification continues.

In terms of demographics, there’s a lot of young professionals, between the ages of 20 to 40, working in the city, living in apartments. Then you’ve also got wealthy downsizers who tend to move in from the North Shore and other parts of the Northern Beaches, who want good access to the city in retirement.

Why would someone choose Manly over, say, the Eastern Suburbs beaches?

I think it’s especially attractive to families. Obviously, over in Bondi there’s a bigger party scene than in Manly, but Bondi’s very much a ‘city beach’. Manly has a trendy feel, but a big advantage is there’s a lot more nature for those who want green space, and there’s heaps of great hikes and bushwalks around.

The other thing is the commute. In under 20 minutes the fast ferry has you in Circular Quay. By contrast, Bondi can be hit and miss, it could be 45-minute trip into the CBD with traffic.

On property prices, Manly is actually more expensive than Bondi now when it comes to the average apartment. There’s more good quality stock here, whereas in Bondi, there’s bigger supply of cheaper apartments.

Manly has had some really big sales of late. Are those sales scaring prospective buyers away?

We had a four-bedder sell for $21.5 million a couple of weeks ago, but that was a bit of an anomaly. Generally when it comes to houses in the suburb, you’re looking around $3.6 as the median price.

You can pick up good quality semis and houses in the $3.5 to $4 million range, while good free-standing homes tend to be in that $5 to $8 million range. If you don’t want views, Manly is still good value but you pay a big premium for the views – that’s where things really blow out.

Part of the reason for the high prices for houses in Manly is limited stock, what else drives prices up?

As you say, stock is a big factor given Manly is 80% apartments and 20% houses. What’s more, 5% of those houses are on church land, so if you want Torrens title land in Manly, it’s only 15% of the total stock.

That makes houses a good investment here because there’s only usually half a dozen available, and when one does come on the market, it’s a rare commodity. This means house prices in Manly tend to weather the storm better than, say, a suburb like Seaforth where there’s a lot more housing stock.

Can you tell us a bit more about the arrangement for the properties on church land?

The church land got issued as 99-year leases, but a lot of the best ones on the cliff have got a lot less than that remaining on the title. To get a 20 year extension on your lease, you pay 20% of the home and land value. That’s a big price when we’re talking about multimillion dollar properties. It means that homes on church land are now really only for the uber rich.

 What about apartment stock in Manly? What sort of prices are people paying?

The unit market is two tiered. Tier one is the stock under $1.5 million which has taken a big hit in Manly this year, dropping back up to 25%. Looking ahead, this market will be interesting to watch after the state government brought in laws for first home buyers allowing them to pay land tax instead of stamp duty on anything under $1.5 million. I expect this will drive a lot of demand in Manly in 2023.

Tier two is the higher end, which is still quite strong, especially the downsizer market where the prices have probably come back only 5%.  Overall, when it comes to apartments, a good thing about Manly is that stock is limited given there’s tight control plans in the suburb, versus somewhere like Dee Why.

Finally, where do you see the market going in 2023?

Interest rates moves will have a big effect. As soon as they stop rising, or if there’s a drop, then the market will kick. That could be as soon as December or in the new year but no one’s got a crystal ball.

For 2023, look to buy something that you would live in for at least the next five years, rather than trying to time the bottom of the market. That means, if the market does stay slow for a while, you’re enjoying living there so there’s no real issue. By contrast, if you buy a ‘deal’ on a rundown apartment with issues, you’ve actually got no deal – the unit will probably have issues and then will be hard to resell.

Next year, I think the vendors will be more realistic than this year, and for buyers that’s a better scenario. Last year when we went out of a booming market a lot of vendors were in denial but now they’re had time to acclimatize and are more realistic. That’ll make things easier for buyers.

Prefer to listen? Head to the podcast episode here

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