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Changing of the guard in the elite Toorak, South Yarra

Domain Online

By Emily Power

The face of the elite leafy east is changing.

The apartment boom in traditional bastions of prestige – old money, establishment estates and multi-million dollar properties, passed down through generations – is gradually altering the typical profile of who lives in and around luxury postcodes.
Instead of the coiffed clientele who once frequented Lillian Frank’s society hair salon, a flood of young singles in South Yarra and the edge of Toorak are paying $50 for a trendy cut-throat shave and line-up for brunch at the cafes with cachet.

Younger buyers are able to afford to live in upmarket suburbs previously out of their reach due to sub-$400,000 prices for an entry-level, off-the-plan apartment.

The median house price in South Yarra is $1,295,000, or $3 million up the road in Toorak, according to the Valuer General.

The bulk of residents in Toorak (17 per cent) and South Yarra (33 per cent) are aged 25 to 34, and have increased since 2006, according to ABS data. With many apartment towers built since the last census in 2011, those figures are expected to have risen.

In just one area of South Yarra, between the train station, Melbourne High School and Toorak Road, several apartment towers have sprouted, with more construction underway.

The thriving pocket, known as Forrest Hill, was once a rag trade hub and home to discount retail outlets.

Recently engaged couple Brendan Lawrence and Brad George, both 31, moved from Sydney and bought in the Central South Yarra development on Yarra Street.

While their generation once looked to Chapel Street for entertainment, Toorak Road – with its decades-old boutiques and stalwart retailers – is being revitalised for Gen Y.

“We are really hoping with all of the residents flooding this Forrest Hill precinct here, and as it continues to grow, that the younger demographic will have an effect on the strip and it be more aimed towards our market,” Mr Lawrence said.

It’s a type of renewal also seen in Mayfair, London – the most expensive square on the Monopoly board and one of the world’s most exclusive suburbs – where affluent residents are getting more youthful and hip.

President of the South Yarra Business Association, local jeweller Ian Sharp, has owned his Toorak Road boutique for 40 years. He said the prestigious area had a new vibrancy and nightlife.

“Toorak Road has improved in the last three years, with the restaurants and cafes opening,” Mr Sharp said.

“When they finish building it all there will be a lot of people living here. We have had some very good customers who come from overseas to visit their children, and when they come, they spend money.”

Michael Fox, the co-founder of developer Little Projects, said “Dumbo” (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) in the New York borough of Brooklyn was once a rag trade zone much like Forrest Hill, and had gone through a similar transformation.

Little Projects completed the Ilk tower on Toorak Road in 2013 and Central South Yarra this year.

“About five years ago when we were selling Ilk, we had first homeowners’ grants, so we had a lot of first home buyers move in,” Mr Fox said.

“Investors subsequently bought and leased out apartments, and most of those have been picked up by a younger demographic. But we do see families in there as well. It is not uncommon to get in the lift and see someone with a pram.

“Places like the Forrest Hill precinct are full of young people. The foot traffic is enormous and the retailers have really picked up.”

Mr Fox said he recently presented to the Department of Planning on apartment size.

“There is a big argument about the size of the apartments, but most people don’t live in their apartments – they are basically a bedroom,” he said.

“They are young, mobile people, they work hard, they get home late, they get takeaway food on the way home. It is not unusual for us to go into an apartment six months later and find the oven has never been used.

“It’s a whole new lifestyle.”

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