Location is undoubtedly important when choosing that perfect property, but research shows that it’s just as vital to look at the name of the street or suburb you’re buying in.
Unfortunate place names can hold back the value of a property for no other significant reason than people don’t want to buy into areas like Watanobbi or Dismal Swamp where a nearby suburb with a more attractive name has equivalent potential.
Mitch Koper from RP Data says emotional factors like suburb names can affect people when they’re making a life-long decision but it’s still important to consider the more vital aspects of a property purchase.
“Hopefully people aren’t necessarily focused on the suburb name if they are in purchasing mode. They should be looking at locality, attributes and if the area has capital growth potential,” she says.
However she concedes there are some dreadful place names around. “The worst named street in Australia would have to be Murdering Creek Road at Coolum in Qld - it has great historical significance but still, the name is quite imposing. I take my dogs there when we take holidays - every time I turn into the road it makes my stomach turn,” she says.
Name does matter
The difference in the value of property prices can be exponential, even for minute differences in the name of a suburb. For example, the median house price in Sylvania is $730,000 according to RP Data, yet a short distance away in Sylvania Waters the price jumps to $925,000. Both suburbs face the bay, but the literal promise of water views means Sylvania Waters attracts more interest from buyers.
Two years ago, residents in the northern Sydney area of Harbord petitioned to have their suburb name changed to Freshwater. Aside from the considerable confusion of place names – the local beach, school and post office were named Freshwater while the suburb continued to be called Harbord – the name Freshwater was also thought to be “more befitting their seaside location”.
Today Freshwater boats a healthy property market. Its average annual growth is above 10% for houses and it’s rapidly picking up interest from out of area buyers looking for a lifestyle change.
Tim Cullen from McGrath Estate Agents in Manly says “the name change has had a positive effect on values; it’s got a nice ring”.
Although it’s hard for him to put a dollar figure on the impact of the change, he says buyers who are attracted to the seaside lifestyle may be swayed on an emotional level by the connotations of Freshwater over the more sedate-sounding Harbord.
In the last 12 months especially, he’s seen a strong demand in the area, fuelled by a new vitality in the town boosted by the expansion of the shops in the village atmosphere.
“What was high 3’s have now become high 4’s” he says “and virtually all the properties we have are selling above the guide.”
Looking at a more extended period of establishment in a name change, Queens Park proves what’s in a name counts. In 1992 the area south of Bondi Junction was renamed Queens Park. The name evokes a quieter, more tranquil ambience than the busy transport and shopping hub of Bondi Junction says Bob Guth, Principal at Bradfield and Pritchard.
“The name just takes it out of a retail setting,” he says. “It makes it a much more elite suburb”. The area is popular with young families that would probably not look at the area in the same way if it was still part of Bondi Junction.
Boosting the appeal
So, is there anything an investor can do to help improve the value of a property located in Cockburn? More attractive place names can work wonders but Paul Harcombe from the Geographical Names Board warns it can be difficult to have a name change approved, even for unattractive sounding suburb names.
“To change the name of existing suburbs is something quite rare” he says. The move for Harbord residents to Freshwater for instance took “a number of years and required council approval based on good historical reasons”.
Suburb names are more easily defined in areas of new development. Where new suburbs are created developers can have their say in the decision and most tend to align their suggestions to attractive sounding names. Places of urban renewal are also up for naming – the new development site that used to be known as Millers Point has been named Barangaroo through a public naming competition that recognizes a notable Aboriginal woman.
For investors that think a name change may help property prices, the road ahead to a name change isn’t easy. Harcombe says the Geographical Names Board tend to “retain longstanding names wherever possible”. But with an application form and council approval, it may be possible.
The subsequent suburb name should reflect the character of the suburb and include historical or heritage links in the area. One of the reasons it may consider a name change is to make a suburb or street easier to find by emergency services.
Koper says it’s worth considering an application when issues like these arise. “On suburbs and streets, it irks me when councils opt to use names that cannot easily be pronounced and where the spelling is awkward. These names can often cause household delivery issues and it can be difficult if there is an emergency” she says.