Not Your Average SuburbThe world’s most liveable city (according to the annual Economist Intelligence Unit annual ranking) just got a bit more liveable. Though lists like it can vary wildly at the lower end, few would argue that the top ten are there for a reason. Melbourne topped the list in 2012, scoring near perfect marks on housing, stability, educational resources, lifestyle and cultural facilities, healthcare and business environment. Though census date for 2011 revealed lower numbers than expected, people are still moving to Australia in droves and the housing market is tightening because of slow or low construction. It’s not London yet, but there is an investor advantage in the rental market. Research released in July 2012 by ANZ stated, “Improved housing affordability, tightening housing market balance pressures and upward pressure on rents are likely to support both first home buyer and investor housing market activity in the years ahead.”

So into this environment comes R.Corporation’s latest development, Central Park Melbourne, a four-hectare, 208-unit townhouse development in Cheltenham, south of the city centre. Like most developers, R. has focused on apartments but for this project they opted for “contemporary townhouses that are a cohesive blend of urban aesthetic and modern suburban space.” Cheltenham is a well-established suburb boasting scores of public schools, retail, transit connections (the CBD is about 20 minutes away) and complete existing infrastructure. “It’s one of Melbourne’s more affluent suburbs,” explains Christopher Moreira, development manager for Melbourne’s R.Corporation. “It’s in what we call the Bayside Sandbelt area and it’s got a great vibe to it, a great lifestyle and a café culture. All that Melbourne has to offer.”

A selling point for Central Park Melbourne is its relative value for money. Melbourne apartments can be quite expensive in general from square foot perspective, running approximately AU$10,000 per square metre. Central Park’s town homes are priced around $4,500 for at least double the space.

Being completed in four stages, Central Park comprises six different two- and threebedroom models sized from approximately 1,335 to 2,500 square feet, with prices beginning at AU$530,000 (HK$4.2 million): the entry-level, traditional tall and narrow Jasmine; the semi-detached Gardenia and Camellia homes, two-storey townhouses with balconies off the master bedroom; the terrace style Magnolia; the park-facing Ivy; and the traditional detached family home on a large plot of land, the Orchid (which is selling quickly).

Exteriors are constructed with varying materials and elements to stave off any chance at looking like a bland subdivision, for, “Architectural articulation of the facades which means there’s a row of townhouses that don’t all look the same … We all want something different.” The ultra-contemporary interiors feature oak timbre flooring, stone bench tops, Bosch appliances, mirrored splashbacks, pendant lighting, double showers in some units and low maintenance indoor-outdoor living spaces. “The goal is to have a home and have people say, ‘That’s an R.Corporation development.’”

And for the eco-conscious, Australia has the strictest construction and efficiency guidelines in the world, making a “green” home mandatory for developers. “We build to a minimum five-star energy ratings; it’s going up to six-star. A lot of it now comes down to water conservation, little things. All our homes collect rainwater for flush water and garden water; we have gas-boosted solar hot water units. There are materials and techniques that we’re looking at for future developments,” Moreira notes.

Moreira firmly believes that Central Park is a good investment as well. According to a recent report by independent strategic property consulting firm Charter Keck Cramer, Cheltenham’s recent house price growth has started to outpace nearby bayside districts such as Brighton, Black Rock and Sandringham. It offers capital growth as an established area; Cheltenham has recorded an average of 7.5 percent growth over the last 25 years. It’s also a major employment hub, with Coca-Cola, Philip Morris, BAT, the water authority and the second biggest shopping centre in the city among Cheltenham’s employers, and R.’s own research reveals most workers live nearby.

“This is freehold property, your own home and there are low owner’s corporation fees. Buying an apartment involves maintenance, insurance and so on, and apartment buyers are paying $5,000 to $6,000 per year on top of all the other costs involved with an investment property. We’ve got an owner’s corporation, but it’s $400 a year, and there’s not much competition. So people are paying high rents on older homes that haven’t been renovated,” Moreira points out. “Rental growth in this area is about 8 percent per year and vacancy rates are low — about 0.7 percent. Melbourne is upwards of 3 or 4 percent on average depending on the area … There are a lot of fundamentals that make this a good decision.” As if being in the most liveable city in the world weren’t enough.