A stone’s throw from one of Melbourne, Australia’s liveliest neighborhoods is a quiet little suburb that, due to its location and history, is largely inaccessible to even the wealthiest of people.
Toorak– an inner suburb of Melbourne, three miles southeast of Melbourne’s central business district and known for its gated cul-de-sacs and wide, tree-lined streets – is a private playground for the wealthy and famous since wealthy merchant James Jackson built an Italianate residence in 1849.
Unlike Sydney, a city famed for its proximity to Sydney Harbor and which Abercromby property manager Jock Langley has called “a place to visit rather than live”, Melbourne’s best suburbs exude a quiet opulence favored by local families with old money, dignitaries and wealthy expats seeking privacy.
“Melbourne, and especially Toorak, is a well-planned and smart city in the sense that it has all those beautiful, wide tree-lined avenues, gentle topography and stately homes that have existed since the turn of the [20th] century,” Langley said.
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These sizable family estates, often designed in the Neoclassical, Italianate, or Colonial styles, include expansive entertainment spaces with movie theaters, swimming pools, wine cellars, multi-car garages, botanical gardens, and luxury amenities.
Yet even a suburb as resplendent as Toorak has its stars: St. Georges Road, which stretches between the main thoroughfare of Toorak Road and the Yarra River, is home to some of the most monumental and luxurious mansions in the country.
Toorak House, dubbed “Melbourne’s most important estate” and the site of the city’s former government residence, it was in june listed for a staggering AU$65 million (US$42 million) to $70 million, making it one of the most expensive homes in Victoria.
Two months later, 27-year-old Stake.com founder Ed Craven paid over A$80m for 27-29 St. Georges Roada sprawling 7,246 square meter north-facing estate that stood empty for decades after Ausvest Holdings director David Wu bought the property for A$5 million in 1991.
Kim Easterbook of Elite Buyer’s Agents, who represented Mr Craven in the transaction, said finding an estate without heritage overlays on St. Georges Road is a rare opportunity.
“A property that is a blank canvas is so unusual here, and my client wanted to create something very modern on it,” she said. “Being on St. Georges Road is also about being in good company: there are lots of big houses and lots of money here.”
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Situated on an elevation on the south side of a bend in Melbourne’s largest river, the Yarra, Toorak borders a series of affluent suburbs with South Yarra to the west; Malvern to Glenferrie Road to the east; Prahran and Armadale to Malvern Road to the south; and the trendier suburbs of Richmond, Burnley and Hawthorn north of the river.
It’s hard to pinpoint an average price for Toorak, let alone the exclusive St. Georges Road.
A fiercely private area where properties and homes are often sold off the market, prices here are influenced not just by cost per yard (ranging from A$8,000 to A$14,000, the buyer’s agent said David Morrell of Morrell & Koren) but also by interest rates, generational deaths (when a family generation dies out) and the interest of affluent migrants.
The median value of homes in Toorak was just under A$5 million in August, with apartments costing just over $1 million, according to Eliza Owen, head of research at CoreLogic Australia.
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And while Toorak often performs 5% better than any other suburb in Victoria, the pandemic has seen home values in the area drop 1% from five years ago.
A slowdown doesn’t mean affordability, and Ms Owen said properties sold on St. Georges Road are among the most expensive in the area, regularly fetching tens of millions.
“These are sizable family estates with giant entertainment areas, swimming pools, generally large grounds, luxury amenities and large gardens. Having that space and that sanctuary, especially during the time of Covid, has become particularly important, where some of those high-end shoppers would have retreated,” Ms Owen said.
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What makes it unique
Upscale street locations, northern walled gardens, and proximity to upscale shops, restaurants, and public transportation are just a few unique features that characterize Toorak and its exclusive streets.
“Toorak is also a suburb of fences; everyone has a huge fence here and you don’t know who your neighbors really are,” Morrel added. “That kind of privacy, along with location and orientation, is what developers and owners will pay a premium for.”
At the heart of Toorak’s shopping area is Toorak Village, a popular local haunt with over 300 shops, sunny street cafes, fine dining and luxury beauty salons.
The area also includes the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club and Brookville Gardens. Geelong Grammar – one of Australia’s most prestigious schools attended by King Charles III for two terms in 1996 – also has its primary school campus in Toorak, as does the private boys’ school St. Kevin’s College and Loreto Mandeville Hall Toorak Girls’ School.
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While Toorak is known for its lavish mansions, it is actually a mix of new and old buildings, townhouses and luxury apartments. And even if the apartments do not include extensive well-kept gardens, they often feature luxury amenities similar to those found in mansions: large terraces and balconies with views of the Yarra River, the cityscape, garages for several cars and luxury finishes.
Who lives here
While Toorak is home to some of Australia’s most prominent families, Mr Langley said high-end homes are usually bought by overseas buyers.
“Over the past five years, many domains have been purchased by Chinese nationals,” he said. Besides wealthy expats, streets such as St. Georges Road and Albany Rd are targeted by members of well-known families who have lived in Toorak for generations.
“These are generational homes that will never be available for sale to the public,” Mr. Morell added. “There is always someone from one of these families looking for a property at some point.”
Besides Mr Craven, notable residents include the Baillieus, a wealthy family founded by politician and businessman William Lawrence Baillieu in the late 1800s and whose members include former Victorian Prime Minister Ted Baillieu.
In 2010, real estate tycoon Harry Stamoulis, head of Stamoulis Property Group, bought a Baillieu family home for over $24 million and controversially demolished the federation-style home that had been in the family for 70 years.
Trucking tycoon Lindsay Fox, who founded Australia’s largest logistics company, Linfox, lives on Irving Street in his A$50 million mansionwhile clothing businessman Solomon Lew resides nearby at his Albany Road complex.
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“Over the past 12 months, we have seen relatively large declines in value across the suburbs,” Ms Owen said. “For the entire Toorak sales market, values are currently down 9.8%, with home values down 9.5% and units down 9.4%.”
The drop in prices is the result of the steepest rate hike cycle since the 1990s, which Ms Owen said generally affects high-end property prices the most in the Australian housing market.
“When rates are cut, the high end of the market will see some of the biggest upsides and gains in value,” she points out. “Now we are in the opposite situation, which is causing some of these high-end real estate markets to drop dramatically.”
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