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The three zones of Brunswick are like siblings in neat formation, standing two-and-half kilometres tall from Brunswick Road to Moreland Road. Brunswick proper is the big brother in the middle; it’s almost twice as big as its flankers.
It has to be said, if you’re a home-buyer looking for an inner city lifestyle and are more attracted to the funkier north than the establishment east of Melbourne, then you’ll probably be pretty happy to live in Brunswick, Brunswick East or Brunswick West.
Where you choose to live or invest may come down to commuting needs. If you or your tenants work or study in the west or north-west of Melbourne then Brunswick West is clearly more convenient than the other two suburbs. Brunswick is the only suburb of the three with a train line – the somewhat infrequent Upfield line – and it also has a tram route down Sydney Road. It’s therefore the ideal suburb for those needing fast access into the CBD. Brunswick East also has reasonable transport links to the CBD (three tram routes) and is of course best placed for those needing to reach the eastern suburbs.
Like much of the inner north, the three Brunswick suburbs have a diversity of residential architectural styles and share the landscape with pockets of light industrial use. The residential stock ranges from Victorian and Edwardian weatherboards and brick houses, to Californian bungalows of the 1930s, through to 1950s clinker brick houses, low rise apartments and commission housing right through to modern townhouses. Adding further flavour to the mix is the increasing number of former industrial-era warehouse and commercial buildings – Brunswick had a sizeable brick industry in the early 20th century - that are being reassigned for residential use.
For those used to the consistency of Melbourne’s inner eastern suburbs, this lack of uniformity can be a little jarring, but it works in this more eclectic part of Melbourne. Indeed, it is embraced by the locals, many of whom see the architecture as an antidote to the conformity and conservatism of Melbourne’s inner east. There is a palpably eclectic, grungy tone to the area but it certainly isn’t an enclave of wide radicalism; for every street artist and hipster there are plenty of white collar professionals and young middle-class families, each of whom appear to be at ease with the other.
The one major difference between the three suburbs is the greater incidence of larger blocks with three- and four-bedroom houses in West Brunswick.
Brunswick is the ultimate ethnic melting pot with representatives of every wave of migrant intake from the last 60 years settled in the locality, each adding to the character and charm of the region. Of these, the Greek and Italian communities are most prominent, but increasingly Brunswick is a layering of European and Asian cultures in a contemporary Australian setting. As is usually the case, the public expressions of these cultures is most apparent in the meeting and eating places on the main thoroughfares. In the Brunswicks the most interesting streets are the north-south arteries: Sydney Road, Lygon Street and Nicholson Street. It is essentially the location of these bustling strips that probably make Brunswick and East Brunswick more dynamic propositions than West Brunswick for those seeking a lively inner suburban lifestyle.
You could conceivably have a parlour game about which of the Brunswicks you would invest in.
Taken as a whole, the unseen hand of the market rates East Brunswick as the most valuable, with a median value of $669,000 according to Australian Property Monitors. But Brunswick and West Brunswick aren’t far behind at $625,000 and $603,000 respectively. Brunswick East’s higher rating is likely due to the suburb’s proximity to the uber-desirable Carlton and Fitzroy locations.
The Brunswicks are a classic illustration of the maxim that when you’re investing, you are buying the locality and its general amenity as much as the individual property itself. Nevertheless, not every street and property meets the grade. And in the Brunswicks, it is only a small fraction of the area’s properties and precincts that I would consider blue chip. These gems are on the quiet streets with relatively consistent architecture that are close to public transport and the shopping strips.
Over the years, we have found that Brunswick proper has been the happiest hunting ground for property investment. That in part is a function of its larger size – there is simply more choice – but also because of the greater public transport options and overall higher levels of amenity. Brunswick East is a somewhat distant second followed by Brunswick West. With its larger blocks, the latter tends to lend itself more to homebuyers rather than investors – especially those upgrading – who are looking for several bedrooms and a more affordable price than Brunswick proper.
Undoubtedly, the appeal of the Brunswicks will continue to grow as its housing stock and streets are further gentrified. They’re definitely three to watch!