Harnessing the ripple effect

Caroline Edwards

June 1, 2012

As published in Your Investment Property Magazine, June 2012

Savvy property Investors are taking advantage of the ripple effect in order to get out in front of the next boom. Are you prepared? Your Investment Property Magazine's Jon Tkach reports

What does learning to surf have to do with property investing? Well, lesson number one for anyone dipping their toes in the water for the first time is if you want to ride a wave you have to get out in front of it.

Riding a wave in property works pretty much the same way, and a concept known as the ’ripple effect’ is helping some of the pros stay out in front.

Booms typically have their start in the prime areas, and send ripples out to neighbouring suburbs as priced-out buyers look for the next best thing, Savvy investors can get a lift from these waves if they can identify how to hitch a ride before they pass on by.

“It’s definitely one of the most simple, and predictable, principles that an investor can follow to ensure better than average growth,” says Real Estate Investar’s David Hows.


Hows says investors might want to rethink what they take away from the many ’Best Performing Suburbs’ reports that come out each year. “So many people read in the paper and they see the top suburbs for growth over the past year and they think. “Fantastic, I’ll go and invest there”, he says. “But the danger is that they have had their growth or they’re at the end of their growth and, worse still, maybe you will pay too much at the top of the market.

"Look at what's next, and not what has been." Because of the ripple effect, Hows says, next up are very likely those nearby suburbs that haven't had the same level of growth, but share many of the lead suburb's characteristics.

"It's a real thing," says Terry Ryder of hotspotting.com.au, "and if people are willing to do a bit of research and then look next door, or down the way, and say this area has similar qualities but hasn't shown the same growth in the last 12 months, I think it's next.​


Hotspotcentral.com.au's research analyst says the ripple effect occurs because price growth in an area docs not happen evenly. You will often see growth start in the CBD, or perhaps, he says, in an area benefiting from a new tram station or emerging café culture

"So whatever happened in that suburb to make it more attractive so that there was this sudden spike in growth, people at some point are going to be willing to be just close enough," he says.

"Maybe they can't afford the suburb anymore or maybe the market's just so tight that they can't get in so they choose the option that is near enough.

“I kind of compare it to buying a ticket at a concert,” says Hows. “You say, ’I really love this band and I am happy to pay $350 to sit in the front row’. If the seats a few rows back are $200, you’re likely to say, ’well for an extra $150 I’m willing to go blue chip because I get that extra benefit’.”

But once the difference in price between the front row and the b-grade seats gets significantly larger, concert goers are more likely to give up that vaunted chance to be close enough to their idols.

“Then, the additional value that I’m getting for the additional cost isn’t as good as I’d like, and so I’m willing to go with a seat a few rows back,” says Hows. Furthermore, as those previous front row buyers move into the cheaper seats, there is more competition for those seats and in an open market their price would get a boost.


Investors have managed to get good rides out of the ripple effect over the past decade in suburbs across Australia as homebuyers fled the epicentres of the country’s small and large-scale property booms, deciding that the suburb down the way was good enough.

Hotspotcentral.com.au's resarch analyst keeps an eye on the ripple effect through several indices he puts together for clients, but he does caution against making a buying decision solely based on the perception that a suburb appears to be in the path of a ripple. For starters, he says, the most viable suburbs may not be the ones right next door.

Either the ripple may have already passed by, or that particular suburb may not have what buyers were looking for in the leading suburb. So, investors, he says, should look more deeply at the specific growth drivers behind the ‘hub’ suburb’s surge.

“The problem that most investors are going to face is they are going to look at a map and go to the next suburb and see that it is pretty much the same growth chart,” he says. “They might need to go out to another two or three layers of neighbour suburbs in order to see an emerging trend,” he says.

He says it is especially important to identify the drivers of growth, paying particular attention to whether the neighbour has features like good access to quality schools, leisure facilities, healthcare, transport and infrastructure. “The neighbours with the most similarities to the source of growth are the ones most likely to get a higher share of that ripple.”

Case in point: Balmain’s ripples

Hotspotcentral.com.au's research analyst points to Balmain's rise as a blue chip Sydney suburb during the last decade (see above charts) as a key example of how the ripple effect can sweep up nearby suburbs, the gentrification of Balmain began around 2000 and started what would be the transformation of Sydney’s inner west.

Ryder says Balmain quickly gained an identity as a hip and comfortable place to live, translating into massive median price growth. “It used to be a working class suburb but people started to realise that it was full of these terrace-style homes with lots of character but still close to the city. So people bought and renovated and the area became gentrified, the café culture moved in, and it became trendy," he says.

"And so people started to look for alternatives and found that Western Sydney was full of suburbs that were relatively close to the CBD, and these have since been discovered and properties have been renovated,” says Ryder.

He says the places with high streets and character shopping similar to Balmain tended to benefit the most from the ripple effect. But primarily, Ryder says, it came down to affordability. “People looked for relatively affordable housing waiting to be renovated, and then as it started to get expensive in those places too, people started to look for what’s next.”

Balmain sent out several ripples that lifted its neighbours and transformed the market in Sydney’s inner west, making millions for savvy investors with the insight to get ahead of the ripple.

Balmain’s dramatic rise began in September 2000, when its median home price of $410,000 was among the mid-range of its surrounding suburbs. However, over the next year the suburb posted dramatic growth of more than 58%, with a median price of $650,000, far outpacing the growth of its immediate neighbours.

An astute investor at this point would have recognized the stellar performance of Balmain, and by taking a look at a map, could have identified several surrounding suburbs that would be good candidates for growth simply because those interested buyers priced out of Balmain. They would have been on the hunt for something similar, says Hotspotcentral.com.au's research analyst.

Balmain – at just 5km from Sydney’s CBD – was a clear epicenter of growth for the region back in 2000, and How says there were clear signs that its neighbours were poised to benefit from the ripple effect. “What happens if you look at blue chip suburbs around city centres, there is not an abundance of land available”, he says.

“So, even with rising rents and rising prices there isn’t a lot of land that can be developed or over-developed.”

Balmain’s dramatic rise from 2000-2001 sent ripples through the suburbs to its south and west, which had affordability, similar housing stock and high streets that showed potential to draw a similar type of café culture that made Balmain so prized.

The growth of Balmain’s immediate neighbours lagged by about a year on average, with median home prices in several of the most similar suburbs – Rozelle, Lilyfield and Annandale - basically catching up with Balmain two years after its initial boom.

Hotspotcentral.com.au's resarch analyst says that it is a pretty common phenomenon, and that often you will see the neighbours close the gap completely – a related phenomenon he refers to as neighbour price balancing. But he says the ripple effect can often work in reverse as the rising prices in the areas surrounding the initial hub of growth might cause it to start looking more affordable after all.

This effect may have been at work when Balmain’s second push began in 2005 when it again separated itself from its neighbours with several years of nearly 20% annual growth. Investors mindful of the ripples would have been well served to snap up properties in just about any of Balmain’s neighbours during this time, as dramatic price growth also occurred, but lagged by an average of 12 months.

Your Investment Property Magazine
June 2012​