11 Feb 2023 | 5 mins

How a hidden retreat on Sydney’s fringe is redefining luxury living - AFR

How a hidden retreat on Sydney’s fringe is redefining luxury living - AFR

A new listing in Church Point overlooking Pittwater belongs to a new class of trophy home located on the city fringe, where WFH has transformed lifestyles – and prices.

While iconic films Gallipoli, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Dead Poets Societyand The Truman Show form the roll-call of Australian film director Peter Weir’s cinematic oeuvre, it all began with a little-known feature film called Homesdale.

Set in a colonial-style, 1911-built homestead overlooking Pittwater in Sydney’s Church Point, the 1971 black comedy starred Australian screen staples Kate Fitzpatrick, Grahame Bond (aka Aunty Jack) and Phillip Noyce.

Now, the property – and launchpad of Weir’s career – is for sale, through Forbes Global Properties with a price guide between $7.2 and $7.9 million. However, by selling agent Ken Jacobs’ own admission, the property is difficult to price.

“For a property like this in a prestige suburb like Mosman you’d be looking at least $15 million to $20 million,” Jacobs says.

Forbes

WFH flexibility has repositioned fringe city locations like Church Point as in-demand lifestyle suburbs.

While Church Point is not Mosman, it has joined the ranks of an emerging class of lifestyle suburbs which are far – but not too far – from the CBD.

Once a grey area between weekender and arduous daily commute, these fringe suburbs exploded in popularity from 2020 on, where COVID-expedited Work From Home (WFH) flexibilities have repositioned them as achievable primary bases.

Forbes

Homesdale in Sydney’s Church Point sits on over 2500 square metres overlooking Pittwater.

This “luxury creep” has extended to suburbs such as Bayview and Newport in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, and Mount Eliza and Mount Martha around 50 kilometres south-east of Melbourne’s CBD on the Mornington Peninsula.

CoreLogic’s Tim Lawless describes the price increases across these lifestyle fringe suburbs as “stunning”, with some recording median price increases from 45 per cent to up to 60 per cent from mid-2020s trough to early 2022s peak. The national trough to peak was about 28 per cent.

While blockbuster gains have cooled (down anywhere from 10 to 24 per cent), Lawless says the post-COVID gains won’t be wiped out, pointing to a broader, long-term shift.

“In many ways it was a structural change, as more people look to base themselves further away in the city centre and what you’d traditionally see as the most desirable suburbs,” Lawless says.

In Church Point, it’s not hard to see why. For current owners Bruce and Theresa Hunt, the past 21 years raising their three boys on a private retreat on 2578 square metres of level land overlooking Pittwater from a wraparound deck has been nothing less than “idyllic”.

For visual artist Theresa, Homesdale’s space and privacy has provided a unique lifestyle, about 45 minutes to the CBD.

“If you look to the west, we’ve lived in Italy, and you think you could be in the Tuscan hills, or you could look out at the water and think, oh yeah, we’re back in Pittwater, or if you swim in the pool you get a completely different perspective, and you feel like you’re in a Balinese resort,” she says.

Forbes

Artist Theresa Hunt paints in the Alex Popov-designed adjoining studio.

For Bruce, the home’s appeal lies in its daily interplay with nature.

“There’s always the sounds if somebody has left their halyard on or the sounds of the wind through the rigging. There’s always something going on at the waterfront.”

Originally built as a weekend retreat for Frank Young, son of Freemason and one-time Sydney mayor John Young (who led the construction of St Mary’s Cathedral and Sydney’s GPO), the property has long been a magnet for creatives.

Forbes

The home was originally a weekender for Frank Young, pictured here as Commodore and President of the annual Pittwater Regatta held throughout the 1920s

In the early 1990s, the property was home to stylist Victoria Alexander who founded Sydney’s iconic Bathers Pavilion restaurant.

Alexander upgraded the property with the addition of a pool, dry stone terraced gardens and separate, Alex Popov-designed guest retreat, which landed the home in Belle magazine.

Forbes

The view from the separate studio which the Hunts have used to WFH.

Following Alexander’s residency, the late Carol Willesee – actress and second wife to veteran journalist Mike Willesee – purchased the property to indulge in her passion for gardening.

For current owner, TV and film director Bruce, who has worked on films including The Matrix and Australia, the ability to WFH has been a lifestyle game-changer.

Forbes

The Church Point property was the setting of Peter Weir’s 1971 film Homesdale, which later won the AFI Grand Prix Award.

“The idea of being removed from the office – it changed my industry. I think it’s really great, it’s that quality time. We’re not commuting. We were great at getting up and doing ocean swims at Mona Vale beach, a 10-minute drive away.”

Lawless says this internet-enabled, COVID-expedited WFH revolution has changed the real estate appeal of a swathe of fringe suburbs.

“The Northern Beaches, Sutherland in Sydney, the Gold Coast, the Mornington Peninsula are all examples of popular lifestyle markets which have experienced dramatic growth as demand opened up because of remote working opportunities.”

Forbes

The formal dining of the 1911 built Homesdale property in Church Point.

Now, once unworkable daily distances have become surmountable twice-weekly trips for meetings and office commitments. This has opened up lifestyle markets that don’t require the upheaval associated with major tree or sea changes significant distances from established schools, healthcare and friend networks.

“Remote working is the biggest driver here. The fact we’ve been able to see people base themselves further away from where they’ve historically worked, but still be within somewhat of a reasonable commuting distance,” Lawless says.

For selling agent Jacobs, who is behind some of Australia’s biggest luxury sales including the (then) Australian record sale of Point Piper’s $100 million purchase of Fairwater by tech billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes, the appeal of Church Point lies in its deceptive isolation.

Forbes

The property’s gardens were created by stylist Victoria Alexander when she lived there in the 1990s.

“It’s the feel of the property, that sense of space, that sense of being away from it all when you’re actually not,” says Jacobs. “A lot of these properties you have to drive two, three, four hours to get to them and this one, well it’s not the case.”

Bruce and Theresa Hunt are relocating to Italy now their adult sons have flown the coop. For Bruce, who is a member of the Hunt Leather family, the time is right for the couple’s “next adventure” which triggered their decision to sell.

Forbes

The 1911 built property is a rare concrete construction in an area typically home to weatherboards.

While Tuscan countryside isn’t a bad alternative, the couple say they will miss the “sheer beauty” of their home, so close to the city but a world away in feeling.

The property is listed through Forbes Global Properties and is being sold by expression of interest.