The 2021 property boom saw prices rise at an unprecedented rate around the country.
While prices rose across the board, the surge in house prices relative to unit price increases means the cost between the two has never been so wide apart.
And this is troubling news for unit-owners who are looking to upgrade their home or investment to a house.
Upgrading has become particularly difficult in the capital cities, where the price gap between units and houses has completely blown out since the pandemic hit.
And this is unsurprising given the pandemic made people re-evaluate what they want in a home.
Repeated lockdowns and the shift to working from home saw buyers flock to properties that offered more space, making house prices surge and leaving demand for units behind in the dust.
The Domain data shows that this is most evident in Sydney, where the median price difference between a unit and house leapt to $799,000 in the final quarter of 2021, up from $400,000 just 2 years earlier.
Here’s a chart to show how the data stacks up for each Aussie state.
Domain head of research and economics Nicola Powell said it is polarising for owners of units who have their sights set on owning a house.
“When you’ve seen that gap grow, particularly if you’re a young family or expanding and you need that additional space, it can be disheartening,” she said.
“It’s probably changed the dynamics of a property journey.”
But despite the new data, not every suburb follows the same trend.
The data also found that there are suburbs and towns across the country where the gap between units and houses sits at less than 10% and multiple examples of where the gap sits at around 20%.
Here is a rundown of the suburbs where the price difference between houses and units are sub-20%.
In NSW, Forster in regional NSW has a median price gap of just $15,000, or 2.30%, making it the easiest suburb in the state for owners to upgrade their unit to a house.
And the list doesn’t only comprise suburbs outside of the city.
Riverstone in Sydney’s west is 3rd on the list with an $85,010 gap between the two types of dwellings, representing just 10.60%.
5 NSW suburbs with the smallest gap between units and houses
|STATE||SUBURB||REGION||% GAP||UNIT MEDIAN||HOUSE MEDIAN||PRICE GAP|
|NSW||Tweed Heads South||NSW Country||11.80%||$540,000||$603,500||$63,500|
In Victoria, the numbers sit a little higher.
Glenroy, located around 13km north of Melbourne’s CBD, is where buyers will find the easiest upgrade from a unit to a house.
With a median unit price of $590,000 and a house median of $720,000, it’s a gap of 22%, or $130,000, a far cry from the $508,000 difference between Greater Melbourne’s median unit and house prices.
Altona North in the city’s west came in close behind with a $180,000 gap or 24.8% between houses and units.
5 VIC suburbs with the smallest gap between units and houses
|STATE||SUBURB||REGION||UNIT MEDIAN||HOUSE MEDIAN||GAP||% GAP|
|VIC||Carrum Downs||South East||$521,000||$655,000||$134,000||25.70%|
The Queensland town of Nelly Bay takes out the title for the easiest place in which to upgrade from a unit to a house in the entire country.
And the gap isn’t just affordable, it’s non-existent – the median price for a house is actually 15.8% less than the median price for a unit, Domain data shows.
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This is because the waterfront is dominated by units, which are being inundated by demand from first-home buyers, upgraders, downsizers and interstate buyers, a local agent told Domain.
Closer to Brisbane, the outer west suburb of Springfield Lakes has just a 17% difference between its median unit and house prices, which is $75,000.
5 QLD suburbs with the smallest gap between units and houses
|STATE||SUBURB||REGION||% GAP||UNIT MEDIAN||HOUSE MEDIAN||PRICE GAP|
|QLD||Springfield Lakes||Brisbane West||17.00%||$442,900||$518,200||$75,300|
Outside of NSW, SA and QLD, the price gap between houses and units is significantly higher.
There are no suburbs across the 3 states with a price difference of less than 20%.
The easiest suburb in which to upgrade from a unit to a house in WA is Rockingham, a beachside region around 47km southwest of Perth.
The median price for a unit is $320,000, while the median price for a house is $393,500 meaning there is a $73,000 gap or 23%.
In SA, Murray Bridge, 78km south-east of Adelaide, has a gap of 20% between its median unit price ($229,000) and median house price ($275,500), the tightest difference across the state.
Meanwhile, in Tasmania, the north coast city of Devonport is a standout area for affordable housing.
While the median price for a unit is $313,000, the median price for a house is 22.4% more, at $383,000.
While these suburbs might seem like a great deal, it’s important not to be led by price alone because cheapest isn’t always best.
Just because these suburbs have the smallest gap between house and unit prices, they aren't necessarily areas I'd recommend investing in.
It’s likely that the gap between the price of a “family-friendly” will locate capital city apartments and houses will only narrow as affordability issues constrain further growth in house prices.
This means, in certain locations apartments are so lucky to grow faster pace than houses.
And of course, lower median house and unit prices alone aren’t enough alone to warrant a good investment opportunity.
‘Cheap’ property will always be ‘cheap’ so don’t get lured into thinking you’re getting a bargain.
Moving forward, it is likely that house prices will grow more than apartment prices over the next couple of years, however, well-located townhouses which have their own significant land component will make excellent investment properties and are currently in strong demand by many first home buyers who are being priced out of the housing market.
And Powell agrees.
She said that while some of the areas with a small price gap between units and houses offered a relatively easy upgrade, it was important to note the nuance in each local market.
“When you’ve got a place where the price of units and houses isn’t miles apart, first of all it allows buyers to have greater choice and it means these are the areas where people can upgrade their property sooner. That’s important,” she said.
Sometimes though, what you’re paying for is a “buyer decision”, she explained.
For example, in some coastal towns, you may be able to get a house for not much more than a unit, but the units on offer may be on the waterfront, while the house is inland without the views and the lifestyle.
“So, while it’s possible to upgrade without taking on too much more debt, it’s about the makeup of the types of property there,” Powell said.
“A town like Goulburn in NSW doesn’t have a lot of major high-rises [so the] difference between a unit and a house there will be much closer than, say, Mosman or Bondi in Sydney.”
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