Christian Martinazzo, a 24 year-old legal officer in Sydney, wants to buy his first home, but with an estimated borrowing capacity of $355,000, his options are limited.
Given the cost of housing, Martinazzo has been looking on the outskirts of the city, like Leppington and Camden as well as Blacktown and Penrith because they are “significantly cheaper”.
Christian Martinazzo is trying to break into the housing market.  Louie Douvis
With $20,000 in savings and a salary of around $75,000, he’s well aware that his journey into the property market would be easier if he had a partner.
“If I doubled my borrowing capacity, I could take out a loan today with a partner for an apartment in Blacktown or St Marys which would be a huge first step into the property market,” he says.
An analysis by Finder of CoreLogic house price data and ABS income data shows just how limiting it is to be a person or household with a single income trying to get on the property ladder.
We have created six maps to show the suburbs where someone can buy into in NSW, Victoria and Queensland based on four different incomes.
The first tab on the map shows where someone with an income of less than $90,000 can afford to buy a home. This is indicative of where a woman with an average salary in NSW – $88,000 according to ABS data – would be able to buy a home. The second tab reflects what the average man – with an income of $100,000, according to the data – could afford.
That’s based on the borrower paying a 20 per cent deposit, and then spending no more than 30 per cent of their gross income on their mortgage.
(30 per cent is used as a rule of thumb to determine if someone is at risk of falling into mortgage stress. However, it’s much more pertinent for someone on a lower income than someone on a high income, whose remaining pool of cash is easier to live off.)
Suburbs where there had been less than 50 sales in the last year were excluded.
The analysis shows that if you’re on a median income of less than $90,000, the western Sydney suburb of Lakemba is the closest suburb to the CBD where you could afford to buy an apartment. If you’re after a house you’re basically limited to country towns hours away from Sydney, such as Wellington or Cowra. The closest place that you could afford is the village of Lochinvar, in the Hunter region.
It wasn’t always like this, says Michael Fotheringham, managing director of the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute.
“If you look back historically, to the 1950s, single-income families were much more normal. And there’s a very strong, gendered layer to that,” he says.
“It was entirely feasible to purchase a home. But what’s happened over the recent years … the growth in wages has been nowhere near the gross growth in purchase prices.”
According to the latest ANZ and CoreLogic housing affordability report, the average Sydney buyer needs 12.3 years to save up a deposit. And between 2001 and September last year, house prices grew more than 400 per cent, while the wage price index only grew 195 per cent.
It means that in many instances, says Fotheringham, what would now pass as just a deposit, historically could have covered the entire purchase price.
The outcome is that fewer young people own homes, and they’re buying later. In 1981, 61 per cent of Australians aged 25-34 owned a home. In 2021, that was down to 45 per cent.
It also means people on lower incomes can’t afford to live close to the CBD.
AHURI research has found that the percentage of lower-income workers living within 10 kilometres of Sydney’s CBD dropped by 82 per cent between 1986 and 2011. The affordability problem has only increased since then.
Research by University of Sydney researchers conducted for HOPE Housing found that a typical police constable in 2016 could have afforded middle ring Sydney LGAs, including Penrith, Liverpool and the Blue Mountains, while an early career registered nurse could have afforded Campbelltown and Fairfield. Now, according to the HOPE research, they’re off the table.
In Sydney, the eastern suburbs have seen an 11 per cent decline in the number of essential worker residents between 2016 and 2021, while those in Parramatta fell 9 per cent. In Inner Melbourne, numbers fells 9 per cent.
There are 22 suburbs in Victoria where someone on $90,000 could afford to buy a unit and 30 where they could buy a house. And for those on $100,000, there are 49 suburbs where they could buy a unit and 56 where they could purchase a house.
(The average woman working in Victoria earns $87,500 a year, according to ABS data, while the average man earns $100,500.)
The closest, affordable suburb to buy a house is Melton in Melbourne’s west, which is about an hour’s drive from the CBD, but there are several within Melbourne where a buyer could afford a unit.

So why are house prices so expensive? There are a few things driving this, says Nicole Gurran, urban planner and policy analyst at the University of Sydney.
One of the drivers of the affordability crisis, is women entering the paid workforce in the second half of the 20th century. Suddenly, home values weren’t tethered to one person’s ability to pay off a mortgage, but two.
“That was a massive step-change in household incomes. We know that the one thing that drives house prices is capacity to pay. Rising incomes always result in rising house values,” she says.
“Ironically, over time, that’s meant it’s become more difficult for single people to afford homeownership.”
Prices rises were also compounded by financial deregulation in the 1970s. Then, says Gurran, we’ve had decades of low-interest rates making it easier for many borrowers to get bigger loans.
All of that makes it harder for a single income earner to keep up.
The average woman in Queensland earns $87,552, while the average man earns $98,000.
In Queensland, a buyer on a roughly $90,000 income can afford to purchase a unit in 55 suburbs and a house in 105 spots, while someone on $100,000 can buy a unit in 87 suburbs and a house in 149 suburbs.
Fotheringham notes that the composition and nature of Australia’s biggest cities can be quite different. Melbourne, for example, has its main centre of employment in the CBD, while Sydney has more economic centres, including Sydney and Parramatta.
“In south-west Queensland, it’s increasingly a single mega-city that embraces the Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast … so there are multiple centres to that.”
“If you’re in Logan, you may be heading up to Brisbane [for work] or you may be heading down the coast.”
That means it’s not just inner-city Brisbane suburbs that are the most desirable locations to buy in, but that other areas, on the coast, for example, could be just as coveted.
Should you move to, and buy homes in, more affordable towns? Not necessarily. AHURI research released in August 2022 found that while homes are cheaper in regional cities, they have lower incomes and reduced career prospects.
“Affordability is relative to incomes,” Fotheringham says. In Hobart, for example, house prices are cheaper than other capital cities, but incomes are also lower, making it one of Australia’s most unaffordable cities to live in.
There are two parts of the solution, say Gurran and Fotheringham: building more appropriate homes, while also freeing up existing housing for younger buyers and families, by making it more palatable for empty-nesters to downsize.
Gurran says Australia also needs to move away from depending on the private market to deliver supply, and there needs to be a greater focus on non-profit and mixed-tenure projects.
She said before the 1980s, 10 to 15 per cent of development sites were produced by government land authorities, and that had a moderating effect on values that has since been lost.
“We need to ramp up dramatically the use of government land developers. At the moment, they’re occupying a very boutique space, doing small niche demonstration projects,” she says.
Fotheringham agrees, and says there needs to be more diversity in the sorts of homes we’re building.
“The middle of our outer ring suburbs are filled with three and four-bedroom houses. This is great for families that need three or four-bedroom houses, but not everyone needs that,” he says.
It means young singles can’t find properties suitable to them, and crucially, neither can older people who may want to downsize.
“I know this is meant to be a story about young people, but part of the issue is that if we want access to that housing stock, the occupants are one of those factors.”
Follow the topics, people and companies that matter to you.
Fetching latest articles
The Daily Habit of Successful People