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With the sprawl of Melbourne growing seemingly ever wider, finding somewhere that offers a country lifestyle within a commutable distance of the city centre is becoming harder.
But there are opportunities for those who don't want to spend a fortune and who don't mind spending a couple of hours travelling to and from work each day - which may be particularly attractive to the growing number of people able to work for one or two days a week from home.
Phil Manning, property adviser at the WBP Property Group, says the corridor heading towards Bendigo to the north-west of the city provides some good opportunities to purchase properties on a bit of land, particularly around places such as Macedon, Woodend and Kyneton, and, closer in, Gisborne and even Sunbury.
Albert Rizk, principal at Raine & Horne in Sunbury, says it's possible to buy a property on one or two acres only a couple of kilometres from town for ''anything from $600,000-plus''. ''[There's] a lot of wildlife around you and you're only 35 kilometres from the GPO.''
To the north-east of Melbourne, Mr Manning says, areas such as Yarra Glen and Christmas Hills are worth considering and are popular for people looking to commute to places such as Melbourne Airport.
''It's an area that people sometimes forget,'' he says. ''You can certainly buy lifestyle properties through there from a few hundred thousand dollars to a million dollars.''
But he does note the commute to the city can be longer than from some other localities. ''It's further out than [places in] the north and west,'' he says.
Property consultant Peter Hay suggests the northern localities of Broadford, Clonbinane and Wallan also provide an affordable option. ''You can get two or three acres [about 0.8 hectares to 1.2 hectares] with a two or three-year-old four or five-bedroom house for $500,000,'' he says.
Alan Wilson, principal of Wilson Partners Real Estate - which has offices in Wallan, Kilmore and Broadford - says houses on 0.4 hectares around Kilmore start at $450,000 and those on two hectares start in the $500,000s. ''You get a lot for your money,'' he says, listing the area's attractions such as its schools and medical facilities.
Warragul and nearby Drouin, to the south-east of Melbourne, are also attracting commuters.
Vin Quirk, principal of Quirk Real Estate, says that about 15 per cent of the town's 13,500 residents regularly commute to work in Melbourne, despite the journey taking up to 90 minutes by train to the CBD. He says 0.4-hectare properties start around $450,000 and those on two hectares around $580,000.
''Anywhere within 10 or 15 minutes of Warragul itself, you're going to find yourself a pretty good pocket and that's going to be close enough to commute and use the amenities and school facilities,'' he says.
If you can't stomach such a big journey each day, Colin Judd, general manager of LJ Hooker in Berwick and Pakenham in the south-east, says there are many hobby farms from up to two hectares around areas such as Upper Beaconsfield, Harkaway and Upper Pakenham. ''It's undulating, nicely treed and [has] very good access into the city,'' he says.
An older property on 0.6 hectares might start around $700,000 to $750,000.
To the west of Melbourne, the small township of Ballan offers a rural feel without a hefty price tag. Mark Dudley, of First National Real Estate Rayner, says the advantages of living in the Ballan area include the easy access it offers to Melbourne, as well as its proximity to other major centres such as Ballarat - about 20 minutes away - and Geelong.
Expect to pay anything from $580,000 upwards for a substantial property on two hectares, while opportunities in the low fives are still available.
Other options to the west include Bacchus Marsh, Anakie, Lara and Little River.
WBP's Mr Manning says it's also worth considering Geelong and surrounding areas. ''The train ride from Geelong is only one hour into Southern Cross.''
This article first appeared on theage.domain.com.au
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