40 years ago Bankstown was more expensive than Leichhardt

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It was a time when bell-bottom jeans ruled fashion and John Lennon's hit singles dominated the radio. But Sydney in the 1970s was a world apart from how the city looks today.

In 1971, the first McDonald's was launched in Sydney - but it didn't set up shop in one of today's trendiest neighbourhoods. Instead, it was founded in Yagoona - within the Bankstown area - a manufacturing suburb. Today there are 900 scattered across the country.

The 1970s was also a time when houses in Bankstown were more expensive than in Leichhardt. In 1977 the median price for a three-bedroom cottage was $32,500, compared to$28,000 for the same type of home but 15 kilometres closer to the city, according to the Valuer General's Department Blue Book.

But that's not the only surprise. Property values and suburb hierarchy has changed a lot in Sydney in 40 years.

In 1977 it was more expensive to buy a house outside of Sydney, in Wollongong ($42,500), than in Marrickville ($37,000) or Darlinghurst ($35,000).

In fact, Strathfield was the priciest area in Sydney. A three-bedroom house cost a dear $65,000, just beating the now highly desirable locations of Gordon and Mosman localities to the punch.

It's a far cry from the experience homebuyers face today, where the closer the suburb is to the CBD the more expensive house prices tend to be.

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"During the 1960s and 1970s, the best and most plentiful jobs in Sydney were in the manufacturing industry," SGS Economics and Planning economist Terry Rawnsley said

Most of these manufacturing jobs were across western Sydney - including the inner-west areas, while the inner city was characterised by poor amenity, poor access to jobs and poor quality housing.

But as the 1970s and 1980s wore on, manufacturing began to decline as trade barriers were reduced by the government and automation replaced jobs, he said.

At the same time, a new industry and associated jobs was growing - knowledge services, including financial services, media and technology. Today, this sector takes up about one third of Sydney's economy.

"These knowledge-intensive services were firmly based in the inner city and with traffic congestion a real barrier, living along a train line or within walking distance of the CBD became increasingly attractive," he said.

It's not just the jobs and the areas' popularity that have changed - it's the entire way Sydneysiders think about housing, and how it's sold.

Richardson & Wrench Mosman director Robert Simeon has worked in real estate since the 1980s and clearly remembers having to write down the names of buyers, have a bucket in the car with the keys of the homes he was selling, and personally pick up buyers to drive them to see homes for sale.

Open homes wouldn't become popular until 1987 - and mobile phones wouldn't be in common usage for even longer.

"Back then, to encourage someone to list with you, you'd promise colour photos in your shopfront," Mr Simeon said.

"Technology has been the game changer, it has allowed eyeballs to view the market from all over the world."

Auctions also weren't a "big deal" until the late-1980s, with 80 per cent of the market selling by private treaty, he said. And of that 80 per cent, about half were sold off-market.

While some aspects of real estate are completely different - others have remained startlingly the same.

Sydney has always been Australia's most expensive city, and even in the 1970s locals were being stunned by the prices attached to the city's harbourfront trophy homes.

Consider one of Sydney's finest homes - the Elizabeth Bay mansion "Boomerang". It sold in 1979 for more than $1 million, reportedly the first sale to achieve a seven-figure sale.

In 2016, the same home was being shopped around with a $60 million price tag. In 2002, it was the first property to surpass $20 million.

Applied Economics' Peter Abelson - who co-authored a report about Sydney's prices from the 1970s to the 2000s - said some relationships in Sydney property prices had remained the same.

"In Sydney, the values around the harbour and the coast are higher and they significantly fall away as you move away [from them]," Mr Abelson said.

PK Property Group buyer's agent Peter Kelaher originally began selling property in the 1980s before starting a buyer's agency in 1997 - which he says was Sydney's first.

He said living close to work wasn't as big a priority in the 1980s as "people were prepared to travel and live further out ??? because it wasn't as busy on the roads".

"They could send their kids to a good school and it wasn't as important to live right next to it as it wouldn't take as long to get home," he said.

Homes in Sydney's top school catchment areas are now sought-after real estate that command a premium.

Similarly, home buyers' desires have shifted completely. "The quarter-acre block was very popular in the 1980s and 1990s, but then there was a shift to apartments," he said.

This story 40 years ago Bankstown was more expensive than Leichhardt first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.