While the Sydney real estate market slump has seen the silly prices of 2002 slide down to the still exaggerated prices of the present, Sydney homes continue to be the most expensive in the land.

With the median cost of a house in Sydney at $471,000 and the average Australian salary listed at just under $47,000, mortgage repayments on an average loan have the potential to cripple most homebuyer budgets.

It’s no surprise, then, that the trend to look to the city fringes for more affordable housing continues.

Some areas of the Blue Mountains have encountered an almost 20 percent drop in market price over the past two years. Katoomba, a 90-minute drive or a two-hour train trip from Sydney Central, has a variety of houses available for sale for under $250,000.

The end of the boom was in 2003, and there is now a backlog of properties on the market, so it is a great time to buy, says John Costigan of Raine & Horne Katoomba. I would estimate that 45 percent of our sales are from people in Sydney who are trying to buy into the market, either as a rental investment or as a home from which they can commute to the city.

With a small but vibrant gay and lesbian scene in the Blue Mountains, the area is also proving an attractive and affordable option for many Sydney buyers.

There is a trend from the gay and lesbian market, both from couples and singles, to head to the Mountains, adds Costigan. They would make up 15 to 20 percent of the market.

While the Central Coast has not encountered the same kind of slide in housing prices since the bust of the boom, the area continues to be popular for the range of affordable housing and lifestyle options it offers, just 75 minutes from Sydney.

According to Matt Steinwede of McGrath Central Coast, the coastal strip around the beachside suburbs of Avoca and Wamberal has proven popular in recent times for gay and lesbian buyers from the city.

I have seen quite a few single gay guys and women couples coming here to buy recently as the city is just too dear for them, Steinwede says. The gay market is proving to be a strong part of our business, and the entry price into the market is about $330,000, which is significantly cheaper than Sydney.

If people realise they can’t afford the city, they will then consider moving here. A lot of people see this area as like the northern beaches and are willing to travel that extra hour back to the city.

We still border on being just one big coastal town, but the area is changing and there is more to do. When people take that into consideration and realise they can afford here, that is when they get serious about buying on the Central Coast.

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