As featured in Homes To Love.
Priced out of the freestanding house market, buyers are now looking for units with access to common green spaces.
Last year saw unparalleled gains in the real estate market, which was good news for existing homeowners. For those who didn’t own a home yet, getting their foot in the door became harder.
“In 2021 residential property prices reached their strongest annual growth on record, rising almost 24% in the space of just 12 months,” says James Kirkland, director of sales at fixed-fee real estate company, Upside Realty. “This meant that buying a house with a garden became even more out of reach for many Australians.”
But Aussies are an agile bunch, and buyers who can’t quite afford a house are now looking to apartments and townhouses – with land included.
100% OF BUYERS WANT OUTDOOR SPACE
Dan Sofo of Unicorn Buyer’s Agents claims that all of his clients say their absolute must-have is access to some form of garden. “They won’t even look at something if it doesn’t have at least a patch of grass, a large balcony or a ‘winter garden’,” says Dan. “For a while there, garden apartments were thought of as ‘passe’. That flipped on its head around the middle of 2020 and everyone wanted space because they were cooped up due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Upside Realty has also seen a 75% increase in enquiries from buyers coveting apartment buildings with shared facilities or zones, such as lap pools, dog parks, rooftop decks, playgrounds, picnic areas, libraries and even cinema rooms.
“Buyers want to be able to take a half-hour break in the middle of their work-from-home day without having to drive to amenities,” explains James. “That could mean heading to a shared apartment library and reading a book or sitting outside with their lunch on the common grass, so they’re not eating at the same table every day.”
WHAT’S DRIVING THE TREND TOWARDS GARDEN APARTMENTS?
COVID-19 lockdowns made us crave outdoor space, but for many people it comes down to the bottom line. “We’ve climbed to the top of this property cycle very quickly and people’s buying power has been reduced,” says Dan. “Freestanding home buyers get priced out into semis, semi buyers get priced into townhouses and townhouse buyers get priced out into apartments.”
Everyone is looking for the next best thing and everyone wants house-like proportions with a connection to the outdoors.
The good news? In some Australian suburbs there’s now a big difference between the median house price and the median unit price. So buyers can afford to enter the market in a sought-after suburb if they’re willing to go smaller.
In the prestigious Melbourne suburb of Toorak, for example, the gap between median prices is a whopping 350%.
Some buyers are also looking for a connection to their community – and space for their fur babies. Vicki is a retiree and dog owner who recently bought a 2-bedroom apartment in the blue-chip suburb of Armadale in inner-city Melbourne. The balcony is “especially for the dog,” but the big drawcard was access to an exclusive dog park.
“I had my eye on this area for a while prior to buying due to the common areas and a place to walk my dog,” Vicki says. It’s also been a boon for her mental wellbeing. “Because I’m retired, I didn’t want to feel lonely, so it’s a great relief that I can go to the common areas and dog park knowing I will be able to chat to someone.”
WILL A SHARED GARDEN COST YOU IN STRATA FEES?
It’s nice to own an apartment in a complex with gorgeous, Insta-worthy gardens, but how much will it cost you in strata fees?
“I looked at an apartment on Sydney’s lower north shore for a client with beautiful, sprawling gardens, but then I looked at the strata report and there’s a gardener going hard at that garden six days a week, all year,” says Dan. “The strata fees were $8,000 per year – which is quite high for a two-bedroom apartment. It wasn’t worth their while.”
The ideal scenario, says Dan, is to find an apartment with cheaper strata fees and access to a shared garden that isn’t used much by other residents. Another alternative is ‘self-managed strata fees’, where you roll up your sleeves and share the maintenance of the garden with your neighbours.
There’s more good news for strata-title owners. Dan Sofo believes the value of strata properties is catching up with Torrens-title homes. “Demand is so high due to the lack of housing affordability but supply of strata properties is low. This is even before Australia reopens properly to immigration. We’ll see the value of apartments really lift.”
And whether you use it or not, an apartment with a shared garden is going to be worth more money in the long run than one without green spaces.
HOW TO GET A GARDEN WITHOUT A HOUSE-SIZED BUDGET
Look for vertical gardens (or grow one yourself). You could also save money on energy bills, since green walls provide an added layer of insulation that helps cool your home.
Look for a ‘winter garden’, such as a glass atrium in the centre of your home, to provide year-round greenery and good vibes.
Look for an apartment complex with a pool. It can cost up to $2,000 per year to maintain a pool in Australia (excluding the cost of installation), so it makes sense to share the costs with your neighbours.