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Too many bedrooms?

By 24 October 2012 53

big house

Urban Times has a piece on Canberra’s urban design and the ever expanding houses on ever shrinking blocks of land:

This leaves the home building companies two options – to design smaller homes or extra bedrooms- and the latter has prevailed. Over the last twenty years the average floor area of new houses in Australia has increased by 30% and the corresponding reduction in block size is about the same. This has created a very different urban form to the sprawling suburban layout created in the post war period and derided so compellingly by Jane Jacobs in the 1960s.

The difference is that, in the post war version of the suburb, there was at least some semblance of a useable landscape space in the back yard. Today that has gone – replaced by bedrooms and too many of them. But how do we know that there are too many bedrooms and what is wrong with a few extra spaces for the in-laws when they visit for the summer holiday season? From a sustainable city perspective there are two problems that come to mind. The first is that these empty bedrooms sit on top of landscape spaces that could be better used as gardens, lawns, play areas or a chook run, or just left alone, for shrubs, bugs and grubs to multiply. The second is that since the bubble burst in the real estate market, people are buying houses with fewer bedrooms in an effort to reduce their exposure to risk, so houses and units with too many bedrooms aren’t selling.

Your thoughts dear reader?

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53 Responses to Too many bedrooms?
#1
bundah9:21 am, 24 Oct 12

Is it merely a coincidence that humans are also proportionally bigger over the same period.Size is King.

#2
davo1019:33 am, 24 Oct 12

They’re called McMansions for a reason. McDonalds food is terrible and experts all agree it is not good for you but it still sells. Likewise with McMansions they sell because that’s what people want. If people are choosing to buy smaller homes, as suggested in the article, then the supply of McMansions will dry up.

#3
Keijidosha9:39 am, 24 Oct 12

This is not surprising given that we have created a world of indulgent excess.

#4
LSWCHP9:52 am, 24 Oct 12

The huge house trend is even stranger, given that family sizes appear to be getting smaller. I’m one of three children, and that seemed pretty standard when I was growing up. These days one or two children (if any) seems the norm.

I think the planners and developers of the newer suburbs in Canberra have a lot to answer for. The blocks are too small, the houses are too big and the roads are far too narrow. The places just feel cramped and congested. There also seems to be a definite lack of footpaths, parks and communal green space.

#5
chewy149:56 am, 24 Oct 12

davo101 said :

They’re called McMansions for a reason. McDonalds food is terrible and experts all agree it is not good for you but it still sells. Likewise with McMansions they sell because that’s what people want. If people are choosing to buy smaller homes, as suggested in the article, then the supply of McMansions will dry up.

I think it’s more to do with the fact that developers can make more money out of these houses rather than people deliberately choosing to have a McMansion. It’s nearly impossible to find a smaller house on a larger block these days, they simply aren’t there.

#6
johnboy10:18 am, 24 Oct 12

the building calculus drives it from my understanding. The more square metres built the lower the cost per square metre.

So why wouldn’t you build as many as possible?

#7
devils_advocate10:36 am, 24 Oct 12

johnboy said :

the building calculus drives it from my understanding. The more square metres built the lower the cost per square metre.

So why wouldn’t you build as many as possible?

1) the big-ticket expensive items in a house are wet, plumbed areas with appliances/fittings (kitchen is most expensive, bathrooms, laundry etc). Recently there is a trend towards a higher ratio of bathrooms to bedrooms (i.e. gone are the days of the 4brm house with 1 bathroom, 1 toilet) but once you have a ensuite to main brm and another main bathroom/toilet, you probably only need to add a powder-room for each 2 brms, IMO. So, rooms like additional bedrooms (as well as the garage) are very cheap on a per sqm basis. Expanding the size of living areas is also fairly cheap, especailly if you are going with less expensive floor coverings etc.

2) house prices in general, and likely the size of houses, are apparently positively correllated with willingess to pay (merit good, normal good). Incomes (and credit availability) have increased in real terms, so this has probably increased house sizes. Of course some of the increase in incomes/credit would be captured by higher land prices. Also it is definitely a characteristic of Australians that they spend additional disposable income on housing. Whether it’s a status symbol, simply an obsession with real estate, or some combination of these and other factors I don’t know.

3) For households living in a detached house, it’s probably the norm for 2 adults to each have a full time job (and potentially kids) so I can understand how people wouldn’t have time or inclination to look after large gardens.

#8
Holden Caulfield10:36 am, 24 Oct 12

My theory/preference is that space is greatest luxury a home can have, but quantity is not. That is, larger rooms, but less of them is the way to go.

Unfortunately, that’s a view not necessarily shared by the majority and so a 4br house with small rooms will most likely sell for more (comfortably) than a 3br home with larger rooms.

#9
FioBla10:48 am, 24 Oct 12

Those houses are terrible!

But I want one. :)

We need higher density living!

For other people.

#10
NoAddedMSG10:55 am, 24 Oct 12

There was a recent newspaper (SMH?) which said that in the last couple of years the average size of house being built by developers has actually started to fall a bit.

I don’t think the small block/large house is a problem if you plan well. Look at the bottom part of Franklin – it has some really nice common spaces, and that suburb is going to look really pretty in a few year when the trees have grown. The newer suburbs certainly represent a more efficient use of land than the older suburbs.

#11
arescarti4211:03 am, 24 Oct 12

Neat article.

There’s a guy at UC by the name of Andrew MacKenzie who did some really interesting research in to changes in land use in Duffy after the 2003 fires. He found that new houses replacing the ones that had burnt down were on the whole much bigger (which isn’t surprising), but what I found really interesting was the result of interviewing residents on why they built bigger houses. Most of them didn’t actually want or need the extra space, they saw it purely as an investment decision, thinking that bigger houses would sell for more in the future than smaller ones with gardens.

I think the drive for smaller blocks is being largely driven by the ACT government in their quest for easy revenue. They’ve managed to drive the price of land up so far in excess of incomes and debt availability that blocks have to be tiny in order for people to actually afford them. At current land prices, a large 1000m^2 block typical of Canberra’s older suburbs, were it sold today in the outer suburbs of Gungahlin, would cost $600-700k.

#12
Sgt.Bungers11:04 am, 24 Oct 12

Whilst our average houses have noticeably been getting bigger over the last few decades; since the 1970′s, the Australian self storage industry has been silently booming as well.

As a nation of capitalists, materialists and consumers, many of us feel like we need more space for all the stuff that we don’t really need… whether that be in the 5th bedroom, or in a $200 per month garage.

Combined with living in an era where “minimalism” is in, many families may prefer to look like they don’t have lots of stuff. A large house helps create that illusion.

#13
DrKoresh11:04 am, 24 Oct 12

“The first is that these empty bedrooms sit on top of landscape spaces that could be better used as gardens, lawns, play areas or a chook run, or just left alone, for shrubs, bugs and grubs to multiply”

Oh no, the humanity!
Not everyone wants their own garden and a chicken crap-factory, and I think it’s fair to say that those who do won’t have to much trouble finding a property that suits their needs. Do we really need this moralising article on house-size, for Glob’s sake? I reckon these new places being built, especially in the gray/granite colours like the one in the OP are fugly as all sin, but I don’t think it’s something to start a crusade over. Besides, so many of the lovely old houses in the ‘Berra are heritage listed anyways, so it’s not like they’re tearing down nice places to build these dubious dwellings. Well okay, I can think of a couple of places in O’Connor that went that way, but for the most part these are being built in newer suburbs.

#14
Martlark11:42 am, 24 Oct 12

Looking over the fences of houses in my suburb reveals that the majority use their backyards to cultivate weeds, broken cars, piles of junk and falling down garden sheds. Houses are getting bigger because most modern folk have become more interested in inside activities. They need more space for more goods. Expectations of personal space for children and adults have expanded. You also have to take in consideration that cars now take up the space that used to be available on a block for ‘space’. 3 car garages are quite common.

#15
yellowsnow11:53 am, 24 Oct 12

NoAddedMSG said :

I don’t think the small block/large house is a problem if you plan well. Look at the bottom part of Franklin – it has some really nice common spaces, and that suburb is going to look really pretty in a few year when the trees have grown. The newer suburbs certainly represent a more efficient use of land than the older suburbs.

Are u serrious? Franklin will forever remain a charmlesss, treeless, grey ghetto with passive aggressive neighbours afraid to talk to each other except to exchange narky, anonymous notes or lodge noise or parking complaints with the police. A social utopiia it is not.

arescarti42 said :

Neat article.

There’s a guy at UC by the name of Andrew MacKenzie who did some really interesting research in to changes in land use in Duffy after the 2003 fires ….

Wow, what an incredible coincidence – Andrew MacKenzie is also the name who wrote the article in the OP. And he also works at UC. What are the chances? LOL

#16
Watson12:10 pm, 24 Oct 12

DrKoresh said :

“The first is that these empty bedrooms sit on top of landscape spaces that could be better used as gardens, lawns, play areas or a chook run, or just left alone, for shrubs, bugs and grubs to multiply”

Oh no, the humanity!
Not everyone wants their own garden and a chicken crap-factory, and I think it’s fair to say that those who do won’t have to much trouble finding a property that suits their needs. Do we really need this moralising article on house-size, for Glob’s sake? I reckon these new places being built, especially in the gray/granite colours like the one in the OP are fugly as all sin, but I don’t think it’s something to start a crusade over. Besides, so many of the lovely old houses in the ‘Berra are heritage listed anyways, so it’s not like they’re tearing down nice places to build these dubious dwellings. Well okay, I can think of a couple of places in O’Connor that went that way, but for the most part these are being built in newer suburbs.

The lack of green space – including front and backyards – affects everyone. And it’s not as if all those living in Gungahlin actually chose to live there because they like that kind of concrete look. I’m only buying there because it was the only place I could afford. I’m buying a very small house on a very small block so I cannot help my backyard being the size of a tea towel. But I would mind less if my neighbours would leave some space for greenery on their bigger blocks. Instead their back walls will be meters from mine.

If you don’t want a yard at all, why not live in an apartment instead anyway?

I would much rather stay in the leafy Inner suburbs but clearly that is unrealistic. And my current neighbour across the road built a McMansion there recently…

There are lots of 4 beddies for sale in Gungahlin. More than 3 and 2 beddies, I think. And the rare 2 beddies for sale often have an ensuite which drives the price up. Who needs two bathrooms in a 2 bedroom house?! Or in a 4 beddie even… We had 5 bedrooms, 4 kids and 1 bathroom when I grew up. Can’t remember it being an issue at all.

#17
random12:15 pm, 24 Oct 12

devils_advocate said :

1) the big-ticket expensive items in a house are wet, plumbed areas with appliances/fittings (kitchen is most expensive, bathrooms, laundry etc). Recently there is a trend towards a higher ratio of bathrooms to bedrooms (i.e. gone are the days of the 4brm house with 1 bathroom, 1 toilet) but once you have a ensuite to main brm and another main bathroom/toilet, you probably only need to add a powder-room for each 2 brms, IMO..

On Allhomes you can pretty easily find places with two bedrooms, one ensuite, one full bathroom [i]and[/i] an additional powder-room.

(I would personally rather have fewer toilets to clean…)

As for additional bedrooms, I could sure use an extra one to store all my junk in. Or have an office, or a home gym, or a library… It’s easy to fill the space. In some cases we’re talking +10% to the price to add +30% usable square footage. If you don’t want a garden, it seems like a no-brainer.

#18
EvanJames12:26 pm, 24 Oct 12

One thing I see a lot is living space in anything with one or two bedrooms is small. If you want more living space, you have to go for places with more bedrooms. It’s like a sole occupier will stand still and not want a generous area to live in.

I deplore these giant houses on tiny blocks, the outdoor areas become paved and over-designed, and generate heat. The homes all have to have air conditioners, and they’re like fortresses against the dangerous world. No more the front verandahs were people might spend time, waving or sayign hello to passersby.

#19
arescarti4212:31 pm, 24 Oct 12

yellowsnow said :

NoAddedMSG said :

I don’t think the small block/large house is a problem if you plan well. Look at the bottom part of Franklin – it has some really nice common spaces, and that suburb is going to look really pretty in a few year when the trees have grown. The newer suburbs certainly represent a more efficient use of land than the older suburbs.

Are u serrious? Franklin will forever remain a charmlesss, treeless, grey ghetto with passive aggressive neighbours afraid to talk to each other except to exchange narky, anonymous notes or lodge noise or parking complaints with the police. A social utopiia it is not.

Ha ha ha ha ha, you’re evidently someone who has never set foot in Franklin.

yellowsnow said :

arescarti42 said :

Neat article.

There’s a guy at UC by the name of Andrew MacKenzie who did some really interesting research in to changes in land use in Duffy after the 2003 fires ….

Wow, what an incredible coincidence – Andrew MacKenzie is also the name who wrote the article in the OP. And he also works at UC. What are the chances? LOL

Heh, I didn’t notice the author of the article in the OP, that sure explains a lot.

#20
jessieduck12:42 pm, 24 Oct 12

For me, I’m happy to compromise on a smaller house to be able to afford a mortgage on a single income. As a family of 4 in a 2 bedroom townhouse, things can feel a bit squished but that’s all the incentive I need to get out and go do things rather then being at home all day.

When we decided to buy a two bedroom home knowing we were expecting a second baby, some friends were horrified on my behalf but to be honest, I’d rather live in a suburb I like and be a stay at home mum while we have little kids rather then move out to the boon docks and have a larger place.

#21
Watson1:17 pm, 24 Oct 12

jessieduck said :

but to be honest, I’d rather live in a suburb I like and be a stay at home mum while we have little kids rather then move out to the boon docks and have a larger place.

A large single income if you think that you could afford a large place in the boon docks…

And I agree with whoever mentioned living spaces in 2 beddies being smaller. My yet to be built house will be like that and I dread it. If I could afford to buy whatever I wanted, I would look at the size of the living areas first and if the house I liked had extra bedrooms, then so be it.

#22
DJ Mac1:22 pm, 24 Oct 12

Some big houses are necessarily wrong. A close friend is single with 2 kids – her brother has sole custody of his 3 kids but he has a degenerative disease – they are looking for a place big enough for all of them to live together but also so that each little family still have their own private space – the idea is mutual support but remaining independent – the other option is side by side townhouses….. It is something I can see happening more and more often.

#23
ThisIsAName3:49 pm, 24 Oct 12

Interesting article, but there some gaping holes. From a skim read, there was no mention of the practicalities of trying to squeeze a growing population into a finite amount of space. There was an implied assumption that some spare rooms are wasted (empty?) space, although it seemed to ignore the usefulness of some of these spaces. Without a study, I’m sure a lot of people would have junk crammed throughout the living area.

There was also this quote:
“In 2009 Australia built the largest new homes based on average floor area in the world. Guess which city in Oz was building the biggest of them all, yep, the Capital. So much so that in new greenfield estates on the edge of the city, the average floor space per person exceeded 120 square metres.”

120sqm? Sounds totally wrong. That’s about the internal footprint of a 3BR house.

On a related note, the ACT has some specific development conditions forcing larger houses in specific areas (eg. mandatory 2 story places on some boulevards).

#24
crackerpants4:09 pm, 24 Oct 12

I wouldn’t have thought it was bedrooms taking up all the yard space, but rather increased living space (media rooms/rumpus rooms/cavernous lounge rooms). The little remaining yardspace seems to be dedicated to “landscaping” (paving, stones, a few flaxy things and a BBQ). We weren’t prepared to compromise on outdoor space, so have a smaller house on a bigger block in an older suburb. I suppose we’re bucking the trend by wanting (and enjoying) a big yard for gardening and playing, and are happy to pack 3 kids into a 3BR (+study) house for now. But the time will come when we’ll have to make the decision to increase the number of bedrooms by whatever means possible, and my regular browsing of allhomes doesn’t give me much hope – upsizing houses to the nth degree still doesn’t seem to result in extra bedrooms very often, particularly in those areas we’d consider moving to to retain that all-important backyard. 4BR seems about the limit.

#25
OpenYourMind4:49 pm, 24 Oct 12

The other wonderful thing with a nice big block is that it moves your neighbours that much further away. We have chickens, dog, vegie patch etc. which are all wonderful, but even better is that it feels like we don’t even have neighbours – until we choose to talk to them, rather than hear their morning ablutions.

#26
milkman5:16 pm, 24 Oct 12

Having a big block is wonderful. Having a big house on a big block is even better.

#27
arescarti425:46 pm, 24 Oct 12

ThisIsAName said :

There was also this quote:
“In 2009 Australia built the largest new homes based on average floor area in the world. Guess which city in Oz was building the biggest of them all, yep, the Capital. So much so that in new greenfield estates on the edge of the city, the average floor space per person exceeded 120 square metres.”

120sqm? Sounds totally wrong. That’s about the internal footprint of a 3BR house.

It’s not quite as absurd as it sounds. The average floor area of a new house in Australia was 243m^2 according to a domain article from 12 about months ago. The average Australian household has 2.6 people, so that’s 94m^2 per person as a national average. All it takes is the knowledge that new houses in Canberra are above the national average, and maybe the assumption that the average household size is smaller in new greenfield estates (maybe more childless couples expecting children later on) and 120m^2 per person becomes easily achievable.

#28
jessieduck6:39 pm, 24 Oct 12

[A large single income if you think that you could afford a large place in the boon docks...]

I said larger. Not large. I place importance on being able to walk to work and walk to amenities.

#29
schmeah7:03 pm, 24 Oct 12

Another Thunder-Bird Mansion in the middle of suburban Canberra.

Some people have too much money and no fn taste …

#30
Deref7:36 pm, 24 Oct 12

schmeah said :

Another Thunder-Bird Mansion in the middle of suburban Canberra.

Some people have too much money and no fn taste …

Damn right. What is it about McMansions that they’re all so fugly?

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