13 November 2020

ACT building Australia's biggest houses, and that's a problem

| Ian Bushnell
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House construction

Through the roof: big houses and expensive land add up to an affordability problem for Canberra. Photo: File.

The ACT housing market suffers from a dearth of smaller, stand-alone houses within the reach of average homebuyers as it builds the biggest houses in Australia, a new report shows.

The CommSec Home Size Trends Report says Australia is again building the biggest houses in the world, and the ACT is at the top of the national pile.

It says the average floor area of an ACT house built in 2019-20 was 256.3 square metres; ahead of Victoria (250.3 sqm); NSW (235 sqm); and Western Australia (232.5 sqm).

But only 23 per cent of all homes built in the ACT were free-standing or detached houses in 2019-20.

Despite the apartment boom in the ACT, it is ‘house and land’ that is in high demand, as are townhouses, semi-detached dwellings or duplexes with separate title.

READ ALSO Is buying a house really a sign of financial success anymore?

Apartment sizes are also growing again, with those in the ACT built in 2019-20 averaging 143 sqm, above the national average of 136.8 sqm.

But when all homes are taken into account the average floor size in the ACT slips back to 178.3 sqm, only ahead of Tasmania (174.8 sqm) and NSW (171.8 sqm).

While lot sizes have shrunk, the houses in the ACT have not, occupying more of the site. Older stand-alone houses may be smaller in size but are often on bigger blocks, and the land is at a premium.

It adds up to an affordability conundrum, acknowledged by Chief Minister Andrew Barr recently when grappling with the infill versus greenfield development question.

”We build big, expensive houses in Canberra and that is a factor in affordability,” he said.

He did not expect the price of land to fall substantially but suggested there were ways of getting more affordable blocks to market.

He implied that the housing industry would have to start providing a greater range of products, including smaller more affordable homes on smaller blocks, but he said infill did not mean there would not be new suburbs.

The planning system would need to play its role, something the upcoming planning review will tackle.

Aerial View, Drone, Weston Creek, Houses

In demand: the traditional house on a suburban block. Photo: File.

The CommSec report says that 2019-20 reversed a seven-year trend for smaller houses and apartments across Australia driven by the increased focus on sustainability; desire for low-maintenance homes; smaller lot sizes; fewer people per home; affordability; a desire for proximity to inner cities; and energy costs.

”Aussies had embraced apartments as well as smaller houses on smaller lot sizes. In fact the size of the average house built last year (2018-19) was the smallest in 17 years,” CommSec says.

But over the past year there appears to have been a perception that homes had shrunk a little too much, it says.

”The recent experience with COVID-19 has certainly caused more families to look for bigger homes and caused others to add extra rooms to existing homes,” the report says.

”The recent trends to butler’s pantries, mudrooms (storage for boots, coats and wet clothing) and home theatres have given more families justification to build bigger homes.”

READ ALSO ACT set to continue going it alone on building quality

CommSec says houses built in Australia over the past year are still far bigger than those built in the 1980s and 1990s, with houses around 6 per cent bigger than 20 years ago and 27 per cent bigger than 30 years ago.

“There have been shifting trends in the sizes and styles of homes over the past decade and COVID-19 is throwing another element into the mix,” it says.

”More Aussies could embrace working from home in a bigger way, opting to move away from apartments in, or near the CBD, in preference for a larger home in a regional or suburban ‘lifestyle’ area,” it says.

Canberra falls into this regional mix, and within the ACT this could also drive even more demand for the traditional suburban house on a block or something like it.

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How dare anyone tell someone else how big or small their house should be. If I want to live alone in an ugly, 5 bedroom house then I should be allowed to without any hysteria from the tree huggers and lefties.

Queanbeyanite5:43 pm 19 Nov 20

Your betters in the ACT local council know what you should have. Do as you are told.

In Queanbeyan we can have what we like.

They build what people buy – if there wasn’t demand for big houses, big houses wouldn’t be built. If people only bought places with decent sized yards, then developers would be forced to provide homes with decent yards – that’s why I’d never by in Gunghastly.

Awful. Giant houses with no gardens or trees. We are building a concrete hell that is a complete mismatch for the climate. What do people do with all that space?!

russianafroman2:13 pm 16 Nov 20

These developments are an absolute disaster and will need to be demolished when climate change begins to destroy settlements with no trees. What a foolish civilization to think you can build houses for people like this. What is wrong with the people who authorized this. The fact that people put up with it is quite sad and probably reinforces their belief that the buyers are just fools who take anything.

They have air con and ACTs electricity is 100% renewable. So they can just dial up the air con as needed. Not sure on what ur issue is.

russianafroman9:14 pm 18 Nov 20

Here’s something mindblowing for you. Air-con doesn’t solve global warming. If you’re not sure what my issue is then you need to do your research about climate change, start with the “heat island effect”. Maybe then you’ll get the idea. But thinking air-con will solve climate change is quite hilarious so thanks for the laugh.

Thinking that the government (which can’t even empty my garbage bin) will solve climate change is an even bigger laugh!

Sounds like someone hasn’t experienced 100% green AC. It’s a guilt free pleasure in this CO2-philic world. I leave the windows open on hot nights and still blast the AC because I like a little street noise. Does pumping green powered AC air into the atmosphere offset global warming? Probably not. But it’s green energy, so no harm done and we should at least do something.

russianafroman7:10 pm 26 Nov 20

Dukethunder You are not understanding what I am saying. I told you to understand what the heat island effect is. Yet you give me a monologue about your air conditioning system. Don’t respond to my comments if you don’t understand what is going on.

HiddenDragon7:10 pm 15 Nov 20

“He did not expect the price of land to fall substantially but suggested there were ways of getting more affordable blocks to market.”

A government which is deeply in the red and heavily reliant on, and ideologically committed to, property related revenues won’t be doing anything of note to make housing more affordable in this town.

The most likely initiatives will be variations on the theme of the land rent scheme – better than nothing, perhaps, but a time bomb for people who don’t have the good fortune to retire on a substantial proportion of their working income and/or with a worthwhile inheritance, or two, along the way.

Back in reality what you have just said applies the country over with both labor and liberal states and councils.

Do you or others have any useful suggestions on how to efficiently cater for population growth?

To be fair, none of the really big changes to housing affordability are within the local government’s control anyway.

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