Canberra will face a massive housing crisis next year as migration picks up again and international students return, according to the ACT’s biggest developer.
Geocon managing director Nick Georgalis said he had always argued that the Canberra market suffered from an undersupply of housing, resulting in the nation’s highest rents and, in combination with record low-interest rates, “mindboggling” rises in house prices this year.
Mr Georgalis believes that there will be nowhere near enough supply in the market to meet demand when Australia returns to its regular settings after nearly two years of COVID-19 restrictions and border closures.
“We’re in a really interesting dynamic … we’ve got the highest rents in the country, haven’t got migration back, and we haven’t got international students, so when 17,000 international students hit Canberra between February and March next year, we’re actually going to have a massive crisis on our hands,” he said.
“It’s going to be critical next year. People do not know what’s going to hit the property market next year.”
Mr Georgalis was speaking at the sod-turning on Monday (8 November) for the massive 800-unit, four-tower WOVA development in the Woden Town Centre, which has been swamped by buyers – split 50:50 between investors and owner-occupiers.
Of the 500 units on offer in the first stage, 400 have been sold. The 300-unit Stage 2 will be released next year.
Mr Georgalis said the first residents should be able to move in by mid-2023, with apartments selling from $330,000.
He said investors who had reportedly departed the market earlier in the year recognised the housing demand that Canberra will face next year and were buying into the market in droves.
With few suburban properties selling for less than a million dollars in a runaway market, Mr Georgalis said the mega-developments such as Republic in Belconnen and WOVA offered the scale to keep prices affordable.
“One of the challenges of what we’ve seen initially with the smaller 100-200 unit developments is that you don’t have that sheer volume to spread the costs over all the apartments,” he said.
The project has had several iterations as it progressed through the approvals process and has faced criticism from community groups, but Mr Georgalis rejected any notion that these mega-developments were inappropriate or ran the risk of turning town centres into concrete jungles.
“I don’t think anyone should drive an agenda to take a home away from another person,” he said.
“The notion that you should not have it in a town centre, and not provide access to affordability for a young person is an appalling idea.”
He said town centres near public transport routes were ideal for such developments, offering first-home buyers the opportunity to break into the market.
“The idea that it’s going to be a concrete jungle are appalling words from a community,” Mr Georgalis said. “There’s a lot of green spaces, ovals, the Centennial Trail that walks right past, you have access to some of the greenest and most interesting parts of Canberra right near you.”
Mr Georgalis said amenity was important in all Geocon developments because buyers were pursuing a lifestyle as well as a home.
“On this particular project, we’ve got amenity up to four levels – cinema, function and dining rooms, wine cellar, sauna, spa, pool, meeting rooms, co-working areas – we’ve got all of that,” he said.
“So it is a pivotal part of anywhere one wants to live, especially when they’re such high-volume developments.”
The $232 million development on the former Woden Tradies site has been designed by Fender Katsalidis, while Oculus is preparing the gardens and landscaped areas.
The precinct will include 22 commercial units, including retail and hospitality, and an Abode hotel.
Woden Town Centre is in the midst of a high-rise boom, with Geocon one of a number of developers building mixed-use residential towers that will add thousands of residents to the area.
Geocon’s Republic Precinct at Belconnen consists of five buildings and 1200 apartments, with the final stage to be finished in the first quarter of 2022.
Mr Georgalis said the company had just enjoyed the best three months in its history, apart from the ACT Government dropping it from the Kingston Arts Precinct project.
But Mr Georgalis would not be drawn on the government’s decision to cancel the contract, which is the subject of ongoing commercial negotiations.