Proximity to community and amenity, thermal comfort and energy efficiency and overall quality have emerged as key priorities for buyers in new housing and multi-residential developments following COVID, leaders in property development say.
During a panel discussion at the Design Build Expo held in Melbourne on May 11, Kate Nason, Sustainability Advisor at Frasers Property Australia and Chairperson of the Australian Passive House Association and Luke Thornton, Senior Development Manager at Melbourne based development firm Beulah, shared observations about buyer preferences and priorities following the pandemic.
The session was chaired by Tori Shepherd, Manager, Asia Pacific, at International WELL Building Institute.
According to Nason, feedback obtained during post-occupancy customer engagement which Frasers undertakes corresponds with what is logically expected.
First, there is a focus on amenity, connectivity to neighbourhood and community and the social opportunities which are available within walking distance of a given development.
Next, there is greater emphasis on thermal comfort and energy cost and performance. Particularly in Melbourne, this has been driven by workers needing to spend entire winters at home during lockdown without having reprieve from trips to the office.
Finally, buyers want high internet speeds/reliable internet connections along with dedicated areas for work or study. This is posing a particular challenge in the case of one-bedroom apartments – where dedicated study areas or even second bedrooms need to be considered.
Thorton broadly agrees, saying that buyers now value amenity, lower operational costs, sustainability and quality.
He adds that the pandemic has driven a flight to quality and a desire for households to invest in their home space.
Whereas sales of some projects fell flat during COVID, others in Beulah’s highest quality developments continued to sell apace.
Take, for example, the firm’s the firm’s 15-dwelling detached housing complex ‘The Wilds’ on the banks of the Merri Creek in Melbourne’s inner-northern suburb of Northcote. The project aims to be the first inner-Melbourne detached housing development to achieve carbon neutral status in operation. Despite buyers being unable to visit display homes as the development went to market during the middle of the pandemic, the project was mostly sold out within four weeks.
On a grander scale, almost 40 percent of the 800 apartments on offer as part of the firm’s massive STH BNK By Beulah mixed-use project in Melbourne’s Southbank precinct (see below) sold on day one of the project’s launch in April.
Consistent with the connectedness theme referred to above, the complex aims to foster local community within a high-rise tower through features such as neighbourhood parks and spaces which are designed to enable people to bump into one another.
“We’ve all spent so much time at home – we’ve become much more aware of our environment,” Thornton said.
“We see a desire to invest in the home space.”
The latest comments come as COVID and associated public health measures have prompted many Australians to reconsider their housing preferences and living space.
This has been especially the case in Melbourne, where residents endured six lockdowns and were homebound apart from essential activities for a cumulative 262 days.
In response, developers are modifying their designs.
Speaking of Beulah, Thornton said his firm is now including full-sized study areas in more than half of its new apartments. These are fully enclosed areas which are slightly smaller than a bedroom and which have doors which may open and close.
Whilst previously, many of the firm’s offerings features study ‘nooks’, these were problematic during COVID as Zoom calls were interrupted by children running past or visible household mess within the background.
Another measure currently being worked through in design of the firm’s Southbank project is touchless pathways that enable residents to travel from outside the complex to their home without needing to interact with a surface. In public bathrooms, for example, the firm is looking at having entries which not only create privacy but avoid the need for doors to be pushed open.
Finally, there is a greater focus on indoor air quality. Here, Beulah is working with engineering partners Arup to ensure that the quality of air on indoor spaces within the firm’s multi-residential developments is better than that outside the complex.
Toward this end, the firm has now adopted:
- its own air delivery system in its towers which delivers outdoor air but provides a filter against external fires or outdoor air pollution
- a heat transfer system for inbound air which avoids the need to constantly heat or cool incoming external air; and
- use of low VOC (volatile organic compound) materials within its builds.
The company is also offering HEPA filter upgrades on all residences on which it is working.
At a broader level, Beulah is pursuing mixed-use developments where possible.
Its flagship project in this area is its STH BNK By Beulah complex in Melbourne’s Southbank precinct referred to above
Set to be Australia’s tallest tower and sky garden (385m) upon completion, the $2 billion, two-tower complex will not only be a stunning architectural feature with a twisting geometric glass façade and terracing on both towers but is designed to create both a vertical village and a min-metropolis.
Features will include 800 apartments across five distinct collections of private residences involving one, two, three, four and five bedrooms; 5,000 workspaces across 50,000 sqm of A-Grade office spaces; a Four Seasons Hotel; a 2,500 seat multi-functional conference and entertainment centre; a 5,000 sqm science backed health and wellness precinct; a 3,500 sqm international art gallery; childcare facilities; more than 100 retail shops and 12,500 sqm of public green spaces including pocket parks and Australia’s highest sky garden.
At a smaller level, the firm is applying similar principles on a seven-level development opposite Pharan Market in Melbourne’s inner-south-east. This includes ground floor retail, three floors of commercial space and four floors of residential space.
Speaking particularly of the Southbank project, Thornton says mixed-use delivers benefits such as:
- Sustainability advantages through base building systems working together and loads being smoothed over a 24-hour period.
- Convenience for residents in accessing retail, commercial and wellness options
- Reduced owners corporation fees for apartment owners as owners corporation costs are shared with the hotel, retail and commercial operations
- Greater value for the hotel as its guests are able to access extensive retail offerings, immersive retail experiences and deeper wellness offerings compared with what the hotel could offer on its own without them needing to leave the complex.
- Benefits for commercial tenants from having residences next door along with retail and a hotel in the building.
In addition to modifying designs, Nason says Frasers is adopting strategies to communicate benefits of its offerings and initiatives to consumers.
- Targeting messaging to be meaningful to clients. In the case of Frasers, the company has an internal commitment that all of its properties which are settled from 2028 onward will be carbon neutral in operation. When speaking with clients, the company talks about how this will make homes more comfortable and cheaper to run and well as how this will help clients to be more productive when working from home.
- Enabling clients to experience features for themselves. During a recent pilot of a Passive House project in Point Cook, Frasers invited people to come, touch and feel the product. The eventual buyer was driven to purchase the home on account of its quality. In that project, Frasers also shared its learnings with industry peers.
- Demonstrating performance through certifications and standards such as WELL, Passive House, Green Star and others. Whilst it may be well and good for developers to claim to implement good practice principles, obtaining the formal certifications provides clients with third-party verification about what has been achieved without them needing to rely on developer assurances.
- Where possible, providing consumers with meaningful data about matters such as air quality.
Thornton agrees about the importance of communication.
He says Beulah talks buyers through benefits of its developments via face-to-face interaction.
Whilst clients are generally receptive to initiatives in areas such as sustainability, Thornton stresses that this must not detract from comfort or add significant project cost.
“People aren’t going to live in ice-boxes to save the world,” he says.
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