Why Melbourne Should Give Suburban Apartments a Chance 1

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015
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Australian suburbs are changing. Once a sea of single households and infrastructure that prioritised cars, they now feature a series of smaller dwellings, greener spaces, pedestrian friendly streets and in turn, denser suburbs.

The change is even modernising the great Australian dream of owning a house. Today, owning a townhouse or an apartment is considered just as great a feat.

Many single suburban homes are being subdivided as developers look to bring multi-residential buildings into the suburbs to help meet housing demands.

The suburban apartment in particular is gaining momentum as residents opt for a smaller footprint, less maintenance and location, location, location.

While professional urban dwellers may be securing high-rise apartments in the CBDs across the country, a new apartment consumer – the suburban resident – is seeking a similar space minus the city congestion.

However, when it comes to apartment buildings in the suburbs, a stigma remains. Many fear that multi-residential buildings will overshadow spaces, overcrowd or aesthetically destroy the area.

Recent research from the Property Council of Australia has reiterated this perception, finding that “attitudes regarding medium density housing and development in established suburbs are often ingrained and divisive.”

Furthermore, areas of concern were “predominately related to the perceived consequences associated with increased population, such as a lack of parking, not enough information for neighbouring residents, privacy for neighbours and increased noise.”

In contrast, the report revealed that:

  • A majority of Victorians agree that low rise, medium-density housing is a great opportunity for new home buyers to enter the market without having to move to the outer suburbs.
  • Similarly, there are high levels of support for the view that low-rise, medium-density housing creates opportunities for older people to stay in their neighbourhoods as they age.

Nathan Blackburne of Cedar Woods Properties offered insights into the growing density of Australia’s suburbs.

Cedar Woods company is behind the first multi-residential apartment building in Williams Landing – a Melbourne Western suburb just 19 kilometres from the city.

According to Blackburne, the Newton Apartments project was prompted by an array of research which revealed population growth and demand for a range of dwelling types in the area.

According to a September Urbis report on Williams Landing, the south western sub-region is expected to accommodate some 1.1 million people by 2031, an increase of approximately 400,000 from today’s population of 700,000.

Looking nationwide, the Australian Bureau of Statistics cited the combined population of Greater Capital Cities increased by 289,000 people (1.9 per cent) between June 2013 and June 2014, accounting for 79 per cent of the country’s total population growth.

Melbourne had the largest growth of all Greater Capital Cities (up by 95,700 people), followed by Sydney (84,200), Perth (48,400) and Brisbane (38,500).

Leaning on his experience with the Newton Apartment project, Blackburne said there are certain attributes that could see more Melburnians give the suburban apartment a chance.

The New Apartment Dweller

Traditionally, apartments have been associated with urban dwellers, hipsters, corporate professionals and singles. That prototype is changing according to Blackburne.

“Family and household structures are changing,” he said. “We are seeing single households and people having children later in life.”

“People often want to be in a specific location, but they don’t always want a larger dwelling. Increasingly we’re seeing people wanting to be in suburban or outer suburban areas in smaller dwellings.”

The Newton Apartments at Williams Landing will feature eight one-bedroom apartments, 24 two-bedroom/one bathroom apartments and 25 two-bedroom/two bathroom apartments across four storeys.

The larger style apartments also provide living options to families looking to live, work and play in the heart of their communities.

Blackburne said buyers are a mix of owner/occupiers and investors with the former category consisting of singles and couples who are “valuing proximity to transport, retail and their place of employment.”


Families are now adopting apartment living

Looking specifically at Williams Landing, investing in a median house is around the $600,000 mark while an apartment ranges from $269,000 to $425,000.

“People want to be in a specific location but might be limited to a budget,” Blackburne said. “Apartments can offer relative affordability.”

Height Angst

Sky-high apartment buildings are usually reserved for the city and Blackburne believes it will stay this way in the near term.

“In suburban apartments, the levels tend to be lower in height and smaller in scale,” he said. “In the suburbs, you will see buildings commonly between three and five storeys.”

Overshadowing concerns are unlikely as suburban buildings usually have more space (including green space) between them as well.

“For residents, it’s not a leap from a single detached home to a 20-level apartment building,” Blackburne added. “It’s incremental and what we call a medium density development – townhouses and apartments up to around four or five storeys.”

Maintenance and Security

Maintenance and security are also appealing factors for apartment dwellers.

“People are increasingly security conscious and increasingly time poor,” said Blackburne. “If you have an apartment on the second or third floor, you don’t have various doors and windows around the house for intrusion, just a front door.”

This is beneficial for vulnerable people in the community and the ageing population who are increasingly looking towards smaller dwellings to stay in the community, according to findings by the Property Council in October 2015.

When it comes to maintenance, a body corporate takes care of the complex and surrounding areas, with residents only needing to maintain their home and perhaps a plant on the balcony according to Blackburne.

A Walk on the Green Side

While urban areas scrape for green space, it is prioritised in the suburbs with greenery and the networks for a walkable community coming as part of the master planning.

Many multi-residential complexes in suburban areas are built close to parklands and reserves while also implementing green areas on their own land.

This in turn removes the need (and maintenance) for a backyard and helps foster a sense of community with shared amenities an increasing focus.

Future Forecast

While Melbourne’s west is experiencing exponential growth, Blackburne predicts that an increase in diversity of housing types will continue across the city.

“There will be increasing demand for smaller dwelling as our cities mature so the current trend will already continue into the future and probably be stronger,” he said. “As a city like Melbourne expands, greater focus in city areas create better options for people. People don’t always want to be in a large house/large block on the urban fringe, there is increasing demand on middle suburbs or near infrastructure.

“The urban fringe is getting further out and that too increases that focus to provide living options in our middle suburbs.”

So it looks like the multi-residential apartment isn’t here to take over communities. Rather, it’s a much-needed housing option for today’s suburban resident.

Cover image courtesy of Newton Apartments

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  1. Barry

    Change is inevitable given the pressures of population growth – Australia cities needs to increase in density if they're to remain sustainable in years to come.