House for sale

Is the resale market killing innovation in architectural design?

May 4, 2018
  • Article by Natalie Mortimer

Currently in Australia, residential investment represents around 35 percent of all housing finance, with the majority being centred on resale. While that figure may seem relatively unremarkable, couple it with a changing housing marketplace and it is sending a ripple effect through the architectural industry’s approach to design.

Thirty years ago, a home used to be something that your parents bought, hung on to and it was bequeathed to someone in the family when they died. Nowadays, real estate has changed completely and a home is a commodity, it’s a resalable item, said Tim O’Sullivan, co-director, Multiplicity at DesignBuild 2018.

“You can spot a house that someone has said ‘we want this to be resalable’, because it will do what another 20 houses you will see on any given day are doing: a soft white palette or the kitchen will have a certain finish that is very ‘now’.

“We tell clients to do what they want and not be afraid of bucking against the market trend. We have one client, for example, who doesn’t like having the laundry inside. We said to her, ‘look, realistically for the marketplace, what you should do is to allow us to design something so that if you do have to resell in 10 years, someone can see the property and know they can easily install an inside laundry.”

For Clare Cousins, director, Clare Cousins Architects, her practice is trying to educate clients that they should be designing a home around their current and future needs and not to be afraid to choose a design that goes against the grain of current housing design trends, even if they are considering a resale down the track.

“People think that they must do an ensuite… but it’s really about thinking what do you need as a family and what do you need long term?” She said. “But, if you are looking at doing something that bucks against the trend, you need to think about how a simple conversion or a facility can be accommodated in the space to allow for that.

“Houses are becoming completely vanilla because people are trying to be so non-confrontational and appeal to the broadest market that they are now appealing to nobody.”

Fiona Dunin, director, fmd architects agreed. “When we are going through the briefing process, clients will quite often come to us with a whole list of elements they think they need and then it is through discussions, sketches and showing them options that can potentially reduce what their initial briefing requirement is, because it doesn’t match their budget, that they start realising what is essential to them and realising what they really don’t need and what they have been told that they need.”

The biggest inhibitor of design innovation today, added Cousins, is that too often, banks, lenders and builders think that good design is an “optional extra”.

“As a society, that appreciation or understanding of a good design that makes spaces function well and are healthy to live in [are under appreciated]. They are really well understood concepts in Scandinavian countries and Japan, where it’s almost built in that children understand what the quality of good design is about.

“There have been various architectural competitions held over the years to try and use architecturally designed volume build housing to challenge the status quo and the resistance that has been felt, but none of them have really gotten anywhere. We are still dealing with brick veneer tile roofs and the double garage out the front. It is perplexing as to why that shift can’t happen.”

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