January 2019

This is the 9th in a series of articles summarising monthly news and happenings in Sydney real estate, and more broadly.

Long hot summer

With an absence of new data regarding the housing market this month, all the regular sources seem to have gone relatively quiet (likely have gone to the beach). As a result, in this article we’ve looked purely at what is getting published more generally on real estate forums and taken it from there.

Perhaps predictably after the scorching Australian summer, sustainable and zero net carbon housing  is being increasingly discussed. Few would disagree the summer has been extraordinarily hot, and we have been feeling the pinch in conjunction with a number of other factors such as the drought and the ongoing hot potato of Federal energy policy.

Domain discusses how sustainable home design is rapidly (almost explosively) becoming an essential foundation for prestige buyers. If a residence wasn’t designed for red hot summers, if it doesn’t collect rainwater or include solar panels, then what is the point of spending the money? Realistically, without these types of items, ongoing overheads are effectively increased and/or life will inevitably become less comfortable. With ongoing drought and increasing power grid load during extreme temperatures, utilities are not being taken quite so for granted.

In the same vein, a story on The Conversation asks whether the air conditioner may be contributing to our ‘unlearning’ of building practices that can help cope with summer heat. For example, the classic Aussie homestead or Queenslander style buildings with wrap-around verandahs are much better at responding to the Australian summer than many contemporary designs that favour large glass facades.

Perhaps illustrating broader Australian attitudes, a 2012 article from The Conversation discusses the relative importance that Australian building practices place on energy efficiency. Now in 2019 the same levels of the NatHERS (National House Energy Rating Scheme) are still required. From the NatHERS website: “The Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme (NatHERS) is a star rating system (out of ten) that rates the energy efficiency of a home, based on its design.” Nothing in Australia requires over 6 stars out of 10. By comparison, the article claims most developed countries require the equivalent of 8 stars.

A glass facade, full sun, and air conditioning do not an energy efficient home make.

Out of date regulation

In addition to this arguably relaxed approach to building regulation in the face of climate change, the flexibility of Australian local Government housing regulations is also coming under scrutiny from another direction; that of tiny housing. While the tiny housing phemonenon is attractive to many, and has a great number of options available, the actual takeup numbers are quite low. At least part of the problem seems to be with a plethora of council rules such as: that a tiny house cannot be slept in every third night. Although there are good reasons for such rules when it comes to plumbing and amenity, changing demographics such as the rising number of single person households, and the equivalent gradual decline in family households, may require reform in this area. As pointed out here, we probably need more flexible housing arrangements for the 21st century.

Reinvigorate the housing market: get rid of your stuff, and move!

Of course, another difficulty with achieving the idealism of tiny houses is that our current big houses are full of junk. In order to downsize, things will need to be gotten rid of. Domain reports on the house de-cluttering ‘sensation’ Marie Kondo’s new book and Netflix show. Clearly succumbing to the slow news period of January, both Domain and ABC give examples of things being sold through the popular auction sites Ebay and Gumtree as a result of the KonMari method. Could consumerism be another reason for the slow take up of tiny housing? It would also be ironic if the people who wanted one the most were also those least able to achieve the necessary downsizing due to their mountains of stuff.