Why smaller homes are a smart move.
Winners are grinners, so the saying goes, but Australia has recently lost its crown for building the biggest houses in the world. And that’s something we should all be happy about (even though we still take out silver).
According to a recent survey by the ABS, commissioned by CommSec, the average floor area of a new detached house built in Australia in 2015/16 was 231m2, down from a record 247.7m2 in 2008/09. Meanwhile, over in the States, the US Census Bureau reports that the average size of a new single-family house in 2015 was 249.6m2. We were world champions as recently as 2011/12, when the average house built here stood at 244.9m2, more than five per cent above the US average of 232.7m2.
Across Australia, Victorians build the biggest houses, at an average of 241.1m2, ahead of Queenslanders (237.7m2), New South Welshmen (227.4m2) and West Australians (227m2).
There are many reasons houses are getting smaller, including changing demographics, smaller blocks and affordability issues. Couples and young families now embrace apartment living, whereas a house on a quarter-acre block was once the dream (even fairly recently). Generations X and Y will happily sacrifice space to live closer to work and a good chai latte – and they’re not alone; retirees are also downsizing.
“I suspect the passing of ‘peak house’ is a reaction to the affordability issue, especially in Sydney and Melbourne,” says Bernard Salt, demographer, social commentator and a partner at global advisory firm KPMG. “It may also have something to do with a greater awareness of the cost of operating big houses: so much space to heat and cool, let alone furnish and clean.”
Then there’s the fact that a greater proportion of new houses are being constructed in infill and brownfields locations. “You can’t build McMansions in nooks and crannies – you have to build smarter, tighter, leaner, fitter, smaller housing in infill locations.”
Sydney and Melbourne, in particular, have been roped into an increasingly knowledge-worker world supported by a different form of housing and a different lifestyle model, says Salt.
“Sell your house in Melbourne’s Mitcham or in Sydney’s Hornsby and buy a townhouse or an apartment closer to where you work. In so doing, allow your former quarter-acre block, originally carved out of a dairy farm in the 1950s, to be subdivided and reconfigured into townhouses or a series of low-rise apartments. Bingo – the average Aussie house shrinks as a consequence,” he says. “Everyone’s a winner when the average Aussie house downsizes. Let the Americans continue on their crazy quest for ever-bigger houses. We Australians have been there and done that, and now we’re quite happy with smaller, better located and more efficient housing.”