Scal­ing Down

Why smaller homes are a smart move.

Australian House & Garden - - Contents -

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.”

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