Pres­tige Prop­erty; base­ment con­ver­sions; sell­ing out to apart­ment de­vel­op­ers

Crowded sub­urbs mean it’s of­ten eas­ier to for­get ex­tra storeys and in­stead cre­ate a base­ment

The Weekend Australian - Life - - FOOD & WINE - BEN POWER

AUS­TRALIA’S cities are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly crowded, which is putting a pre­mium on space. But home­own­ers of­ten face height re­stric­tions. So in­stead, they’re build­ing down, rather than up, and in­creas­ingly trans­form­ing base­ments into liv­able spa­ces.

At the top end of the mar­ket, the hum­ble base­ment has now be­come the new sta­tus sym­bol. Pres­tige home­own­ers are cre­at­ing and de­mand­ing not just mul­ti­ple car spots for their base­ments, but also luxury fa­cil­i­ties such as gym­na­si­ums, home cin­e­mas and wine cel­lars.

“As peo­ple want more space and as den­sity in­creases, peo­ple will be mak­ing more use of sub-floor spa­ces,” says Syd­ney ar­chi­tect Michael MacCormick.

“Ev­ery client of ours now wants to turn their base­ment space into a hab­it­able room.”

The trend is also be­ing fi­nan­cially driven: “It adds cap­i­tal value to their home be­cause they’re get­ting an ad­di­tional use,” MacCormick says.

But base­ments can be one of the most ex­pen­sive in­clu­sions and ren­o­va­tions in a home.

MacCormick re­cently worked with Syd­ney cou­ple Si­mone and James Mar­shall to cre­ate a cool base­ment area when they ren­o­vated their Sir­ius Cove water­front home at Mos­man on the city’s north shore.

They de­cided to turn a dis­used and damp stor­age space into an en­ter­tain­ment and mu­sic area that could be ac­cessed through the garage and via an in­ter­nal stair­well.

“We were look­ing for a space where the kids could go and watch a movie or play and let us sit and have din­ner up­stairs,” Si­mone says.

Base­ments are typ­i­cally as­so­ci­ated with Amer­i­can and English liv­ing; though in high-den­sity in­ner-city ar­eas such as Padding­ton in Syd­ney, base­ments have been a key fea­ture of ter­race houses.

But as Aus­tralia’s pop­u­la­tion surges and coun­cils im­pose build­ing height re­stric­tions, more Aus­tralians are turn­ing to base­ments to cre­ate space. MacCormick says coun­cils are more likely to look favourably on th­ese types of al­ter­ations if the ad­di­tional floor space is largely within the ex­ist­ing walls.

Through their base­ment ren­o­va­tion, the Mar­shalls es­sen­tially turned their two-storey house into a three storey one. “It now feels like a three-level house rather than a two-level house,” Si­mone says. “It makes the house feel more like one place; the flow is fan­tas­tic for us.”

The base­ment is more than an en­ter­tain­ment room; there is also a sep­a­rate area that has be­come a mu­sic room. The area can also be used as guest quar­ters for in­ter­state visi­tors: the Mar­shalls in­stalled a bath­room and there is a bed that folds down from the wall; it’s also a study space for James.

Si­mone says a lot of peo­ple around their area are dig­ging down, in part be­cause it’s neigh­bour friendly. “If you try to go up you’re go­ing to take peo­ple’s view,” she says.

A base­ment al­lows home­own­ers to tuck away the study, movie room and guest quar­ters. They can save the main ground floor ar­eas for “won­der­ful big liv­ing spa­ces with great views”.

At the very top end of the mar­ket, base­ments have ac­tu­ally be­come sta­tus sym­bols and de­liver brag­ging rights.

Don Ravida, the man­ag­ing direc­tor of boutique Mel­bourne builder Ravida, says five or six years ago, base­ments were some­thing that were only done in and around Toorak. “They’ve cer­tainly spread fur­ther into the sub­urbs, al­beit still mainly af­flu­ent ar­eas,” he says. “We’re do­ing quite a few base­ments and lifts th­ese days.”

Ravida, whose com­pany built the high-pro­file man­sion at 8 Maxwell Court, Toorak, says the steep price of

land is driv­ing the trend. “By having a base­ment you just get so much more out of the prop­erty; you can achieve more gar­den and you have just got a whole other level be­low with park­ing.”

It can also im­prove street pre­sen­ta­tion of a house. “You get a nice sym­met­ri­cal clas­si­cal-look­ing home that isn’t dom­i­nated by a two-garage door,” he says.

Ravida says the typ­i­cal top-end base­ment now has park­ing for up to six cars, a foyer, cinema room and wine cel­lar. The base­ment at his Toorak home has park­ing space for four cars, a gym­na­sium, wine cel­lar, cloak room, laun­dry, and an en­ter­tain­ment room with bar. The wine cel­lar is cli­mate con­trolled, with rack­ing for 500 bot­tles; Ravida some­times sets up a wine tast­ing ta­ble in there.

Jim Malone of Clas­sic Cel­lars in­stalls cus­tom wine cel­lars in homes and base­ments. He has also wit­nessed a boom in base­ment devel­op­ment and use, while wine col­lect­ing is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar with the Chi­nese com­mu­nity.

“You can’t buy any­thing for un­der $1 mil­lion and there are height re­stric­tions and all sorts of reg­u­la­tions,” he says. “What peo­ple are do­ing is they’re putting in un­der­ground car park­ing, home the­atres, games rooms and wine cel­lars, and build­ing the house on top of that.

“Much the same is hap­pen­ing in our Syd­ney of­fice, where land is even more ex­pen­sive.”

In ad­di­tion to wine cel­lars, Malone pro­vides base­ment con­struc­tion. He has also part­nered with a home the­atre com­pany to cre­ate base­ment cin­e­mas.

Wine cel­lars “can be a bit of a show-off item”, Malone says. “But most of our cus­tomers are true wine buffs, and for them it’s the plea­sure of buy­ing some­thing to­day that won’t be avail­able in five years’ time and cel­lar­ing it.”

A typ­i­cal fit out for a cus­tom-made 2000-bot­tle cel­lar is $25,000; an­other $5000 gives you room tem­per­a­ture con­trol.

MacCormick says base­ments also of­fer cre­ative op­tions, par­tic­u­larly if sand­stone and old brick­work can be ex­posed. If they have ex­ist­ing struc­tures that can be re­tained, “the ex­ist­ing struc­ture or sand­stone can be­come a fea­ture of the room and makes for an in­ter­est­ing space for ar­chi­tects to work with and own­ers to live with.”

There are chal­lenges with base­ments. Ravida says base­ments mean houses are much more ex­pen­sive to build. “The whole method of con­struc­tion be­comes dif­fer­ent,” he says. “You have a big struc­ture be­low ground.”

Cameron Frazer, gen­eral man­ager of Archi­cen­tre, the build­ing ad­vi­sory ser­vice for the Aus­tralian In­sti­tute of Ar­chi­tects, agrees base­ments are ex­pen­sive.

“Ex­ca­va­tion is one of the most ex­pen­sive things you can do,” he says. “They cre­ate a num­ber of chal­lenges that more sim­ple build­ings built up from ground nor­mally don’t bring.”

Given that ex­pense, there is a de­bate over whether base­ments add to the value of a house. Ravida says in the right sub­urbs, they do.

Frazer says whether base­ments add value de­pends on var­i­ous fac­tors, in­clud­ing the size of the base­ment and the com­plex­ity of ex­ca­va­tion.

He says one cou­ple in the Mel­bourne sub­urb of Brighton ex­ca­vated for a build­ing and found a wa­ter course that re­peat­edly flooded. “It took them two months work­ing with the builder to redi­rect and man­age the prob­lem,” he says.

Frazer ad­vises con­sult­ing ar­chi­tects, but also val­uers and agents to get a sense of whether a base­ment will add value. “I would never say it’s a straight equa­tion that dig­ging a base­ment will add value,” he says.

“Like any ren­o­va­tion it will de­liver re­turn on in­vest­ment if care­fully planned and thought through and

’The whole method of con­struc­tion be­comes dif­fer­ent, You have a big struc­ture be­low ground.”



con­sulted on.” Still, “if money is no ob­ject, then it prob­a­bly doesn’t mat­ter much.”

The Mar­shalls them­selves did some ex­ca­va­tion to en­sure the ceil­ing heights were le­gal. Si­mone says the base­ment work has def­i­nitely added value. “It ef­fec­tively gave the house two more liv­ing ar­eas and a bath­room, as well as giv­ing us a cel­lar wall,” she says. “The house it­self seems a lot big­ger.”

MacCormick says base­ments add value if they add a miss­ing func­tion to a house, such as a guest bed­room, home the­atre, home of­fice or study, rum­pus room space or cel­lar. “Th­ese spa­ces are all fea­tures that realestate agents like to be able to men­tion when mar­ket­ing a house,” he says.

He says the trend for base­ments will con­tinue to grow. “It’s go­ing to hap­pen more and more as peo­ple want more space or more peo­ple to live in the house.”



main Si­mone Mar­shall in her fam­ily’s newly ren­o­vated base­ment in Mos­man, Syd­ney


above Mar­shall and daugh­ter Olivia left Don Davida be­low A cus­tom-made wine cel­lar by Jim Malone’s Clas­sic Cel­lars

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