Why is there a lack of family-suitable apartments in Sydney?

Why is there a lack of family-suitable apartments in Sydney?
Why is there a lack of family-suitable apartments in Sydney?

One of the failings of Sydney's new high-rise housing landscape is the lack of family-suitable apartments.

While three-bedroom apartments have been typically targeted towards cashed up empty nesters and downsizers, there has been little supply for vertical families seeking an alternative to the home with backyards on suburb streets.

Developers ought be embracing more affordable three-and four bedroom designs to provide cross-generational villages where everyone from young to old can be accommodated.

For much of the recent apartment boom, developers have instead taken the quick money supplying studio, one and two bedroom stock aimed very much for the investor.

The majority of new apartment housing is 75 square-metre, two-bedroom apartments.

It is calculated three-bedroom apartments only make up between three per cent to 6% of all apartments.

This week's CommSec’s Home Size Trends Report noted apartments are shrinking in size across the country — from around 140 square metres between 2004-2010 to just under 125 square metres today. And they are smaller in Sydney, down 10% over the past year to a 116 square metre average size, the smallest among all the capital cities.

The newly built apartment mix is generally within the development control plans of local council as a preferred percentage with required sizes within in the state government's residential flat design code.

Most councils currently have two bedrooms at 70% of stock, one bedrooms consist 20% and the proportion of three bedrooms at 10%. 

But already 20% of Sydney’s apartments are being occupied by families, according to the 2016 census, up from 14% of apartment dwellers being couples with children in 1991.

The design of apartment building mix needs to ensure appropriately sized apartments are a greater part of the mix so they are able to be lived in as a family home for a long duration.

We ought be inspired by classic European cities like Paris, if Sydney wishes to meet its aim of being among the most liveable cities of the world.

Building three-bedroom apartment help avoid urban sprawl by encouraging families to be where there's established infrastructure.

The push to Sydney high-rise is irreversible.

Chris Johnson at the Urban Taskforce, an industry organisation representing property development interests, says back in 1991 apartments were only 21% of Sydney’s homes. 

"They are now 30%, and this could rise to an amazing 50% in 40 years time," he said.

Three bedrooms require a big change in developer thinking.

Yes, developers have embraced minimum open space requirements, sometimes rooftop gardens with shared BBQ facilities.

There's now communal bike areas, although developers are still slow to ensure basics such as basement storage which are needed to take the place of the backyard shed.

Then there's the need for libraries, maybe even music practice rooms.

Realistically there can only be a gradual increase in any mandated requirement by council for an improved diversity of apartment mix.

The Hills Shire is apparently pushing bigger apartments more than most councils.

But it will come at a cost.

The price of land across Sydney dictates the highest possible density for return on development investment.

The standard construction building costs per square metre range from $2600 to $5000.

The average sale price for a Sydney apartment is $10,000 a square metre as a rough rule of thumb.

The developers have certainly tapped the baby boomer downsizers as Savills International suggested typical off the plan luxury sale prices sat at around $26,000 a square metre as the boom neared its peak.

Any shift to affordable, larger apartments would be a “godsend” according to University of NSW’s City Futures Research Centre director Bill Randolph.

This article first appeared in The Daily Telegraph. 

Jonathan Chancellor

Jonathan Chancellor

Jonathan Chancellor is one of our authors. Jonathan has been writing about property since the early 1980s and is editor-at-large of Property Observer.

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