The importance of functional design in CBD residential markets: Peter Chittenden

Peter ChittendenJuly 8, 20130 min read

Over the last two weeks I have looked at some of the key demographics driving our CBD residential markets.

While a city apartment is not a new idea, Sydney’s Astor dates back to 1923, it has only been over the past two decades that CBD living has attracted big numbers of residents.

That growth is going to continue as CBD markets evolve to offer ever more clearly defined precincts, neighbourhoods and project diversity.

And just like other areas spread across a major metropolis these various sub-markets present rich marketing opportunities.

How we label these sub-markets as: villages, neighbourhoods or burrows, does not really matter, but what does matter is what aspects attract buyers. Then over time how the ‘locals’ fashion these areas to create their own rich local communities.

There’s a Lot Going On

Because many of us find ourselves marketing projects in these CBD markets, I wanted to get an appreciation of how buyers are adapting to their new homes, including an impression of how new developments are fitting into the wider goals of city planners and simply, do people enjoy this evolving lifestyle. As a result what can we learn?

I was not setting out to produce any sort of research paper, no the idea was more about a series of personal conversations to get a handle on the experience of buyers. And all the time of course reflecting on the marketing that might have been used to engage these same buyers, as a counter-balance to some of the published statistics I have looked at over the past few weeks.

My first view is that the most shared experiences have a lot in common, and these include location, convenience, design, facilities, views, prestige and the general feeling that there is still some way to go before CBD living ‘matures’. I also have to acknowledge here that all of the buyers I spoke to were in Sydney.

Location

At first glance I suspect that in the widest definition of location it might be seen as a simple point, after all we are talking about the CBD – that’s the location. The question of location is however very complex, there is a vast difference and some distance between many locations in the Sydney CBD or for that matter in Melbourne, Brisbane or the Gold Coast.

Location really has everything to do with position, it’s the place that people see as making up the key benefits of where they live. In the CBD a ‘great position’ is made up of a big list of characteristics, and as the market continues to grow and mature, it is clear that buyers appreciate even the most subtle differences of position/location.

While there were a number of comments from the buyers I spoke to, which included transport, public amenity, a rail link to the airport and access to parks, cafes, shops, restaurants, there was a general feeling that a desirable location had to have, what was frequently referred to as a ‘buzz’ – a feeling of activity, excitement, animation and life.

While I was not really surprised to hear this feedback, what I did find interesting was that some parts of the Sydney CBD failed this test by comparison to an area like Potts Point. It appears that buzz might need time and diversity and community to nurture this important aspect of CBD living.

So I think it’s worth ticking off the reality that you might not visit the Sydney Opera House or Art Gallery of NSW every day, but a choice of coffee shops and a much loved pizza shop count for a lot.

Design – It’s all in the detail

CBD buzz is great it appears, but sooner or later every buyer in my conversations turned their comments to what they liked or did not like about their own apartments, how they were designed and finished and how different building facilities influence where they purchased.

Also over many years I have always collected and stored away in my own mind the varied comments my team and I hear about apartment design. In this area of marketing, design decisions are critical and they need to be because buyers are very much in tune to what they are looking for.

My group of buyers was happy enough with their choices but they did feel there was room to improve the fine details.

But firstly some of the most common factors were storage, ceiling heights, cross ventilation and light, separate living and bedroom zones and how noise could be managed.

There was also general agreement that security was very important, the idea of a low maintenance lifestyle, the ability to lock-up and go away for the weekend or several months was seen as key and somewhat aligned to the possible investment appeal of the apartment and building.

Another design issue that popped up was the design and function of balconies. They need to be a reasonable size – not a football field but also not a window shelf, safe and private enough to use and there are concerns, which I share, about what is sometimes called ‘balcony blight’.

Balcony blight can happen in high rise buildings where because so much glass is used in the balustrade design this restricts privacy and so washing, stored furniture, assorted boxes and exercise equipment are all visible. When spread over 10 or 20 levels of a building this creates a somewhat hectic look.

While I am not suggesting a repeat of the idea that only one type of outdoor furniture should be used, as was notoriously the case with The Republic building in Darlinghurst, a building’s exterior design appeal are important to any buyer or resident.

Design to Meet a Lifestyle Change

During most of the conversations I had with recent buyers, many had experienced a change in lifestyle, while some had moved from an existing apartment, others were experiencing CBD apartment living for the first time.

This was one of the reasons storage was important, along with parking. If you have moved from a larger home adjusting to a smaller space will almost always involve buyers having to transition personal possessions and storage can become an ‘emotional’ issue. It is possible to buy strata car parks and storage, but if these are not in your building it’s very often not a practical option.

Another key design feature that most buyers were looking for, in particular buyers who may have downsized was a zoned interior layout.

Comments like ‘it’s great to have a different area for the grand kids or visitors to use, where they have their own private space’ were a frequent observation.

While this feedback might not be all that surprising I think it is always very valuable from a marketing perspective to keep in mind what buyers want, to remind ourselves that long after the glossy brochures are forgotten – how apartments and buildings function should be our concern.

Next week I will finish off this topic with more interesting buyer feedback.

Peter Chittenden is managing director for residential of Colliers International.

Peter Chittenden

Peter Chittenden is managing director for residential of Colliers International.
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