Assemble's Kris Daff discusses 'rent-with-the-option-to-buy' and the future of housing in Australia

Assemble's Kris Daff discusses 'rent-with-the-option-to-buy' and the future of housing in Australia
Olivia RoundMay 27, 2020

For many developers, COVID-19 has put a spanner in the works – with buyers acting more cautiously due to the unpredictability of the market. For Assemble, it's quite the opposite. With demand for their latest Kensington project rapidly increasing, Assemble's model proves that going above and beyond to deliver what buyers truly want pays off even in the toughest of times. 

We spoke with Assemble's Managing Director Kris Daff about the future of affordable housing in Australia, and the launch of Assemble's latest project 15 Thompson Street, Kensington. 

Assemble's Kris Daff discusses 'rent-with-the-option-to-buy' and the future of housing in Australia

Urban: Congratulations on the launch of Assemble's Kensington Project! With unique features such as a lending library, woodfire pizza oven and parcel delivery with fridges, it's clear you've really thought through all the practical things people want in a home and delivered them in an innovative way. What are the features you are most proud of about 15 Thompson Street?

Kris Daff: We’re very proud of the overall design of our latest development, 15 Thompson Street, Kensington. We have always taken a resident-led approach to design and have surveyed over 1,500 potential future residents to establish what are their actual needs, not just relying on our views on what they should have! We then fed this information into our work with our collaborators including architecture practice, Hayball, and landscape architecture practice, Oculus, to design a neighbourhood that responds directly to our future residents' needs and desires.

I love the open breezeways and vertical gardens that connect each home, along with a ground floor pocket park and the large rooftop that encourages people to get together and meet their neighbours over the barbeque, woodfire pizza oven and communal (and pet!) play facilities. This opportunity for spaces which allow for casual interactions between residents is often what is missing in many apartment developments.

Assemble's Kris Daff discusses 'rent-with-the-option-to-buy' and the future of housing in Australia

U: This time is pretty uncertain for the housing market in Australia – yet over the past few weeks, you've received daily applications from first home buyers, individuals and families – proving that people are in fact still buying property. What do you think is the secret to your success? 

KD: The process of buying a new property can be very stressful at the best of times, let alone during this unprecedented time, we are currently experiencing due to COVID-19. The flexibility, transparency and trust that is embedded in the Assemble Model has given people a great deal of comfort and confidence, especially for first home buyers, who want to own their own apartment but find the traditional purchasing options a real strain. The Assemble Model offers long-term rental stability for five years, with then the option to buy the apartment at an agreed price that is fixed in advance of us commencing construction. This gives our residents a total of seven years to save.

The model works to support those seeking to ultimately own their apartment in an Assemble project, with established minimum household incomes (MHI) to ensure each applicant is eligible (but not obligated) to purchase the property after they rent for the five-year period. Residents are offered free-of-charge opt-in financial coaching through construction and the lease to assist them in reaching their homeownership goal. At the of the lease period, they can choose to buy their apartment if it still suits their circumstances – many have called it the ultimate try before you buy scenario.

U: With housing security becoming a fear for many Australians in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, what kind of financial security does rent-with-the-option-to-buy offer property seekers?

KD: The ‘rent-with-the-option-to-buy’ development offer (the Assemble Model) negates the need for prohibitive up-front cash deposits by offering residents with a stable rental, ample time to enjoy their well-designed home, all while working towards a savings goal. We are promoting homeownership and creating an environment where they are encouraged to improve their financial wellbeing.

Once their five-year lease period is up, residents can then decide if it is the right financial and lifestyle choice before buying into the project. They have the flexibility to not exercise their option to purchase their apartment if it no longer suits them, without being financially penalised.

U: For people who are currently experiencing employment uncertainty but can still make rent payments, is there still a way for them to apply for rent-with-the-option-to-buy?

KD: Yes. Our model is aimed at supporting those with a low- to moderate-income households with a total household income from $60,000 can have the opportunity to gain a foothold on the property market – between 80-90% of Assemble Model apartments are classified as affordable for these households.

The two-year construction period and five-year rental period is designed to provide a seven-year home deposit savings timeframe – the average length of time it takes people to save for a home deposit. We also have an in-house financial coach, Sarah, who assists residents in setting up a savings plan, so once their lease is near completion, they are in the best financial position to buy their apartment.

U: In a previous interview with Urban, you said, "We strongly believe that everyone deserves the opportunity to access stable housing" which is so important. I'm sure there are many readers who are keen on the Assemble concept but don't live in Melbourne. Do you have plans to expand your model to other states across Australia? 

KD: Yes, we are a fast-growing business, with two Assemble Model projects in Melbourne, including 393 Macaulay Road and 15 Thompson Street in Kensington, and other sites soon to be announced.

We are also expanding in affordable Build to Rent projects and have a number of partnerships in place to develop more affordable apartments and community housing. We are actively looking at site opportunities interstate including Sydney and Brisbane – watch this space!

Assemble's Kris Daff discusses 'rent-with-the-option-to-buy' and the future of housing in Australia

U: How do you think COVID-19 has impacted the future of housing in Australia? What changes do you foresee the industry making in response to the current situation?

KD: This time has illustrated how important it is to create homes that foster connected communities.

COVID-19 has seen us retreat to our homes. It is important to have access to good natural light and ventilation, and ample space and flexibility. Having the ability to get outside and enjoy fresh air has also been vital so gardens and outdoor play spaces will be a non-negotiable for people seeking their next property move. Quality, well-designed housing should be accessible to all, and that is the driver of all Assemble developments.

U: And finally, what would your ideal neighbourhood look like and why?

KD: My ideal neighbourhood is one which provides housing designed for people, not investors and that is free of any anxiety around the residents’ housing future. As a result of that certainty, a neighbourhood that fosters a sense of inclusion and participation.

Olivia Round

Olivia Round is the Features Editor of Olivia specialises in news reporting, in-depth editorial content and video + podcast interviews with industry experts.

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