Various lenders and councils shy away from or actively prevent the development or funding of apartments of less than 50 square metres. Why?
Such policies appear to be directly opposed to two major demographic trends: the fact that the number single person households are on the increase and secondly more people are looking to live close to major CBD centres. So you have to ask why planners are resisting this trend, and there are many reasons why the policy needs to change.
It’s happened with other areas in particular with parking, where councils are happy to restrict access to parking in new apartment buildings in order to reduce car numbers in busy areas. One argument in support of this policy is access to public transport but also the big increase in shared car services like Go Get. So why not apply the same logic to smaller apartments with access to shared services with the added bonus of helping people own their home.
Restricting apartments to a minimum of 50 square metres looks out of touch and there are many examples from other international cities like Hong Kong, New York, Paris and London where, so termed ‘micro-apartments’ deliver wonderful designs and a great place to live.
A CBD Foothold Makes Great Sense
There are lots of reasons why people might wish to live in or very near a major CBD centre, however owning a larger apartment can in reality simply be out of many people’s reach.
CBD living can be really attractive if for instance you are career focused and looking to live close to work and study or you might be a more mature person looking for a city bolt hold to avoid a long daily commute, but you are not looking for a larger full-time home in the CBD.
I suggest there are many reasons why people would like to live in the city, so why not meet that demand. Clever design and planning can deliver some great options. The idea of well-designed ‘hotel-style’ apartments are already in strong demand and I expect that demand will only increase.
We know, thanks to figures from the ABS that lone person households are projected to show the greatest percentage increase over the next 25-years. The number of lone person households is projected to increase by between 61% and 65% (1.3 million households), from 2.1 million households in 2011 to between 3.3 million and 3.4 million households in 2036.
Great Design Options
A blanket no-go policy towards small or even micro-apartments looks increasingly out of touch with today’s social trends. In cities like Hong Kong and in European cities there are some great examples.
In Hong Kong cost and density have driven the trend. While European cities are much older than here and so apartment buildings tend to be more aged and densely packed.
This often means that small apartments are more common and not the exception and in area’s like Sydney’s Potts Point we also have some great examples of small apartments dating back decades.
I think it’s important to make the point that living in a small space doesn’t imply some sort of compromise. In reality, it’s more a choice and good design is really part of this along with access to shared building facilities like library rooms, an in-house cinema and dining rooms or BBQ areas and roof top gardens. In combination with well-designed interiors, small apartments are great and should not be discouraged.
It is possible to create really appealing small apartments, and developers are already doing so in highly specified one-bedroom apartments, but there’s scope to go further.
Talking to various architects it all starts for example by designing various built-in furniture and storage solutions that allow clutter, the enemy of small spaces, to be hidden, and by the use of transformer-style pieces of furniture.
In a small, very small apartment I read about in Paris, just 13 square metres the owners used an elevated platform to increase the functionality of the space. They hid a sliding component underneath which could be transformed from sofa to bed, which retracted completely to free up more room. The seating and sleeping area also doubled as working space, all terrific ideas.
Finance & Planning a Case for a More Flexible Policies
Finance for a smaller apartment is still a problem as a news report in January this year shows. A first home buyer in Melbourne stood to lose a $41,000 deposit on an apartment of 47 square metres after the bank, arguing the property was too small, refused to settle a loan.
At the time, it was the bank’s policy not to lend for the purchase of properties under 50 square metres and while the bank was reported as prepared to offer compensation for any financial loss if the bank had been at fault the policy looks outdated and out of step with market conditions.
We also have planning regulations in NSW and Victoria that ban the construction of micro-apartments, and this is despite the fact that existing often termed tiny flats and bedsitters, continue to attract record demand and prices.
The housing market needs to respond to shifts in demographics, so while at one end of the market planners allow ‘Mac Mansions’ there’s reluctance to balance demand this with smaller apartments for the single buyer. I suggest that smaller CBD apartments are a great option and when buyers wish if they do to trade up and move, other new buyers are not in short supply.