Planning Should Match Buyer Expectations

In last week’s post I started to explore the background of the Apartment Design Guidelines that were introduced by the NSW Department of Planning & Environment late in 2015.

The guidelines were introduced with the responsible Minister highlighting the aim of helping deliver the best apartments in the country. The Minister also commented: “The changes introduced greater flexibility into the design process to encourage more innovation, and provide clarity and consistency in the way design issues are dealt with for apartments.”

For apartment residents this combination of ideas would be very welcome. The Guidelines address many issues that any apartment buyer would be alert to and so this is an important document.

Developers always aim to produce projects that have strong market appeal, and again they are very keen to embrace the many design aspects covered by the Guidelines. There are some key issues that I think are well worth exploring.

Making Apartments Resident Friendly

Not surprisingly the Guidelines present a detailed set of criteria and recommendations. Many of the points might be seen as common sense, but delivering all aspects of the Guidelines is still a complex task. From a market perspective buyers are very alert to most of the topics discussed but there are some key points that buyers often give feedback on, so these are the areas I am going to expand on.

One of the big issues is visual privacy, and it’s a point that takes on ever greater significance as density increases. The impact of greater density is a key aspect of the Guidelines and is a concern among buyers. Visual privacy is impacted by many key aspects of apartment design, and if it’s not well addressed then individual apartments and buildings can be at a disadvantage and are less appealing.

The Apartment Design Guidelines lists some key factors including building set-backs, balustrade design, the positioning of trees and vegetation, screening, planter boxes and the use of pergolas and louvers. I have noted that buyers also pay detailed attention to many of these same items. Building set-backs are always a concern, whether in a new area or a staged development, it’s important to address the issue.

Balustrades are another design element that buyers look at closely. While glass is a popular material and can help to preserve views, often a solid construction creates better privacy. If they are poorly designed balustrades they can have a negative impact on a building with one example being too much visibility of hanging washing. Understanding that is just a reality of everyday living, however it can be managed by good design.

Screening is another issue which takes on more significance in some areas of very high density. Screens can, for example, help give more people access to a better view. The use of pergolas and flexible louvers is a positive design option along with creative screen options via planter boxes and landscaping solutions.

Daylight and Ventilation

Solar access and lots of natural light, along with really good cross ventilation, get the big tick of approval among buyers; and with greater awareness of energy costs even more so.

A sunny aspect with apartments designed for cross ventilation and good ceiling heights are a very popular combination. I also find that buyers align these two design elements alongside how well balconies and terraces are designed, both in terms of how private the spaces are, but also how open spaces can enhance access to sunlight and make internal ventilation easier to achieve.

We should not forget how common areas are designed around these same qualities and the Guidelines address this issue. Common areas with natural light and natural ventilation are very popular with buyers and they avoid possibly creating dark and uninviting common areas.

Storage and Apartment Mix

It’s easy to recognise that all of the design points I’ve outlined from the Guidelines are key points of concern among buyers. To conclude this post I need to address two other topics: storage and apartment mix. While they might appear to be at opposite ends of the scale of concerns, both are important.

I have lost count of the number of times that buyers ask two questions. How much storage does the apartment have? And what’s the mix of apartments? What they are in effect saying is, well I might be living here and I want to know if there’s enough space and what my possible neighbours might be like. Natural concerns and well worth addressing.

Apartment design should accommodate both a good level of internal, easy-to-access storage as well as the option of external storage which is most common in garage areas. It doesn’t need to be a ‘warehouse’ but it does need to be easy to access, dry and secure.

The mix of apartments is a complex issue. How many one-bedrooms or studios there will be, or two-bedrooms which are always popular, and then the bigger three-bedroom apartments will always be more expensive.

The mix also covers what accommodation will be on the ground floor: apartments, or retail and commercial space. At the design stage these are complex issues that will be dictated by supply and demand, and price expectations impact every aspect of a project’s financial viability.

However, once the design options are signed off that will always influence the demographics of the buyer profile for a building and it’s an area that buyers are always keen to understand. For them it’s not a financial or development consideration, but a lifestyle choice they take to heart.

In the next post I’ll conclude this interesting topic.