What’s old is new – again

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Trends in real estate can be just as hyped, fleeting and recyclable as those in music, fashion, food and hair. If you’re hoping to capitalise on an emotionally driven owner-occupier market, you best be ready to cater to their latest whims.

“What the hell were they thinking?”

Like any rational person, that’s the phrase that comes to mind when I see a once-beautiful period home that at some stage in its life has been butchered beyond recognition.

A boxy, enclosed ‘sleep out’ that should still be a sprawling verandah. A hideously rendered Mediterranean-style façade that hides a beautiful, original wood slat. Heritage cornices ripped out and replaced with a modern swoop. A sunken spa bath straight from the 1980s where an iron claw-foot bath once sat.

Each generation of renovators is guilty of a multitude of crimes against good taste. I’m sure they seemed like a good idea at the time, but now… well, they’re just painful reminders of the hangover from fashionable fads that faded.

Melbourne buyers’ agent Paul Osborne, founder of consultancy Secret Agent, believes another popular home trend is just about to come to an end and be replaced with – you guessed it – the thing it replaced.

Open plan was all the rage from the mid-1990s on. Separated dining and living zones as well as formal spaces were combined to make one massive space that usually encompassed the living area, dining room and kitchen.

Even done well, I’ve always found this approach to home design tends to result in a sort of cavernous feel. Stand at one end of an open place space and yell, and you might feel as though you’re screaming down into the Grand Canyon. It almost resembles an IKEA warehouse without the shelves full of flat pack boxes.

While it hardly compares to some other architectural and design crimes from past decades, Osborne thinks open plan is on the way out. In simple terms, it’s a matter of evolving (or revolving) tastes and changing priorities.

In his experience, the buying market is slowly turning back to more formal, dedicated zones in the house – to an extent. It’s what he calls a “hybrid” of open.

“The new requirements of buyers still favour a largely open plan (style), along with a separate area to ‘get away’,” he explains. “Separate rooms as opposed to one large volume also give better ability to control temperature and sound.”

It seems this mix of old and new appeals most to house-proud families who want multiple uses from their dwelling. They want somewhere to enjoy time with the family, spaces for the kids to do their own thing, a spot for entertaining friends and perhaps somewhere for mum and dad to find a moment of peace.

Too much openness in a property’s floor plan could increasingly turn off a number of homebuyers, Osborne believes. This move back towards a more separate style of living is about more than taste too, he says. Higher utility costs are playing a part too, as is a desire for a more pleasant amenity. That’s just the beginning.

“People seek sanctuary from noise in an inner city environment and have a thirst for private space. Plus, more people working from home are helping to drive this request.

“It appears that this trend will be with us for some time. Family homeowners concerned about resale should take this on board when considering a renovation.”

He points to a recent sale in Brunswick in inner city Melbourne as an example. The two-bedroom house hadn’t been renovated recently but had a floor plan that Osborne finds appeals to “emerging market requests”. As such, the property attracted a premium.

It sold for $840,000, which was well above the anticipated $600,000 to $650,000 sale price. That result represented one of the highest achieved in the area for similar properties north of Albert Street, he says. It needs work, but probably only a cosmetic renovation rather than major works to get the layout to resemble a state that a new breed of homebuyers prefer.

“Sometimes a price is paid for what isn’t available, as the buyers in this occasion would’ve discovered prior to the auction. With a single-fronted structural renovation easily costing $400,000 and above, prospective buyers pushed hard to secure this property, moving past precedent sales by some margin.”

Whether you’re looking for a potential renovation project, undertaking works on your property with a view to sell or simply keen to meet the market whenever it’s time to offload an investment, it pays to think about how the current needs and wants of your pool of buyers will match up with their future desires.


Shannon Molloy is the deputy editor of Australian Property Investor magazine, www.apimagazine.com.au