Is the lawn mower set to make a return?
A few decades ago, the sound of suburbia on a Sunday was made up of the hiss of barbecues, the splash of kids in the backyard pool, and the whirr of the old lawn mower across expansive backyards.
But with population growth – much of it in greenfield corridors on the outskirts of metropolitan centres – on an upward trajectory, local and state governments have looked to maximise the coverage and patronage of new infrastructure required in these new areas. Despite the nation’s population growth nudging above 1.5 per cent annually between 1972-74, 1981-83, 1987-89, it’s been the exponential growth since 2006 that has forced civic town planners to convince elected officials to embrace smaller allotments.
And there has been a ready-made market there to embrace it as well; first home buyers and young families looking for an affordable backyard home, and plenty of domestic investors seeking out greenfield estates due to the potential future growth upside. In addition, house and land products have also been fair game for overseas investors.
Developers have accordingly been offering much smaller allotments in new estates, with builders creating compact designs to maximise these low-maintenance parcels. But in many instances, they have become so small they can barely accommodate a strip of grass to pass the footy alongside the house and garage. Tenants – who seldom find interest in yard maintenance themselves – don’t mind the smaller housing movement, especially if it means their landlord can keep rents low as well.
However, recent data has shown a retreat by investors from the market. In December 2017, the Australian Bureau of Statistic reported a 12 month drop in investor housing loans of 10.5 per cent. While a general softening in the housing market saw owner-occupier loans tapering off, they were still 4.4 per cent above what they were from 2017.
So, how will developers respond to this trend?
LJ Hooker Yarrabilba’s Mark Todd has specialised in land sales in the growing South-East Queensland marketplace for two decades and has seen the tide turn from housing estates where neighbours could jump from eave to eave in crammed streets.
He said some developers had locked-out investors from markets through both creating allotments larger than 600sqm – thus reducing yields for investors – or enforcing subset clauses in contracts whereby buyers must build and live in their homes within a defined date.
“It got to a point where some new estates were hardly providing enough backyard to put up a shed … the old push mower was heading for the museum,” he said.
“I was showing young and established families around estates, and it just wasn’t what they wanted – they were too investor-focused.
“Developers are starting to understand that owner-occupiers have been overlooked for too long, and they’re instructing their planners to deliver estates with larger allotments which better cater to the lifestyle requirements of families.
“I’ve been selling an owner-occupier estate where its first stage sold out in swift time simply due to the fact that the demand is there.”
What would the social impact of larger allotments mean?
It makes greenfield estates more attractive to a broader range of owner-occupiers, such as larger families looking to upsize. If developed in conjunction with employment precincts, such as the second Sydney basin airport at Badgerys Creek, the movement would mean mums and dads would spend less time travelling on the road to get to work, increasing the amount of time they could be at home, and easing road congestion at the same time.
So will we developers following this increase in owner-occupier – especially first home buyer – activity? We’ll have to wait for the smell of freshly cut grass and sound of pull-start mowers to know.