The latest happenings in the Melbourne property market. For our Essays and The Secret Agent Report, see our Research page.

Category Archives For: Property Development

Differentiating in the Development Space: Owning Your Own Backyard

Drawing of a man with a cap, holding a beer in one hand, barbecuing sausages with another, standing in his own backyard. The lawn is tagged with a note that says Belongs To Mike.

“They like to know that when they’re barbecuing outside, they’re doing it on their own land.”
– Anthony DePalma

This bulletin is one about ownership, inspired by an article in The New York Times. The piece discussed the supply of property in New Jersey and how developers were pivoting from condominium townhouses to fee simple townhouses; in other words, from property with more common areas and regulations to property that passes on more control to the individual.

Had the location not been revealed, one would almost mistake the article for a report on the current state of housing in Australia. In fact, it was published in 1985. Over 30 years later, Australia is observing the same shift in new developments. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Read the full post

The Ideal Ratio of Indoor Space to Land Size in Townhouses

Diagram showing the ideal density of a townhouse in terms of its ratio of outdoor space to indoor space

What is the ideal ‘density’ of a townhouse development?

Across inner Melbourne, townhouse developments are becoming increasingly common. With limited block sizes closer to the city, developers have to constantly negotiate the size of the actual house with the amount of land available. Because of these varying levels of building density, Secret Agent wanted to find out if there was a ‘sweet spot’ in the ratio between indoor area and land area. Are we paying more for a certain ratio? Read the full post

How much value does a balcony add to an apartment?

Diagram showing that balconies cost 2800 per square metre in 1 bedroom apartments and add up to 11.7 percent more to its sale price

This week, we take a closer look at balconies and other types of outdoor area in apartments. While no doubt desirable, many developers are uncertain how much value outdoor space will create for them. This was reflected in our Supply report, which showed that outdoor space for both one and two bedroom apartments being planned in Melbourne was barely above the minimum suggested in the Victorian Government’s recent apartment design standards draft. Read the full post

New apartments: What to expect


[Click to view image in full size]

Key findings

  • 1 bedroom apartments will be 8% bigger on average.

  • 2 bedroom apartments remain the same size.

  • 3 bedroom apartments will be 4% smaller and remain rare.

  • Little to no 4 bedroom apartments are being proposed.

  • Most apartments meet the minimum balcony size.

Following up on our recent Supply report, Secret Agent wanted to dig deeper into what sort of apartment buildings are being proposed by developers. Using planning permit applications sent to local Melbourne councils, we sampled 1,680 proposed apartments from 34 buildings in 15 suburbs of metropolitan Melbourne.

Read the full post

7 Reasons Future Apartments Still Disappoint

Size is yet again compromised in the apartments soon to be developed in Melbourne, but not just in terms of their total floor area. Here are 7 primary observations about the upcoming supply of apartments in Melbourne over the next 12 to 18 months.

1. Balconies remain small

Whilst most apartments will have a balcony, many will have one that is too small (less than 8m2 for a single bedroom and 10m2 for a two bedroom apartment).

2. Snorkel bedrooms are common

This L shaped layout is an ineffective way to provide light access to a second bedroom in two bedroom apartments. The snorkel is often too narrow to be habitable and the natural light often does not reach the actual room. These are still a popular option despite the waste of space.Blog-1  Read the full post

The Secret Agent Report – Melbourne’s Supply of New Developments

We have just released our latest Secret Agent report!

Demand is a hot topic in the apartment market at the moment, and assumptions about what buyers want are being made by almost everyone with the right to an opinion. Predicting future demand for a property is one way for investors to estimate the future capital growth of an asset. However, too little attention is paid to the supply side of the equation.

In this report, Secret Agent will move the focus from demand to supply, and forecast Melbourne’s upcoming stock of new developments.

Access the Supply report now!

You can also explore our interactive map of Melbourne’s supply of new apartment and townhouse developments here:

Read the full post

The Secret Agent Report – Recreating Period Homes

We have just released our latest Secret Agent report!

The original period homes that remain in Melbourne are frequently purchased for record-setting prices. It is difficult to quantify the value of character, however it is possible to estimate how much these houses are truly worth if we were to build them from scratch today.

This month, Secret Agent investigates the cost of rebuilding two period homes in inner Melbourne. We demonstrate that the prices paid for period property fairly represent the quality, history and scarcity of these types of homes in today’s market

Start reading this report by clicking on the link below:

Register to receive our report monthly and access the Recreating Period Homes report now!

Settlement Risk Looms

The development space in inner Melbourne and Sydney is set to be severely challenged. Conversations between Secret Agent and various developers over the past month have revealed their increasing anxiety about potential settlement issues. These developers, who have settlements due in the next 18 months, are worried that many of their apartments may not be able to settle due to the restrictions placed on foreign buyers by local banks. This is likely to have substantial implications.

For some time now, developers have used successful business models to sell their projects directly to Asia. Sales companies who specialise in selling unseen apartments to the Chinese market have made large financial gains. These apartments, many of which are tiny by local standards, have been purposely designed for the overseas market. Committed contracts, once thought to be rock solid, are now on shaky ground.

To understand the problem at hand, let us consider a hypothetical situation. An investor group, on behalf of a developer, sells a small two bedroom CBD apartment to a buyer based in Shanghai. The buyer pays $714,000 for the 68sqm apartment, which is $10,500 per square metre, and pays a 10% deposit. Since the transaction was entered into 12 months ago, the investor has no stamp duty to pay at settlement. It so happens that this purchaser defaults. The developer gets to keep the 10% deposit minus fees. The problem is that there is a need to sell the apartment to someone else.

Read the full post

Bulletin – Planning Changes

From Julian Faelli, Head of Design – Create By Secret Agent

New planning reforms were announced by the state planning minister Matthew Guy on the 1st of July this year. They are significant changes that will affect where and how development is managed in the city. It’s going to take awhile for a clear picture to emerge on how the changes will affect investment, but in the meantime here is a quick wrap-up.

Three new residential zones have been created, Neighbourhood Residential, General Residential and Growth Residential. They aim to make it clear in the planning framework where higher density development such as townhouses and units can be located. The new Neighbourhood residential zone will bring the biggest changes, with only dual occupancy development being permitted (not encouraged). This change will likely bring to a end the 4-5 unit/townhouse developments we have seen in growth suburbs such as Preston and Reservoir.

The scheme will effectively curtail the growth in established areas, restricting any development to mixed use and growth residential zones – located on busier roads near public transport. It’s a bid to protect ‘neighbourhood character’ in predominately single dwelling subdivisions.

The medium density townhouse/unit has proven to be popular in the market as a affordable entry point for accommodation close to the city – without being a apartment. If the neighbourhood residential zones are applied broadly and townhouse development slows we expect to see further competition in this segment of the market for finished product.

There have also been one new commercial zone introduced and a revamp of the mixed use zone announced as part of the reforms. The commercial zoning frees up the use of commercially zoned land allowing for smaller supermarkets and the like where only big box retail may have been permitted previously. The mixed use zoning is encouraging higher density residential growth. Expect to see it in parts of Brunswick, Footscray and similar ex-industrial locations.

The new residential and commercial zones have already been incorporated into the planning scheme, councils have until July next year to decide how to distribute the zoning across their municipalities.

We will be covering the planning changes in further depth in the October edition of the Secret Agent report.

Density Diagram - DPCD

Density diagram from the Department of Planning and Community Development (DPCD)

See diagram in full here:

Be Careful of Grand Illusions

With shows such as ‘Grand Designs’ capturing the hearts and imaginations of Australians all over the country, it is little wonder that the building bug has bitten many home owners and investors.

But what is not often mentioned is that these ‘grand designs’ can threaten to break the bank!

BTM Tax Depreciation have a simple construction cost guide that may be useful while planning your dream housing project.

Now, we must make clear that these are still rough estimates. Any builder who is concerned with quality product will tell you that a construction cost guide based on a per sqm rate is never going to be exact – however it’s a good place to start.

Assume you purchased a 100 sqm lot of vacant, inner city land at $712,500, with the idea of constructing a 3 bedroom home, the most commonly occurring type of house on the market.

A number of questions facing you include:

  • Do you go for either a low or high quality finish – or something middle of the road?
  • How much site coverage will your new home take up?
  • What type of materials will protect your asset from the elements?
  • Will you go up and create additional levels and balconies?
  • What are the challenges for building your dream property?

If we made a presumption that the property comprised two levels and the structure had a site coverage of 75% – we could make the following observations depending on the quality of construction.

A two story dwelling with 75% site coverage over two levels would have a total build area of 150 sqm (on a 100 sqm block of land) with a construction cost guide of $2,160 per sqm using the architecturally designed rate for a low level finish.

This would mean an investment of $324,000 into the construction of the home on top of the land cost of $712,500. You would expect the property to be worth at least $1,036,500 plus costs to retain your financial investment.

Now, if the land cost was that high, we feel you might be going a little “light” in regards to the quality of the construction and not maximising the strong  position of the property. A medium level finish would expect an investment of $487,500 on top of land costs. This starts to feel “right” as to the expectation of investment. You now have a total investment in the property of $1.2m + costs.

Presume you decide to push the boundaries and swing for the fences. You are going to build the best home around and utilise the small block to its full potential. Be prepared for $5,050 per sqm in construction costs.

This means you now have a house, that required more investment than the land itself, a total of $757,500 to build the house which equates to $1.47 Million plus cost as your total investment. If you wanted to ensure that your labour of creation didn’t mean that you were highly over capitalised, you really need to seek the finest land conditions (views, position, proximity, scarcity) to make these dearer finishes work for you.

When considering a vacant lot of land, one should contemplate whether the value of ‘creating’ would be able to trump or even compare to what has already been created.