Architecture and Renovation, Brisbane's sales market

Brisbane's shrinking apartments: caveat emptor or more regulation needed?

When it comes to apartment living, how small is too small? One of the notable trends in recent years is the ‘shrinking’ of new apartments and inner-Brisbane’s most recent surge in new projects feature some tiny square metre-ages that are surprising real estate agents and some home buyers. We often hear property developers say their building will “set a new benchmark” but I’m not sure this is what they mean…

During the early 2000’s construction wave we came to expect that a common size for a 1 bedroom apartment would be 70m2. Some efficient designs pushed down into the 60’s but with an internal area of 50m2 plus preferred by many financiers, and at least 10m2 needed for a workable balcony (with room for outdoor dining for example), it was hard to imagine these getting too much smaller. Today many are 50-55m2 in total.

Similarly the ever-popular 2 bedroom with ensuite could commonly be found in the 90m2’s – often nudging 100m2. Today’s projects released have seen these trimmed to the point where we see many plans at 80-85m2.

Is bigger always better? We’d argue that many designs have improved and developers are engaging specialist architects more often. Use of space can be maximised and we’d always recommend a buyer look at this as much as total metres. But some of appears to be simple cost-cutting.

We’ve written before about the decline in popularity of dedicated dining spaces with inner-Brisbane meals consumed on the lap, on the balcony or on the town. So cut that, making the kitchen bench serve that purpose. From what we see in the re-sale market the market will readily accept this change.

Some developers, particularly from southern states, have brought their frost-bitten thinking to town and deleted balconies. You can read the brochures for yourself but they’ve now “seamlessly integrated the benefits of outdoor living while enhancing the sense of space”. How? By making the windows bigger instead. Every survey we’ve done suggests this might be a mistake when considering long term rental demand and re-sale.

Buying off-plan has its challenges for buyers and when Brisbane’s up-turn in our investment cycles are so often led by interstate investors, the simple “bed, bath, car” equation is not always enough for a wise decision.

Our Victorian cousins are getting a little worked up about this topic, with the government reportedly contemplating strict new guidelines that could see minimum sizes established for apartments including 37m2 for a studio, one-bed of 50m2, two bedrooms, 65m2 and three bedrooms, 90m2. They’re also discussing an increase in ceiling heights to 2.7m (our current legal height is 2.4m), mandatory storage spaces, maximum apartments per lift on each floor and even rules on placement of airconditioners.

And of course this would all come at a price, making new that much more expensive than established. A gap that’s already significant in Brisbane’s inner-city for example.

So what do you think? Does government have a role in prescribing these standards or should the market sort itself out – if they’re too small or lack storage etc then they won’t rent or sell, and that’s the developer and buyers’ problem?

We’d love to hear your view.