Empty bedrooms in the homes of over 50s could help solve Australia’s affordable housing crisis

Credit: Seniors Housing Online
Empty bedrooms in the homes of over 50s could help solve Australia’s affordable housing crisis
Written by: Ron Reed
on

At the same time as Australia is experiencing an affordable housing crisis, there’s a treasure trove of housing supply sitting idle and unused in every suburb and town across Australia.

That potential supply comes in the form of empty bedrooms, which were once filled with the cacophony and chaos of family life but now sit vacant.

Sometimes, the bedrooms are filled with the clutter of yesteryear, while others are used sporadically for the occasional return of an adult child or visit from a grandchild.

Empty bedroom survey results

A new survey by Downsizing.com.au and LJ Hooker has revealed the extent of this potential supply – and the ways we can unlock it.

The survey, undertaken in April and May 2017, was based on feedback from some 865 Australians aged over 50.

Just under 90% of survey respondents said they had a spare bedroom available in their current home which no-one regularly occupies.

Incredibly, one in five respondents said they had three spare bedrooms and four out of ten said they had two spare bedrooms.

Just think about the potential benefit to broader society if these potential bedrooms were turned over to younger, larger families or to group homes of renters – two groups in desperate need of accommodation.

The survey results align with other research about the extent of the spare bedroom opportunity.

Last year, the NSW Department of Planning opined there was as much as 20 years’ worth of housing supply tied up in empty bedrooms in Australia’s largest State. Or to look at it another way, the NSW Business Chamber estimates that if every bedroom was occupied in Australia, then would create housing supply equivalent to Newcastle and Wollongong combined.

There are a range of estimates as to how many spare bedrooms are available across Australia. One estimate released in 2015 said the figure was around four million, while another estimate released last year put the figure at seven million.

Desire to downsize

Many of the same survey respondents also revealed that their preference would be to move from the redundant family home to more suitable and well-located accommodation – in other words downsize.

In fact, 35.2% of respondents said they were currently looking to downsize, while a further 31.1% said they would downsize in the future.

This is hardly surprising, given that homes with empty bedrooms tend to also come with lots of unwanted maintenance chores, both inside and outside the home.

So what’s getting in the way of helping these people to downsize and in doing so unlock this dormant housing supply?

Solutions to freeing up spare bedrooms

The solutions are reasonably familiar to anyone with even a passing interest in the debate about providing housing for people aged over 50.

When asked to nominate the one factor which would help them downsize (and therefore free up these bedrooms), some 33.4% of respondents nominated more choice and greater availability of housing.

Another 28.7% nominated paying no or reduced stamp duty as the best solution and 25.1% nominated changing the asset pension test to exclude all or part of the proceeds from the sale of the family home.

It’s easy to see why the above responses were given.

If you are going to move from the redundant family home, the first thing you need to do is find an alternate home. Most over 50s are keen to age-in-place, but locating suitable alternate accommodation is not always easy.

Individual survey respondents commented there was a need for “more retirement rental independent living villas (being) made available” and the challenge in “finding an age care facility or over 55's village with 2 bedrooms and reasonable rent”.

The next two responses reflect the current financial penalties in place which inhibit downsizing.

Let’s face it – stamp duty is a horrible tax and massive barrier to moving home.

Based on the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, for an average Sydney home price of $864,000, you need to pay $34,370 in stamp duty.

Meanwhile, Melbourne’s average home price of $690,000 will set you back $36,470 and Brisbane’s average home price of $492,000 will cost you $22,846.

As one survey respondent said: “As I have already downsized the stamp duty fees took a big chunk out of my balance between what my house was sold for and buying my downsize.”

Interestingly, our survey results show a much higher concern about stamp duty costs compared to a comprehensive survey undertaken by the Australian Housing and Research Institute in 2014. That survey showed no more than 10 per cent of people who had moved since turning aged 50 being troubled by stamp duty.

This is potentially an indicator of how rising home prices are causing stamp duty to be an increasing barrier to downsizing.

Finally, many over 50s remain fearful that freeing up capital from selling the family home could cause them reduced access to the pension. As one survey respondent said: “I have already downsized and been pretty much screwed by the change in assets for pension availability”.

Conclusion

This article provides a compelling evidence base about the opportunities available from unlocking empty bedrooms across the nation.

The recent responses from our politicians, however, has been wholly underwhelming.

We are planning a blog in the near-future on the outcomes of the 2017 Australian and State budget season when it comes to downsizing – at this point in time it doesn’t look good.

Overall, we’ll be staying on the case and be bringing more insights about how we get change to downsizing policies and funding. Your feedback on this issue is also highly valuable to us!

 

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