17 April 2019

The completion of a row of new ‘micro homes’ in Western Australia has illustrated the strong potential of smaller housing to service the booming downsizer market across the nation.

The WA Government has come together with builders and developers to construct 11 double-storey homes at Ellenbrook, a north-eastern suburb of Perth. Each home is located on a block less than 100 square metres in size.

“The Drummond Precinct micro lots in Ellenbrook deliver high-quality homes as an affordable alternative to the traditional family home,” said WA Minister for Housing Peter Tinley. “Initial buyers have included first home owners, professional couples, downsizers and pre-seniors.”

Homes have three bedrooms

Despite their small lot size, the homes include everything a downsizing couple would need.

Downsizing.com.au obtained the layout of one of the homes, which showed that it had three bedrooms, a double garage, combined kitchen and dining room and family room. There are bathrooms and toilets on each of the two levels.

All the homes are within 500 metres of shops and the future Ellenbrook train station, which should encourage healthy activities such as walking and cycling and reduce the need for car usage.

Mr Tinley revealed that a further 16 of the homes will now be built, of which six have already been sold. House and land packages start at $299,000.

The micro homes are a partnership between the WA Department of Communities and LWP Property Group, with the first homes designed and built by Now Living. The WA Planning Commission supported a change to planning regulations to allow the homes to be built.

Close-up shot of some of the Ellenbrook homes

Strong interest from downsizers

Now Living Realty Property Consultant Brian Anthony said seven out of ten inquires for the homes are from downsizers.

The strong interest from downsizers was affirmed by LWP Property Group Managing Director Danny Murphy, who said downsizers have emerged as one of five key market segments choosing the Ellenbrook lifestyle.

“They want to stay in the locality, but their accommodation needs have changed,” he said.

Micro homes could be the future across Australia

Urbis Regional Director and former Planning Institute of Australia WA President Ray Haeren believes the Ellenbrook homes are an ideal example of a State Government responding to research “rather than reinventing the wheel”.

Mr Haeren said he expected smaller dwellings would continue to be part of the housing solution to meet the needs of Australia’s ageing population.

“The demand side (across Australia) is quite similar, how the various levels of government are going to respond to it is going to differ because their systems differ,” Mr Haeren said.

“You’ll see micro lots becoming more of a focus in Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane. Sydney is the exception because you don’t have a lot of greenfield development there.”

State regulatory changes

States across Australia are looking to encourage smaller homes which are more suitable for downsizers, with various levels of success.

In NSW, the Low Rise Medium Density Housing Code was introduced in 2018, but resulted in a backlash from some councils and community members because it would fast-track the demolition of existing housing for new smaller housing.

Many councils were granted a deferral from the code until 1 July 2019.

The code allows one and two-storey dual occupancies, manor houses and terraces to be approved by accredited certifiers within just ten days, by-passing the need for the traditional council public exhibition and assessment process.

Mr Haeren believes South Australia is leading the charge in the development of small lots, citing the Lightsview masterplanned infill estate in Adelaide as a good example.

Created in 2016 as a joint venture project by Peet Ltd and Urban Renewal Authority, trading as Renewal SA, it offered 15 product variations.

A floor-plan of one of the homes

Unmet demand for smaller dwellings

Real estate experts and the preliminary results of an ongoing survey by Downsizing.com.au has found that downsizers are keen to move into smaller properties, but there is a lack of available stock. The survey has to date found that 44 per cent of potential downsizers are not making the move because they can’t find a suitable property.

Meanwhile, a January 2019 poll conducted for the Committee of Sydney found that 47 per cent of respondents said they’d prefer more medium density housing where they lived, compared to 25 per cent who favoured more high-density, residential development nearby.

The Urban Development Institute of Australia’s (UDIA) 2019 annual State of the Land Report found that the ACT had Australia’s largest median lot sizes (507 sqm), while Perth had the smallest at 375 sqm.

Sydney recorded a four per cent annual size reduction, with a median lot size of 379 sqm.

Kitchen in one of the Ellenbrook dwellings