Who’s buying homes on the fringe?

Importance of proximity to......(%)

If you think that home buyers in the fringe Growth Area LGAs are predominantly young renters buying their first McMansion, then think again.

A survey released today by property consultants Oliver Hulme profiles home buyers in the Growth Areas LGAs i.e. Wyndham, Melton, Hume, Whittlesea, Casey and Cardinia.

Given the brouhaha in The Age today over foreign investment on the fringe, the media might give attention to the finding that 23% of purchasers in these areas are investors. However it is not possible to deduce from the report how many of them live overseas.

But there are plenty of other interesting nuggets of information.

Rather than moving out of rental accommodation and into their first home, most fringe purchasers already own a house. Only 36% are first home buyers. Of the 64% who are ‘upgrading’ from an existing owner-occupied dwelling, a third are buying their third or fourth home.

It is therefore no surprise that the average buyer is not ‘starting out’ on the great suburban journey. Nearly half (48%) of adult buyers are aged 35 years or more. In fact 14% are aged 50 or more.

And while some bought large houses, almost three quarters (74%) purchased a single level dwelling. Moreover, 70% of homes are less than 30 squares and 47% are less than 26 squares. That suggests the great bulk of dwellings are roomy but they’re hardly McMansions. However, small dwellings don’t cut it – even though 12% of buyers are single, only 1% of dwellings are smaller than 15 squares.

Read the rest of this entry »


Why did Melbourne 2030 fail?

(click) Heaps of parking in central Paris in 1976!

The Age editorialises (21/11/10) that Melbourne 2030 is effectively dead and I agree. The latest nail in the coffin in The Age’s opinion is the apparently burgeoning growth of housing in townships and hamlets located in the peri urban area outside the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB).

I’ve argued before that this sort of “decentralisation” is poor policy (e.g. here and here). But I also think The Age has tended to ‘catastrophise’ the scale of the problem, especially with its highly misleading contention that Melbourne has “sprawled 50% beyond the official growth boundary, spanning 150 kilometres from east to west”.

However what interests me at the moment is why Melbourne 2030 failed. The key reason in my view is that it blithely assumed that enough affordable dwellings – mostly town houses and apartments – could be provided within the established urban areas to avoid the need for the UGB to be extended.

This objective was never realistic for a number of reasons. Read the rest of this entry »


Do fringe dwellers want density?

150 m2 house on 294 m2 lot at Craigieburn

The benefits of residential density are more complex than they appear. The attractions of living cheek by jowl in places like Surfers Paradise or the CBD may not apply everywhere, especially on the fringes of our major cities.

Almost everyone knows, it seems, that density has enormous benefits. It is correlated with lower levels of car ownership, fewer kilometres driven and higher public transport use. It lowers infrastructure costs and is also associated with lower consumption of energy and water. According to some, it’s even connected with higher levels of social capital and lower rates of obesity.

However most of the benefits – both private and social – do not derive from density per se but rather from location. Lots of people want to live in high amenity places like the beachfront or in proximity to the jobs, entertainment opportunities and transport infrastructure of somewhere like the city centre. These sorts of places are in short supply so demand can only be met by increasing density.

Higher density necessarily means less land per dwelling but it doesn’t inevitably mean smaller dwellings. However unless you’re filthy rich, one of the compromises you will have to make to capitalise on a sought-after location is a smaller dwelling. The 350 m2 McMansion on the fringe might at best be a 140 m2 three bedroom unit on the top of Doncaster Hill or an 80 m2 two bedroom unit in Docklands.

The point is that many of the social benefits associated with density – like higher public transport use and lower car ownership – are a function of the location, not the dwelling type. In turn, lower energy and water use is not primarily a direct function of density but rather a result of their smaller size.

This might seem self-evident or even a distinction of no more than academic interest. But as I’ve argued before, the failure to fully understand what density is, can lead to bad policy. It is also a particularly pertinent point in the context of advocating higher densities in places like fringe Growth Areas.

Read the rest of this entry »


Do higher travel costs make the fringe unaffordable?

The new art of Cartosimpsonology

A common argument is that households who settle on the fringe because housing is more affordable end up worse off because of higher transport costs. They are forced to buy a second or third car and they use more petrol because they have to travel further.

Of course there’s an assumption here – that ordinary families actually could find a suitable dwelling, at an affordable price, in an area where transport costs are significantly lower than they would be on the fringe.

Consider the municipalities of Casey and Cardinia, which together comprise the largest Growth Area in Melbourne. At around 45 km and 55 km respectively from the CBD they are also the most distant fringe growth areas.

The median price of an established house and garden in Casey (Narre Warren) is $350,000. Now compare that with the City of Monash, which stretches between 13 km and 24 km from the CBD. The median price for a house in this municipality is $780,000 (although in Clayton it’s $618,000).

A more likely alternative for a settler in Monash who’s primary concern is affordability would be a unit. However the median price for a unit is $464,000 ($401,000 in Clayton).

Thus the Growth Area has a considerable advantage in price and size – it’s much cheaper and offers a three to four bedroom house with a garden compared to a two bedroom unit. Clearly a Monash location would need to offer a considerable saving in transport costs to offset Casey/Cardinia’s advantages. Read the rest of this entry »


Should most redevelopment be in activity centres?

Maribyrnong Rd, before redevelopment and after (from Transforming Melbourne)

I noted yesterday that Melbourne @ 5 Million envisages just over half of all new dwellings constructed between now and 2030 – about 16,000 per year – will be located within the built-up area. The rest will be built in the fringe Growth Areas.

This is a significant reduction compared to the 69% share Melbourne 2030 envisaged would be built within established areas over 2001 to 2030.

My view is that the disadvantages of sprawl are routinely exaggerated and the fringe will necessarily be an important location for some of the expected future growth.

But I think home buyers’ preference for the outer suburbs is also commonly exaggerated. I expect many fringe settlers would prefer a location closer to the centre if only the market could deliver a better space/price compromise.

I think one of the reasons they can’t find that compromise could be the Government’s policy of prioritising redevelopment to strategic locations, like activity centres and along main transport routes. Read the rest of this entry »


How much growth is going to the fringe?

Flight & Expulsion - Shows where refugees to Australia came from in 2008. Click map to see all countries, by year, back to 1988.

The Victorian Government set a target in its 2002 strategic plan, Melbourne 2030, that only 31% of new dwellings constructed between 2001 and 2030 would be located on outer suburban greenfield sites.

In fact, it envisaged that by 2030, the proportion would have fallen to just 22%.

This ambitious target reflected the conviction at the time that continued outward growth was unsustainable. The firm view was that a much higher proportion of growth would need to be accommodated within the existing built-up area.

The subsequent update released in 2008, Melbourne @ 5 Million, significantly downgraded the target.

Melbourne @ 5 Million “anticipated” that 47% of all new dwellings constructed over the next 20 years would be located in the fringe Growth Areas.

The new target simply reflected what the market was actually doing. There would be little danger now of getting caught out by a politically ambitious “stretch target”.

The most recent edition of the Government’s Residential Land Bulletin (March Qtr, 2010) indicates how prescient the authors of Melbourne @ 5 Million were. It shows that exactly 47% of dwelling approvals in the preceding twelve months were located in the Growth Areas.

But if you think we need less development in the outer suburbs and more in the inner and middle ring suburbs, it gets worse. Read the rest of this entry »


How dense are Melbourne’s outer suburbs?

Kenneth Davidson claimed in The Age yesterday that Melbourne has 15 years’ supply of outer suburban land zoned for urban development at the world’s lowest residential densities of 12.5 to 15 houses per hectare.

Lowest in the world? I think that’s possibly a little harsh when Melbourne is compared with the outer suburbs of US cities. However what I’m really interested in looking at is what Melbourne’s supposed “lowest residential densities” actually look like. What does 15 dwellings per hectare mean on the ground?

An ideal case study is the new mixed use development planned for Toolern, near Melton. According to the Precinct Structure Plan, when fully developed it is expected to cover 24 sq km, house an estimated 55,000 residents and host businesses that provide 28,000 jobs.

This is an enormous project, covering an area around a fifth larger than the entire inner city municipality of Yarra. It is equivalent in area to a 2.8-kilometre radius circle – if the centre were Melbourne Town Hall, it would extend to Richmond Station in the east, Alexandra Parade in the north, Bolte Bridge in the west and Albert Park in the south.

The minimum average density set down for Toolern is 15 dwellings (per net developable hectare), the same as the target minimum for the growth areas set out in Melbourne @ 5 Million and its predecessor, Melbourne 2030. Read the rest of this entry »