"While care needs to be taken by not over-inflating costs, developers are keen to give buyers some ways to express their individualism."
The changing nature of families, and their impact on the property industry
While today there might be many varied definitions of “family”, one the most natural ways to describe a family is a group of people living together and functioning as a single household. And no matter how we choose to describe families, be they based on social, economic, ethnic or traditional ties, the family unit has a big impact on the property industry.
By being aware of how “family formation” impacts our market we are better able to engage people at different stages of their life journey but also ensure that we are delivering product that will meet their needs. Some of the impacts are easy to highlight: with a growing family there will be a need for more space, people get married, they break up, households reduce in size as kids head off, we relocate to secure employment, health becomes an issue and this can for example lead to people looking to reduce travel times.
As we move through these cycles, the impact on the structure of the housing market is a big issue, and marketing needs to be well-versed with the changing face of the communities in which we work.
The singles market
The singles market is the starting point. It is also a demographic that is at the pointy end of the housing market (because singles are the most mobile part of the market) and it is therefore capable of generating big changes. The single person has always been the take-off point in the housing cycle, but the composition of this group is also fluid.
What might have been a typical pattern a few decades ago would have been for the majority of single persons to get a job and leave behind the family nest and for many before they were 21.
This move out of home might have also included going to university and may well have led to some years in shared accommodation, and it still does. Shared accommodation is a common first encounter with the real estate market for many people – shared rent, bonds and responsibility – the first step on the housing ladder and a target market for investors, no doubt.
Then some time after with a secure job and some money saved, the aim might have been to buy a small apartment in an area close to work so that friends and familiar things were nearby.
Today while these steps are still recognisable ones, the singles market has changed. Many young people are staying put longer with mum and da. Household sizes as a result are now increasing in real terms and this may well be fuelling future pockets and periods of pent up demand.
Singles are not only living with parents sometimes into their 30s, but also with their partners, and sometimes still in shared accommodation. There are different spins here that can be seen as impacting the demand for better quality rental apartments.
Well-paid singles are sharing expensive homes and apartments; their choice is to pay higher expenses including higher rents so that they can enjoy homes they could not normally afford alone. In many markets the rental on a million-dollar apartment may well be less than any mortgage.
Then when singles do eventually buy into the market many are looking at doing so alone. As greater numbers either do not marry or stay single longer, they look for well-located apartments close to great facilities and lots of social connections on offer.
This group then as a result, is looking for quality apartments, but they are happy to forgo space for better social access.
We have already seen for some years now, increased demand for this style of accommodation in almost every major CBD and developments have been deliberately designed to meet this demand.
Here come the kids
Single, turns to being partners and then, for some, here come the kids. The arrival of children is another big incentive and reason to consider moving house, possibly the biggest and having children has once again become a big factor in the housing market.
But in today’s market it is now more complex part of family formation because parents can be older, same sex, with more money and with a greater eye on facilities like childcare and schools. Currently birth rates are stable, we have a higher birth rate than the UK, Canada or Singapore but we lag behind New Zealand and the USA. We are not exactly a match to the 1950s and ’60s, but still growing, and a trend that will have its own set of impacts on the housing market.
What is no real surprise is where families move to as their focus and needs changes. With a trend for more children to be placed into early and ongoing childcare, the backyard is not so important. What is more important is assess to quality facilities and easy transport to and from work and home so that not all day is taken up with travel.
Couples are also having children later, and grandparents are more involved, both factors that might lead those trading house to look to stay close to established family ties.
Getting a bigger house is one of the leading impacts on the housing market. The 2011 census shows that detached homes still make up the biggest part of Australia’s housing stock at 75.6%, apartments account for 13.6% and most homes are three-bedroom, at 43.6%.
However, the figures do vary from state to state and metro region to entire states – Sydney, for instance, has to 58.9% detached homes and 27.6% apartments with terraces and townhouses making up a further 12.8% of housing stock.
As we move through the issues impacting family formation it is impossible to miss the connection between these everyday shifts in lifestyle and how they impact project marketing. Reaching out to our targets requires a deep understanding of how best to communicate and what type of product projects need to supply.
As more people live in apartments, as they live there longer, and with more families, and with varied generations; then providing residential developments that match this more complex market impacts on demand, design and construction.
Communal areas are important and more a focus being inviting shared spaces, not just utility spaces. And while care needs to be taken by not over-inflating costs, developers are keen to give buyers some ways to express their individualism.
We are seeing examples where the facades are faceted and under the control of individual owners, with balconies of varied shapes being more common and different colours used on the exterior to also give each apartment a personality. These are changes that I feel reflect how family formation is being accommodated as the apartment market matures along with shifts in target demographics.
I would be keen to have your thoughts on this very human side of the development market, and in particular are we keeping pace with the social changes and shifts taking place.
Peter Chittenden is managing director for residential of Colliers International