How we have saved the bottom line with Medium Density Developments in the post Covid frenzy.
It is no secret that its currently an incredibly tough time to develop property out there. There has never been higher demand for housing stock, but it’s also never been a riskier time to engage in project delivery. There are the cost blowouts from runaway price inflation. Unquantifiable lead times. Materials shortages, no tradespeople. Aggressive but necessary monthly rate rises from banks. Overpriced development sites everywhere.
Have you been busily trying to stack up sites over the last 12-18 months, and can’t make it work? You aren’t alone. The old suburban battle axe? Doesn’t make a dime. Get a nice corner site and build three townhouses? Lucky to get 10% on paper for a 3-year turnaround.
Not a lot is working, and here is a few major reasons why:
- Cost to build has gone up 30-50% in this time period, but end values haven’t followed suit.
- High demand for labour and materials off the back of global economic stimulus measures, means not only have rates and prices gone up, but supply shortages have also been exacerbated. Things are sold out everywhere, and some trades have 6 month lead times just to get to site.
- The rising cost of borrowing (monthly RBA increases to tackle inflation) is only compounding in your spreadsheets as project timeframes for conventional build methodologies double or triple.
- In the infill space, you are competing with emotionally charge owner occupiers for development sites. These punters are buying in desperation just because they need somewhere to live, right now. We are short some 25-30,000 supply units of housing (at current population levels). For many desperate families, renovating or making do in an old pushover is more attractive than the nightmare of building a new home.
- A burgeoning, archaic and bureaucratic planning framework that is not adapting fast enough to rapid new dwelling commencement and diversity requirements.
If you tie all this together, we have a scenario where its hard to get labour, everything is costing far more than it should, conventional build time frames are out the window, and the market values of finished products don’t make it worth taking development risk. It’s a tricky spot. So what do you do? Wait for the labour and materials market to settle, and values to catch up?
Hell no, what a waste of time. You’ll just be sitting back getting ready to compete with every other tom, dick and harry in a few years’ time, when the problem might have (not guaranteed) sorted itself out and people realise stuff “stacks up” again.
What you need to do is accept the reality of how the economic climate is now, and that we don’t know when it will change. Your job is to find a way to make things work in this environment. This means looking at innovative alternatives to address every shortage or problem there is, including aspects of;
- dwelling diversity and product mix,
- design outcome pathway,
- build methodologies and technology,
- labour and material sourcing,
To succeed, you need to take personal responsibility for finding different ways of adding value to your projects throughout the property development process, using creative ideas and approaches. Front and centre is considering how to deliver more easily constructible product types to the market, and also delivering product types that have appeal to a larger section of prospective buyers in a rapidly deteriorating affordability market.
As much as money is dearer to borrow for the developer, so too it is for the homeowner. To boot, the cost of money and the family home is just one consideration. The consumer is now paying upwards of $2.20 for a litre of diesel and 30-50% more on a range of other living expenses, from flights, to groceries, utilities and insurance. Even my Adobe subscription went up by 36% this year; the dinosaur bones used to power the internet have never been dearer.
As long as CPI rates continue to outstrip wage growth at the alarming rate it is, consumers will become very mindful of the largest expense they have, their mortgage. The answer therefore lies in smaller dwellings, not bigger ones. This means Medium Density development, with more diverse ranges of smaller housing options in established areas that are closer to amenities, facilities and public transport.
In pursuit of this new flavour, we have been busy investigating and executing these sorts of projects for the last year to meet the growing demand for new dwellings, with product that is summed up as affordable Medium Density infill. And that means nice, contemporary and energy efficient dwelling choices in better areas that people can service with their proportionate income means, not cheap kremlin style apartments.
Leaning away from conventional vanilla developments that use the old build technologies we know and love, we have been able to secure and make sites stack up, even whilst paying market rates for land, construction and lending. This is a direct consequence of simply by being innovative with product mix, design and delivery methodology.
Lets take a look at some examples of what we have been up to.