A shift back to the suburbs is just one of the trends in the sights of residential leader, Bruce Harper. We checked in with the Property Council’s new Queensland president to get the lowdown.
As general manager for one of Australia’s largest developers, AVID Property Group, Harper spends a lot of time scrutinising trends.
A trained planner with four decades in property behind him, Harper was elected president of the Property Council in Queensland last year, taking over from Laurence Lancini AM.
Harper’s stellar career includes seven years as chief executive officer of Land Management Corporation SA and three leading AVJennings in New South Wales. For the last decade he has been a lynchpin in AVID Property Group’s rise.
Today, AVID boasts a pipeline of $4.7 billion and a portfolio of 37 projects – including residential, industrial and commercial – across Australia’s eastern seaboard. In October, AVID acquired residential property developer Villa World.
Harper is upbeat about the residential sector’s immediate prospects and the “signs are positive”.
“Enquiries have picked up significantly and are back to the levels of late February before shutdowns occurred. People who had pulled out of contracts because they were concerned about the future are now back and are happy to proceed.”
While he is an optimist – “you don’t work in property unless you’re an optimist” – he doesn’t expect the industry to bounce back to business-as-usual. The world has changed and consumer preferences with it.
Harper predicts a reversal in the decline of suburban living as more people – especially young people – look for the “complete lifestyle package” in the suburbs.
“People never abandoned the suburbs. Sixty-two per cent of people still choose to live in suburban greenfield environments, despite government policy encouraging higher density living close to CBDs. But there has been a gradual decline, and this decline will change direction.”
The cost factor is an obvious driver when “you can buy a suburban house for half the price per square metre of an inner-city apartment”.
But it’s not just about “bang for buck”. It’s also about access to parks and green space, community connections and self-sufficiency – all more valuable commodities in a post-pandemic world.
COVID-19 has seen a “rapid shift in behaviours” across all demographics, and this desire for more work/life balance will be permanent, Harper adds.
“Homes have to change. The token ‘office nook’ will evolve into a fully-functional office space that allows separation between work and home life.” No more working from the dining table. The future office will accommodate the latest technology and even incorporate green screens.
Expect to see more home gyms, recreation and media rooms emerge, as the “trend to cocooning is supercharged”.
Block sizes are unlikely to grow, but when the average block is only 400 sqm private open space is “pretty limited”. Enter the rooftop terrace – something only seen in apartment living until now.
One of the homes in AVID’s new display home village, Harmony Display World on the Sunshine Coast, features a rooftop garden and outdoor place space. There’s artificial grass and shading, a garden patch and entertaining area, and parapet walls maintain privacy and safety.
Harper says a revolution is ahead for parks, as they evolve from a single space to “a series of rooms” that suit different demographics: playground equipment for toddlers, circuits for adults, reflective areas for older people.
Harper expects some challenging times ahead as public regulators adapt to the times and says the Property Council will be a strong voice for the industry. But his message for the residential sector is crystal clear.
“Embrace the change and plan for it. Your customers will tell you what they want – but the companies that are the most successful will be those that are thinking ahead and aligning with the emerging trends.”