The Smartline Report – September Edition

The month in review: Brisbane

By Herron Todd White
September 2016

You would be forgiven for expecting the shortest Brisbane submission ever this month with one word…

However, we have more to say because it’s not just a Billy Moore war cry (if you don’t know what I mean, try YouTube – it’s worth a look).

Queenslanders are the mainstay of historical construction in towns, cities and villages throughout the Sunshine State, with the design particularly suited to our far north, but for sheer diversity and density, Brisbane is the obvious home to the nations largest collection.

The majority are found in our older, inner suburbs where ‘timber and tin’ blankets the topography, particularly within a 5 kilometre radius of the CBD. Worker’s cottages with wide chamferboard and hardwood timber frames date back to before the 1900s in a number of areas. Many have been lovingly restored, while others don’t appear to have had a decent paint job since Federation. When valuing these historical gems, it’s easy to wish those walls could talk, it would be a colourful history.

The design was breathable and cool, but of course not every day is a swelter in the Great Southeast. So while the builder’s heart may have been in the right place, an older Queenslander design can find itself with gaps in floorboards and the timber external skin that lets in the cold night air. In addition, and in summer, without decent insulation those tin roofs heat up like brake pads at a grand prix and you could bake a dinner in the ceiling cavity.

As one wag said of old Queenslanders, “Everyone likes to look at them, most people want to own one, few can take the heat or upkeep.”

They are an older housing stock so maintenance is a must. The wooden walls are draped on a hardwood frame – timber so tough it will bend a nail if it’s hammered at an angle – but they still aren’t immune to shifting soils and the ravages of time. The best examples need care.

Despite these few downsides, there’s nothing quite like a Queenslander in Brisbane. Cool Friday-evening drinks on the deck are a rite of passage for most locals.

Best of all, their appeal hasn’t dated. The character of the properties and the ability for people to build in under and extend to provide a modern standard of living keeps buyers keenly interested. By raising a lowset Queenslander (the stumps probably need replacing anyway), you can double the living area and create a modern space underneath that will cater for an older relative, young-adult children or even a tenant.

The other plus is location. As mentioned we’re talking mostly near-city addresses where the dirt will continue to appreciate over the long term. Add a Queenslander to the mix and most clever renovations won’t result in overcapitalisation.

While pre-war housing is well protected in our city, new homes seem to be far removed from the traditional construction style – but it has a lot to do with land availability. Property owners and small developers are looking to create space in our densely populated but highly desirable near-city suburbs. Increasingly, 809 square metre blocks are being bought and split in two. If the home can or must be retained, it’s a simple matter for the buyer to shift the existing structure onto one of the blocks, and then sell or build on the other.

We are seeing contemporary builds use modern materials now of course, but designs need to be sympathetic to the restrictions of land area and the limitations of climate and lifestyle. Fortunately we’ve graduated beyond the mid-90s rage of maximising space at the expense of comfort. Cutting the eaves off homes just made for hot boxes, and few new builds have adopted this once common but unsightly practice.

So overall, our traditional homes remain popular with buyers who want to own the icon, but bring it into the comfortable, modern era.

In terms of traditional attached housing in Brisbane, it’s the old three-story walk up, blonde brick style unit of the 1970s that seems most common in the older stock. We did have a reasonable amount of art deco inspired unit blocks close to the city – many of which retain their charming features and appeal to buyers too. There’s also our iconic high-rise Toorbreck and its hard to comprehend company title strata, but when we think of old units, they are delivered in the same form as our XXXX beer –a six pack. They’re often great investments too. A fair
chunk of this accommodation is located within the 10 kilometres radius. The units also tend to have a decent size living area that’s usually crying out for renovation – and for the cost of a dodgy second hand car, you can drag this style of apartment out of its deep aesthetic funk and bring it firmly into the 2010s. New floors, lick of paint and a basic, functional but attractive kitchen and bathroom mean once you close the door, you’re living in the modern world.

Alternatively, it will increase the rental return. These units are often bought as a first property purchase and then retained once the owner graduates into a detached dwelling. Our main caveat is that unit values have been generally static over the last few years and now with the increase in construction of new units in the inner city, we’re beginning to see rentals decline and sale prices easing. Just be smart about the fundamentals and think long-term, and you should do just fine with older stock.

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