Daniel Butkovich, Property Journalist
First published 20 Sep 2023, 10:44am
More Australian home buyers are seeking spacious and flexible properties with the ability to house extended families or provide income, new data shows.
Keyword search data from realestatate.com.au has revealed a spike in searches for homes with extra self-contained living spaces like granny flats or studios.
Searches for ‘dual living’ increased by 27% over the past year — a larger increase than any other keyword — while searches for ‘granny flat’ grew by 13%, the data shows.
But when it comes to the features that Australian buyers want most, swimming pools topped the list for houses, while balconies were most desired by apartment buyers.
Keyword searches broken down by houses and units show that buyers have differing priorities, depending on the type of property they are looking for.
While recent search behaviour reflects the pandemic-driven trend of buyers seeking larger homes with more amenities, the ongoing cost-of-living crisis has also had an effect, says PropTrack senior economist Angus Moore.
Brighton had the most searches for pools in Victoria. About a quarter of properties on the market in the suburb had a pool, including this Palm Springs inspired five bedroom home. Picture: realestate.com.au/buy
“Part of what we’re seeing is a desire for a bit more flexibility and space in living arrangements, be that a secluded space to work from home, or an extra space to rent out in an environment where mortgage rates are higher,” he said.
Mortgage rates have soared over the past year and high inflation has put a squeeze on household budgets.
Some buyers have sought properties capable of providing additional rental income that can offset loan repayments, while investors hoping to take advantage of high rents and low vacancies have targeted high-yielding properties to maximise returns.
“While rents have grown very strongly, the increase in mortgage costs has been greater than the increase in rents,” Mr Moore said.
“Alternative ways to find yield, like having two homes or a granny flat you can rent out, might be attractive to some.”
Searches for ‘dual living’ rose by 40% in Queensland, and searches for ‘duplex’ increased by 37% in Western Australia. Searches for ‘granny flat’ rose in all states, but increased most in Victoria and South Australia, by 21% in both states.
The top five suburbs with the most searches for granny flats were Blacktown, Oran Park, Campbelltown, Edmondson Park and Leppington – all in Sydney’s west. Dual living was most searched in southern suburbs of the Gold Coast such as Currumbin Waters, Reedy Creek, and Tallebudgerra.
A dual living property has two separate homes under the one roof, and is sometimes referred to as a dual occupancy or duplex. Dual living properties can suit multigenerational households, or allow owners to live in one home and rent out the other.
A granny flat is a small, self-contained dwelling in the backyard of a house or sometimes attached, typically housing family members such as grandparents, as the name suggests, or adult children. Granny flats can be leased on the rental market in some states, but in others can only be used to house family members.
Despite more searches for properties with extra space or income potential, a swimming pool was still the number one feature that home buyers searched for across the country.
‘Swimming pool’ was the most searched keyword in all states except Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT, where colder climates can limit pool usage.
In those states, ‘garage’ was the most-searched keyword, and it was also the second-most searched keyword nationally, and in all other states bar the Northern Territory, where ‘air conditioning’ took second spot.
Air conditioning was the third most sought-after feature across Australia, and more desired by buyers searching in the warmer states.
“Air conditioning and pools are a lot more commonly searched in Queensland and the Northern Territory, versus heating and bricks in Tasmania and Victoria – areas that are a bit colder,” Mr Moore said.
The Gold Coast suburbs of Burleigh Heads, Robina and Helensvale had the most searches for pools in Queensland, and nationwide.
Brighton, Hawthorn and Berwick were the most searched suburbs for pools in Melbourne, while Kellyville, Castle Hill and Baulkham Hills topped the list in Sydney.
Pools were more valued by established families, overseas buyers or people searching in pricier suburbs, but could be polarising, and often deterred buyers with young children, said Melbourne buyer's agent Cate Bakos.
"Pools are a value-add when kids are at swimming age," she said. "And someone coming from the UK, they absolutely treasure having a pool."
The cost and planning required to install a pool was what prompted so many buyers to search for properties that already have one, said Sydney buyer’s agent Elaine Davies of New Road Property.
“If you want a pool, you want one now, you don't want to have to put one in,” she said.
“If the rest of the house is good as well, it could be the final cherry on the top to push up the price, but I dont think it’s going to push it up as much as parking, a north-facing aspect or a quiet street.”
'Garage' was the second-most searched keyword in the past year, with buyers valuing security, storage and the ability to install electric vehicle chargers, such as in this modern home in Willunga, SA. Picture: realestate.com.au/buy
While many buyers prioritise parking, garages specifically were valued for security and versatility, Ms Bakos said.
"A lot of people want decent storage for camping gear and bikes, but more commonly they’re thinking about electric vehicles," she said. "They want security and charging facilities."
When it comes to apartments, ‘balcony’ was the most searched keyword, especially for buyers in NSW and Victoria, and ‘outdoor area’ ranked highly too.
Balconies are a must-have for most apartment buyers, Ms Davies said, unless the apartment had a view or was a character property in an older art-deco block, which often have communal gardens instead.
“If you’ve just got a bog-standard apartment with nothing really to look out on, and you’re enclosed, it's pretty awful,” she said.
Balconies have been highly valued by apartment buyers since the pandemic, especially for coastal properties like this Tamarama apartment boasting ocean views. Picture: realestate.com.au/buy
Air conditioning was the second most-desired apartment feature nationally, and most desired in South Australia, Western Australia and the ACT.
Pools topped the wish list for apartment buyers in Queensland and the NT, where sweltering summer temperatures and warmer winter weather mean pools may be used year-round.
While big-ticket items like pools, garages and outdoor areas were among the features buyers searched for the most, the data also highlighted the importance many buyers placed on internal features of a home, particularly for units.
Features that make a home more comfortable and convenient such as air conditioners, built-in wardrobes and dishwashers were all among the most searched terms, despite being relatively affordable for buyers to install after purchase.
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Ensuites, on the other hand, were a feature many buyers were less willing to compromise on, according to Ms Davies.
“Everybody wants an ensuite, but not everyone can afford one,” she said.
There were more searches for solidly-built homes in the past year, with an 11% increase in searches for ‘brick’ at the national level, and increases of 24% in Tasmania and 39% in Victoria.
Brick homes are typically more energy efficient, maintaining a more constant temperature than timber homes in both summer and winter, and more resistant to harsh weather or termites.
Many buyers tended to be seeking more accessible properties. Searches for single-level houses rose by 28% among house buyers in NSW, and searches for ‘lift’ among unit buyers increased 12% nationally, and more than doubled in the ACT and WA.
“We’ve got an ageing population and they don't want stairs,” Ms Bakos said. “They want to future-proof their property.”
Solar panels were among the most searched features for buyers in Queensland, Tasmania, SA, WA, the ACT and NT, but didn’t make the top 10 in NSW and Victoria.
"Solar comes up very often, and if it’s not available buyers are willing to install it," Ms Bakos said.
Solar panels were among the most searched features in most states. There were 17% more searches for solar panels by buyers looking for homes in Tasmania, such as this Westbury property that's set up for sustainable living.
Buyers also have also increasingly sought some features typically associated with more valuable properties.
Searches for top floor units rose by 27% in NSW, while searches for penthouses increased by 34% in SA, 24% in the ACT and 15% in WA.
Although fewer buyers nationally sought beachfront homes in the past year, there was a big increase in searches for beachfront properties in Tasmania and South Australia, where more affordable property prices could make owning a beachfront home more achievable.
Meanwhile, searches for homes with an ocean view rose by 10% in NSW and 9% in Queensland.
Mr Moore said knowing what people search for most could help both buyers and owners understand what people prioritise in their local area.
“It gives you a sense of the types of arrangements and features that are very popular, which can help you think about what potential buyers are looking for.”
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