Australian houses of the future – Bernard Salt

In today’s show we talk to KPMG Demographer and social commentator Bernard Salt about this tiny house movement and the future of Australian housing.


Kevin:  Earlier in the show, I was talking to Lara Nobel about the tiny house movement, which has recently taken off in Australia, and the move toward smaller and more affordable eco-friendly homes.
Now, if there’s anyone who knows a thing or two about modern houses compared to the typical weatherboard, three-bedroom, one-bathroom home of the 1960s and 1970s, it’s KPMG’s demographer and social commentator, Bernard Salt, who joins me.
Bernard, thanks again for your time.
Bernard:  Hi, Kevin.
Kevin:  Hi. Bernard, is the tiny house movement indicative of a change in attitude to housing and accommodation in Australia?
Bernard:  There is no doubt that there has been a shift in attitudes towards housing. I’m not convinced that this is a mainstream movement. I think the mainstream is still focused on bigger houses. In fact, the four-bedroom, two-bathroom product is still popular with the mansion set on the edge of town.
But there is sizable community that is now concerned about sustainability issues and that also wants access to the city’s center at an affordable price, and the only way you can do that is by having a smaller apartment or, in fact, a smaller house, so yes, this is important. It does touch base with a rising segment of the community, but I don’t think it means that all of Australia is going to forsake the quarter-acre block and cram into tiny houses. I think we’re a long way from that as yet.
Kevin:  What does a typical Australian home look like? Is there a typical Australian home?
Bernard:  In fact, I don’t think there’s an average anything in Australia. Because we are such a vast continent and 24 million people, we have a whole range of averages, a whole range of tribes and behaviors that make up the Australian population.
In fact, there is the lifestyle thing. Certainly, Queensland do particularly well with the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and so forth. There is middle suburbia, the three-bedroom quarter-acre block product that was developed in the 1950s and 1960s. Then, of course, you have the mansion product, which we talked about before. These are very large houses on the edge of town in sort of tree-change locations, in fact.
Then you have the apartment product, which has really had an impact on Brisbane over the last ten years. You can see that around Woolloongabba and West End in particular, where you have that inner-city hipster as well as many corporates and others who simply want to live that Manhattan lifestyle close to all facilities downtown.
Kevin:  You mentioned Brisbane there. Are there other places around Australia where that’s also the case?
Bernard:  There’s no doubt that Brisbane is very much in line with trends that are happening in Melbourne and Sydney. As a Melbournian, I can certainly cite the instances of Manhattan high-rise apartments in St. Kilda Road, Southbank, and Docklands, of course, and then dotted around Sydney, as well.
These trends, I think, really kicked off from the middle of the 1990s in Sydney first, then to Melbourne and then to Brisbane. Brisbane took a while to jump on board, but it’s fully on board now, and anyone looking at the skyline of Brisbane would know that the Manhattan-ification of Brisbane is underway.
Kevin:  What’s the prevalence of multiple generations sharing the one home?
Bernard:  Well, in fact, multiple generations sharing the one home is not really a trend that you see in traditional Anglo Australian-born households. These are certainly popular; multiple generations in the one home are very popular amongst some migrant communities. In fact, Chinese, even Indian communities, particularly see this as a continuation of traditional ways of living, I suppose.
There was also some evidence of this in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s with the Italians and the Greeks. However, based on the evidence of how the Italians and Greeks have evolved, I think that the multi-generational households that apply to some migrant groups, by the second generation, we tend to Aus-ify them and they adopt Australian values where each generation pretty much gets its own household.
We like our family, but we like our family at a distance is what I would say in comparison to many other communities around the world.
Kevin:  But is home ownership still an Australian dream? In your view, is it achievable by young Australians?
Bernard:  Certainly, home ownership is still achievable in Australia. It may not be achievable in the city or, in fact, in the suburb that you want it to be achievable. I think this is often an issue with Generation Y and particularly, in the major capital cities, be it Sydney, Melbourne or, in fact, Brisbane.
It may mean that you have to go to a provincial city or, in fact, to a location further out from the city’s center. Of course, many Generation Y’s don’t want that. They want to remain around the hipster edge of the inner city and look for an apartment or a house in that area. Of course, that’s the most highly prized and therefore, the most highly valued real estate in any capital city.
But I do think you can. You just have to be prepared to relocate, in fact, perhaps even to a different city in order to get into the home ownership market.
Kevin:  Are there other things that are affecting housing affordability these days?
Bernard:  In fact, you would have to argue that interest rates are extraordinarily low at the moment, so that should be having a positive impact. But strong levels of population growth, competition, of course, for housing from the international market – I’m thinking particularly China – and also a preference these days by Australians for access to the city’s center and infrastructure, the likes of which you would get within a 10K radius of the city’s center.
Plus, I would add also to this the shift towards knowledge work – any job that requires a university education, for example. Many of those jobs are not in, say, car-assembly plants out on the edge of town; they are in the CBD or in the suburbs. That means that apartment product or housing product within striking distance of the CBD or inner suburbs are really going to be most highly prized and therefore, have values increase the most.
Yes, there is a competition factor that is pushing up property values in some parts of our capital cities.
Kevin:  Yes. Any predictions from you as to what the future of housing will look like?
Bernard:  Well, the question I often get is around bubbles. Surely, everything is going to collapse. I’m a positivist when it comes to Australia, firstly, and also to the Australian housing market.
Yes, there have been times in history where property values have decreased – but not plummeted. In fact, they tend to maybe soften somewhat, or move sideways, or freeze for a couple of years, but for a young, vital, vibrant country importing 250,000-odd people per year and growing the country as well, there is still quite some demand for households and for housing in Australia that would take up the slack in any market at the moment.
Kevin:  I’ve been talking to KPMG demographer and social commentator, Bernard Salt. More about Bernard, if you’d like, at his website,
Bernard, thank you so much for your time.
Bernard:  My pleasure.

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