Bernard Salt gave an energetic and informative presentation at the Property Council of Australia Outlook lunch last Friday. As chair of the PCA Illawarra chapter, I was keen to secure one of Australia’s leading social commentators, to give a human perspective balancing the usual dry statistics associated with our annual property forecast. Bernard did not disappoint, repeatedly stating, “don’t just look at the numbers – look at the story they tell”.
Attaining notoriety for challenging the current younger generation’s spending habits, Bernard Salt has not shied from raising awareness of housing affordability. Avo-gate, as it has become popularly known, questioned discretionary spending of the hipster generation on costly meals (eg. smashed avocado on toast) instead of saving for a deposit on a house.
Salt’s presentation last Friday highlighted contemporary expectations and perceptions of the family home compared with the dwelling where the Boomers spent their childhood. Australia now has by far the largest houses in the world, more than double the size of the typical 10 square (93m2) home of the 50’s. The entire modern home is a show piece from front door to the inner sanctum of the bedrooms. My generation remembers that, in times gone by, our humble home included one ‘good room’ that restricted the intrusion of guests – and was largely out of bounds to the family. Today, Salt argues, tapware has become the new ‘silverware’ as we display our success and refined taste from the entry to the ensuite.
The story of the evolution of Australia’s family home is going through another phase not touched on in Salt’s presentation. There is a move to higher density living where the apartment or townhouse occupies a smaller footprint taking advantage of a more European lifestyle where the ‘living room’ is a local bar or restaurant. Friends may rarely visit our home. Many residential units have become fortresses hidden behind the fences and walls I referred to in last week’s blog. Bernard Salt stressed at the outset of this talk last Friday, that the success of our cities and towns largely depends on a galvanised community with a united vision. While there is much to be said for the efficiency of large populations close to transport hubs and essential services, we do need to be alert to the surprising downside – a potential loss of community.