Working from home was once seen as a temporary measure during the pandemic, but many Australian buyers have embraced it as a permanent change shaping their purchasing decisions.
Luxury buyers have long had a home office high on their wish list, but now just one dedicated space isn’t enough.
During the lockdown, parents both tried to remotely maintain full-time jobs in addition to homeschooling children from primary school to college age. As a result, families are now looking for versatile floor plans that can accommodate two or sometimes three home offices.
Data from one of Australia’s four largest banks, the National Australia Bank, outlined the changing priorities of home buyers since the pandemic and highlighted increased demand for an area of work or study. Of the real estate professionals surveyed (including investors, brokers and developers), 86% said that a separate work area is more important today than ever before.
The findings weren’t surprising, as by 2021, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, more than 40% of working Australians were regularly working from home.
And the shift was evident in buyer behavior with an extraordinary 1107% increase in searches for the term “home office” on real estate portal Domain in July 2021 for the state of Victoria, the country’s most closed-off city. The search term doubled in New South Wales, the most populous state.
Two is better than one
Anna Porter, a buyers agent at real estate company Suburbanite, said that with home working and mixed study environments all under one roof, buyers were looking for innovative solutions to make the most of their square footage.
“By 2022, a single desk in the back of a family room will no longer be enough,” she said.
“Working from the dinner table may have been a great patching solution while juggling homeschooling and mandatory lockdowns, but for a longer-term work solution it’s critical to have a great space where you can thrive, be creative, and be there.” really enjoy.”
Australian homeowners and potential buyers are getting creative and looking beyond just another bedroom for their office spaces. They consider all areas, from the attic or basement to the garage or even the backyard, according to Ms. Porter.
“For as little as A$10,000 – $20,000 (US$7,498 – $14,996), depending on the size, quality of furnishings and location, you can get a full home office in your yard and in some areas can be an additional A$50 up to $100 a week on rent if it’s an investment property,” said Ms. Porter.
What buyers want
In an ideal world, high-end buyers look for separate spaces because different family members are often on the phone at the same time, holding zoom meetings or needing rest.
“But to get two offices in a house, you have to steal about 215 square feet of space, which is the size of a single garage, and it can be a pain to do it as separate spaces,” said Ms. Porter.
Having spent so much time at home over the past two years, Australians are now imagining how they can make better use of the space they have at home.
“When you think of your laundry, your dining room, your attic, your basement; how many hours a day do you spend in those rooms? Compare that to how many hours you would spend in a home office? So there are better ways to use space,” said Ms Porter, adding that it’s now a good idea for sellers looking for a top price to show buyers how a home can work for them.
“Homes that have already set up an office or two are sure to sell at a better price and faster. If buyers can’t find a way to get the office space they need, they’ll walk away from them.”
Deborah Cullen,sales broker and co-director of Cullen Royle Property Purveyors, specializes in luxury regional homes and has seen a major transition to multiple office spaces at home.
“People mirror what they had in the city to work from home in their country or on the beach. Many of our clients work a few days here, a few days there, so both partners want to have their own space. Moreover, they would like a study space for their children,” she says.
Ms. Cullen said that when her team lists a home, the key today is to show the versatility of the property and that can be reflected in the presentation and styling.
“It’s about showing flexibility, demonstrating the possibility of an office, or two, is there if you want, but those rooms can be used for other things. So it’s not about spaces per se being locked into formal offices, but about the freedom to choose.”
“We never pretend to know how people want to live, work and play. But it’s a really exciting time because there are no rules. Even though the lockdowns seem to be over, many companies are telling their staff: ‘You can work anywhere’.”
Making the space work
Buying a home with a spare room is the obvious choice for additional workspace, but with Australia’s skyrocketing property prices, each additional room sets buyers back between A$250,000 and A$550,000, especially in Sydney, where the average house price is now just below A. $1.4 million.
Donna Allen of The Space Within, an interior designer based in Sydney’s prestigious Northern Beaches, said savvy homebuyers are looking for ways to make spaces flexible without losing a family or dining room to a full-time office.
“You can turn an underused dining room into an office and still keep it as a dining area. Creating built-in joinery with a desk and storage space can make it look more like a traditional dining room sideboard. One day it’s a dining table, the next. your quote-unquote conference table the next day.”
Some spacious underused rooms can become two quite easily, according to Ms. Allen.
“I currently have a project where we decided to put a glass wall in the middle of the rumpus room with a sliding door to create two functional offices. If it’s only one in the house, they can open the doors between rooms so it feels more spacious. They also have some soundproofing and opaque glass for privacy.”
She added that double offices at home are likely to become the norm as each family member has their own needs.
“The reality is that if it’s just quiet work and you don’t participate in conference calls, you can work almost anywhere. But with kids taking online classes at home, and parents on Zoom, you need more than just the kitchen table, you really want to close a door,” she said.
Open concept has been a style favorite in Australia’s contemporary home design, but the pandemic could change that, Ms Allen said.
“While I don’t think open plan will get anywhere anytime soon, people do want spaces that can be closed off, so they’re really starting to rethink the trend of opening. Instead of tearing down all those walls, people are now more open to conversation to keep a few of them in, more than two years ago.”