In cities across the country, shiny new apartment blocks are springing up on reclaimed commercial land, offering the lure of a cosmopolitan lifestyle.
In marketing material for these towers, fashionable friends sit on fashionable furniture as they sip Cosmopolitans, while the city skyline twinkles beyond.
It sure is a dream, but can it be lived?
Did you have guests for after-work drinks on Friday? Did they complain about the prices charged at the closest car park, two blocks away? How long did they wait at peak-time for one of the two lifts that service your building’s 25 floors of apartments? When they left, how safe did they feel scurrying along the dark, empty streets below?
What about you there inside? Is there enough space in the kitchen to store your cocktail glasses? How much room is there between the bed and the wall? You know, the wall through which you can hear your neighbour snoring?
How long did it take to get through the multilevel parking jam for the Saturday morning shop – to transport groceries back from the nearest, decent supermarket, a suburb and a half away?
The marketing for these cookie-cutter apartment towers is as unstoppable as it is unoriginal, but people keep building, and buying, them. Yet, for all the glamorous promise of these modern developments, savvy buyers and investors might do better to think about something daggy. Very daggy.
Why not consider a unit in a three-story walk-up built between the 1950s and 1970s – possibly in cream brick? If you knew where to look – and ignored your prejudices – you might find an apartment for a similar (or even lower) price with a better location, amenities and long-term potential price gain than the cookie-cutter developments.
Paul Nugent, a director of buyer advocates Wakelin.com.au, says Melbourne and Sydney, in particularly, are blessed with solidly built, superbly located apartments in sought-after suburbs within 10 to 12 kilometres of their CBDs.
“If you buy the right kind of ’50s to ’70s apartment, you will be leagues ahead than if you spent a similar amount on a cookie-cutter apartment,’’ he says.
Importantly, Nugent says, buyers need to know the difference between a mid-century flat built for investors and one built for owner-occupiers. You want the latter, and they’re fairly easy to identify.
“They usually have a security entrance and the apartment has a hallway. They have a separate kitchen and a bathroom with a separate loo,” he says.
“There will be two good-sized bedrooms with built-in wardrobes and a balcony or a garden view and ground-level parking. They might have hipster period features such as big windows, bookshelves or room dividers.”
What makes these apartments special is they are usually built with steel, concrete and solid brick, which is great for maintenance and sound insulation.
But, Nugent says, what makes them extra-special is location. Often, they were built on some of the most expensive land in the inner suburbs.
The developers of the 1950s-1970s tore down large family homes to put up these two and three-storey apartment blocks. This means they are usually within range of shops, transport, parks and beaches, and close to the city.
Nugent says the land value of these apartments puts them way ahead of instant towers on re-purposed commercial land.
“When you buy one of these older apartments, 40 to 50 per cent of the price is in that underlying land value,” he says. “But the value of a new apartment can only be supported by what the developer say it’s worth.”