Lisa Roberts

2 June 2010 – At the Australian Real Estate Conference held in May this year, guest speaker and climate change campaigner Sir Bob Geldof was asked an all too common question.

“What more can I do?” inquired Sydney real estate agent Lisa Roberts, who has pioneered the promotion of one of Australia’s most successful eco-developments, WestWyck, in inner suburban Melbourne, before recently moving north.

Considering her real estate background and green exploits in Victoria, Sir Bob imparted some practical wisdom: “Start a lobby group,” he said.

Almost immediately after the conference, SHARE (Sustainable Housing And Real Estate) was created – a group of green-minded, competing real estate agents from across the country, with aims to market the idea of sustainable urban housing to councils and developers, with a focus on one major hook – monetary value.

“Real estate agents need to know how to promote sustainable properties more. We need to think business-minded as well as green-minded – appealing to the so called hip pocket nerve,” Roberts says.

“We think that we can do a lot to promote sustainable features [of a house], to market properly and emphasise the value added [potential] to the property.”

A living example of the uplift in value possible with sustainable urban housing is the WestWyck eco-development, an urban sustainability project developed by Lorna Pitt and Mike Hill, which Roberts had been targeting to green minded and dollar-minded residents alike.

“I think that people do see the value of buying into Westwyk. They can see that there is a lot more capital growth in sustainable houses than in ordinary ones.

“You can add $80,000 to $100,000 more on the selling price of properties with sustainable features. Westwyk is a great example of this. Properties around the corner sold for $532,000, while [Westwyk] units 2 and 3 sold for $585,000, without a garage.”

“The last unit sold in August last year previously sold for $585,000, this time it sold for $702,000. The highest priced unit sold was unit 12, which sold for $785,000.

“Stage one for Westwyk included 12 apartments. All these apartments sold off the plan prior to marketing. Stage two is underway and will feature 18 apartments that will also use the old school building.”

Occupying the building and grounds of the former Brunswick West Primary School in inner suburban Melbourne, Westwyck features a range of sustainable features qualifying it as one of Australia’s foremost sustainable urban developments, Roberts claims.

“What’s lovely about Westwyk is that it did incorporate old buildings,” says Roberts.

“Some of the sustainable features include gas solar heating, a grey water system, double glazed windows and the apartments are all north facing. Instead of a timber fence quarried rock was used. There’s also a worm farm, veggie patch, native plants, concrete bench tops in the communal BBQ area instead of wooden ones.

“The people who bought into Westwyk range from young couples to empty nesters and they are all very sustainable minded.”

The buyers are not necessarily sustainability minded people.

“People are starting to see the long term value of buying a house with sustainable features simply because it uses less energy and therefore will cost less in the long run.

“If a property has features like water tanks, native gardens and double glazed windows people will see less utility bills in the future.

“It’s in the strata manager’s interests to put in native gardens and other sustainable features to help cut utility costs. People are always worried about high strata fees and one way of cutting them down is by using sustainable features.

The potential savings in outgoings is attracting empty nesters, says Roberts.

“Those who are retiring and selling their homes tend to buy a tree-change/sea-change house and move from the suburbs to the inner city. Buying a sustainable property is good for them as they have less disposable income and so they will be paying less utility bills.”

As a lobby group, Lisa says that SHARE, through promoting and prioritising the cost cutting benefits of sustainable features, will focus on streamlining the planning process to make sustainable developments more attractive.

“If we get planning permits for sustainable houses through quicker and if we prioritise plans, then vendors and developers are more likely to include sustainable features in their developments.

“In Sydney, it’s hard to find any sustainable urban developments.”

Roberts said one example of sustainable apartments was currently being promoted in Lane Cove, through Michael and Beth Ferguson, also of McGrath. It consists of five, three to four bedroom town houses. All have already been sold; one for $1.5 million and the other four ranging from $1.55 million  to $1.85 million.

“The selling prices when compared to ordinary houses have shown the value added by sustainable features,” Roberts says.

“Lane Cove Council saw the value in this development and now we [SHARE] will be looking to [lobby] Waverly Council and others to promote sustainable urban development.”

For more information on WestWyck see www.westwyck.com