Stuart Penklis

Apparently, some people just can’t seem to drag themselves away from their old gig even after they’ve retired – years ago. In particular, if they founded a company such as Mirvac and if their name is Bob Hamilton.

Hamilton, it seems, at 82 (we hope he’ll forgive this public outing of his age), has come back to the fold, 10 years after leaving it – to work on floor plans, orientation and details. And to inspire young staff.

That, at least, is the view of the man who’s making him busy, Stuart Penklis, head of residential with the property developer,

In a quick interview at a recent event to launch Veena Sahajwalla’s 

“green ceramics” at Mirvac’s Sydney Olympic Park development,   Penklis sat down with The Fifth Estate to provide some pointers into current trends – and challenges – of the residential market.

Hamilton, it seems, is one answer to Penklis and his team’s observations, about two years ago, that market demand had shifted.

Not just for quality, but for sustainability.

Penklis, whose been in the current role for four years after 20 years with the company, actually started his working life at the company under Hamilton, so he appreciates the benefits of mentoring.

“It’s great that we’ve brought Bob back into the fold,” he says.

“There are so many new people in the organisation and it’s good to get them an exposure to Bob. And the projects are so much better for it.

“He’s coming back into the business to do what he loves best – the floor plan, the details, the way the floors are oriented. He loves buildings and great architecture.”

Penklis gets this and it’s clear some of that passion has rubbed off.

“It’s absolutely my passion and this goes hand in hand with [insisting on] great quality in workmanship,” he says.

“If you’re successful in doing that your buildings stand the test of time and they look better 10 years after they’re finished.”

“About two years we made a conscious decision to really double down on quality. Not just building quality but from a design perspective. We saw buyers were becoming a lot more sophisticated.”

It was a structural shift, he reckoned, and one tied into the growing trend towards apartment living.

And no, this demand for quality was not a reaction to fallout from the poor quality apartment buildings that resulted in the appointment of the NSW building commissioner David Chandler. It was already evident.

But regardless, how has the top end of the market responded to the challenge of shoddy practices among certain developers and builders?  Some observers have even laid the blame for poor apartment sales on Chandler and a loss of confidence in the sector.

For instance, are the bigger players stepping up to differentiate their product and also to bring leadership in an industry that’s been devoid of this in past (in the same way that the Property Council, for instance, works to represent and raise the performance of investors for better overall performance)?

Yes and yes, Penklis says, adding he can’t reveal too many details.

But he does indicate that leadership in construction is definitely on the rise.

“We are working closely with David and other peers; helping him navigate the way forward.”

Isn’t the problem usually in the construction?

“Actually, it’s right through the delivery, right from the conception stage.”

Which in fact echoes what Chandler has told The Fifth Estate.

More immediate and bigger influences at present, he says, are house prices and the so called Covid accelerant.

On the prices front, apartment living is taking root, becoming a more “compelling proposition and a value proposition,” Penklis says.

Clearly there’s a shift to bigger apartments – three bedrooms are now sought after. Penklis says apartment amalgamation or sky homes are also on the rise.

And for good reason, he reckons. “When you look at [sky homes] in Green Square and compare them with what you can buy a home for in Kensington or surrounding suburbs you can see the value proposition.”

Covid has pushed up the trend towards collaborative workspaces where people can join other residents or book a room for a business client as well as the desire for more high amenity buildings and locations, with a “hyper local themes”. So down to street level for a coffee, a restaurant, calling in at the local pool or library.

“That shift to localness, hyper local, is playing through.”

What’s occurring, he says, is that blurring of spaces and the flexibility of spaces”.

Penklis says this extends in precincts to sharing public benefit with the wider community, not just the property owners buying apartments.

This sharing of benefit has sometimes turned around opposition to projects – such as Harold Park, for instance, he says. (The Fifth Estate has reported on one resident who declared adamant opposition to the development but that after attending an information event and seeing the lovely brochures with farmers markets and baskets overflowing with fresh produce confessed she bought one of the apartments off the plan).

Penklis says the public library at the company’s Marrickville project and the pool at Green Square are more examples of this blurring of the line between private and public amenity.

Quality brings its own rewards, it’s said.

Five years ago, Penklis says, sustainability was a hard sell because it came at a cost. “People would walk into a display centre and say they’re not interested; they’d prefer a discount.”

“The world has changed. Now we have not only lifted the bar to what is standard but owners are upgrading their apartments.

“In Brisbane, owners can have solar linked to their system on the roof,” he says of one development.

“It comes at a cost but we can only offer a limited number and we have to prioritise them because it’s in such high demand.”

It’s good for the planet, sure, but the savings in operational costs is not a factor that’s goes unnoticed.

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