12 June 2014 — Mike Hill and his partner Lorna Pitt have decided to keep the last three units in the groundbreaking Westwyck Eco Village project in Melbourne’s West Brunswick after 15 of apartments in the final stage sold quickly in April and May.
The project, awarded a One Planet Living certification, has set out to change the market, with its focus on sustainability and community-centred living.
“We put 18 of the apartments on the market and within a three week period, we sold all but three.
“Partly this was about the market and partly because we are in a desirable section of it. But a factor way and above is that people want something different; they want to live in a different and supportive way.”
He and Ms Pitt had now decided to hold the three units for the time being.
A satisfying part of the decade-long project, he said, was the positive attitude of the banks when it came to lending to complete the project because of the good track record of previous sales.
There are now 30 apartments in the project that encompasses the former heritage listed West Brunswick Primary School.
Mr Hill said it was hard to compare prices with other nearby property because “our apartments are a lot better quality”.
Agent says demand for eco-village style apartments is growing
According to agent Glenn Bartlett, partner at Woodards Carlton, units outperformed the general market in both price and level of interest.
Sale prices ranged from the mid $500,000 to $1.25 million. And buyers were not exactly hard to come by, he said.
The apartments are “somewhat of a niche product but as we’ve discovered repeatedly at Westwyck there is robust demand for this type of property in this type of community-based setting”, Mr Bartlett said.
“Most of the buyers are quite like-minded people, with sensitivities around sustainability and community.”
But the real test of the project’s appeal is in the resale of the original units.
“We sold first couple of apartments for about $585,000 in 2008, and one of these sold in February this year for $910,00 – a very healthy capital gain.”
That compares to general market rises of about 50 per cent over the same period, he said.
Mr Bartlett admits the project has been an education for him.
“It’s been a bit of a steep learning curve working with Mike and Lorna for five or six years and when we had the first round of apartments in the old school buildings I was surprised at the prices initially paid back then.
“We were of the view they were 10-15 per cent higher for similar sized properties.”
He now thinks the market in this sector is growing.
“I think there is a growing awareness of the sustainability movement and, significantly, through higher utility bills, it definitely resonates with people already concerned about ongoing living costs.”
Combined with the philosophy exemplified at Westwyck, he says, this goes a long way to breaking the mould of the “rapacious developer” by offering “better quality product”.
His colleague on the project, Lisa Roberts, who also worked on The Commons, has another two sustainable projects coming.
However, the development market was not exactly banging down his office doors looking to do more such projects, Mr Bartlett said.
“We’re not seeing as much as you’d like. It’s about building a standard apartment development with as many units you can cram into it aesthetically, but in terms of passive design for heating and cooling a lot fall quite short.
“I think if more developers did it they’d be surprised at the response they get.”
One of the issues, he said, was that developers only consulted agents with completed plans in hand. If only they’d ask about the market a little earlier.
Designed by Multiplicity in conjunction with SL Architecture, the Westwyck apartments built within the ground of the former West Brunswick Primary School are the first in Australia to receive a “One Planet” endorsement for their focus on environmental and community outcomes.
Environmental and shared community facilities are central to the design.
Apartments each include solar panels of up to 3.5 kilowatts, seven or eight star NatHERS ratings, state of the art water treatment systems, community gardens, shared living spaces and bushland landscaping.