Australian house prices have been steadily climbing over the decades alongside a rapidly growing population. Despite government efforts, the bulk of our population growth (and thus, demand for new housing) has been concentrated in few major cities and regional centres. Until very recently, we Australians characterised ourselves in part by the quarter-acre block, but even those still living in houses are less likely to have a block that large.
We have previously discussed Australia’s reorientation to apartment living, fuelled partially by young couples delaying families, the lifestyle-oriented boomers downsizing and increasingly more lone-person households; but is this the whole story?
It is certainly true that lone-person households are far more prevalent than most Australians realise. Of the 9.9 million households in Australia reported during the 2016 census, more than 2 million of them (a quarter of all homes) were occupied by a sole person. Lone person households are the largest group of apartment dwellers; however, three-quarters of lone person households are still in either a detached house, attached house or townhouse.
The next largest cohort of households living in apartments are couples without children. More than a quarter of permanently occupied apartments in Australia contain this demographic. What may surprise readers is the existence of 143,489 couple families with children and 80,683 one parent families throughout Australia who also live in apartments. As a group, apartment-dwelling one family households increased by 34 per cent between 2006 and 2016, while the number of total households increased by just 18 per cent over the same time. This means apartment-dwelling families are not just growing in number, but also becoming a larger percentage of all Australian households.
This trend hasn’t been missed by some of Australia’s thinkers. Human geographers such as Sophie-May Kerr have been conducting research on the experiences of Australian families living with children in apartments. As population growth continues to stimulate demand for higher density living, property developers and landlords who take into account the unique nuances of families will be positioned to maximise their tenant and buyer pool. Some such factors include safety, noise mitigation and local amenities.
Does this trend spell the end of suburban living for Australian families? Far from it. In fact, the overwhelming majority (4.6 million) of one-family households still live in houses. However, it will be interesting to observe how the growing rate of families living in apartments is further influenced by more and more cosmopolitan millennials reaching the child-rearing stage of their lives. Is this demographic likely to trade their lifestyle for more space in the suburbs, or take advantage of the increasing availability of family amenities in our cities? Property investors with apartments in their portfolio would be wise to keep this growing demographic in mind over the coming decades.