Jenny Brown| Domain| 2 November 2018
When the market undergoes a potentially long-term change — specifically the downturn in what had, for five years, been such a dazzling property sales scenario — interesting alternatives jostle into contention.
With vendors no longer encouraged to trade up by moving, more are staying in long-occupied address where they are spending as much as ever renovating or improving their property – about $8.8 billion in the past year, according to the Master Builders Association.
Specialist attic builders are one of the niche providers making hay in this time of entrenched home owners who might still need extra room for growing families or returning young adults.
Liz Stewart, of The Attic Group, Australia’s biggest such company, is gratified to see some top-name architects are creating glamorous new accommodations in once-unused spaces under the roofs of vintage homes.
In period homes – from Victorian to Federation – that can be 2.2 metres at the highest point of their roofs, Stewart says the under-the-tiles volumes can account for as much as 30 per cent of a house’s internal space. “But Australians have traditionally viewed it as being a dark, dirty space. We haven’t been an attic culture”.
Yet, even where the roof is shallower “a roof lift – raising the roof-line by constructing a new pitch – can create all the extra room you need.”
The space-making strategies afforded by attics can be as simple as creating storage that liberates downstairs rooms from clutter for as little $2500 to projects like that undertaken by a family in Sydney’s Manly who discovered they could add a new living room/kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and a balcony with sea views above their top floor unit.
“That freed up the downstairs and doubled their apartment’s floor space.It was an unbelievable value-add”, Stewart says.
It was feasible because a neighbouring unit sharing the same floor had previously expanded into their attic and so created a precedent that made the idea acceptable to the body corporate.
So the family of four, who couldn’t afford anything bigger in the suburb they adored, discovered that for an outlay of less than a third of the price of a two-bedroom Manly unit, they got all the living space they required.
Two daughters moved into the upstairs bedrooms while the parents stayed below and developed a new study and bathroom for themselves.
In Melbourne’s Eaglemont, another family wedded to their neighbourhood, popped an attic addition out of the steep roof-line of their interwar house. “They too created a teen’s wing of two large bedrooms, a study and new bathroom”, says Stewart.
In densely-settled Paddington in Sydney, where heritage protections preclude extending in any useful way, a businessman opted to create a home office under skylights in his roof rather than working off-site and paying rent on a commercial office space.
These are just some variations of the attic theme which, at the luxurious end, can cost up to $400,000. The average is much lower, says Stewart, and “incredibly cost effective”.
“With thoughtful design that can utilise every last tricky space under a roof, and use every slope to advantage, they are the hot, new type of house transformation”.