Having an architect on your team can provide you with insights into the design of the home and any impact this may have on the property’s future potential. You will also receive advice and concepts detailing how a house may be renovated or extended.
Timely advice can be extremely advantageous for you and it is all included as part of our service to help you make the best decision.
Ceiling heights are very important, and an element that can make-or-break the design and feel of a house.
Common ceiling heights are often talked about in terms of imperial measurement – and that is feet. In Victorian times (circa 1880-1900) tall ceilings (say 12-13 feet/3.6-3.9 metres) were normal, whereas in the post-war era (1950s) 8-9 feet (2.4-2.7 metres) was accepted.
For a modern new home, 9 feet/2.7 metres is about as low as you would go. Commonly 10 feet/3 metres (on ground floor) then 9 feet/2.7 metres (for a first floor) is about right. For basements, it is all about the clearance for the car, and 8 feet/2.4 metres is a minimum. Often newer homes these days will have lower ceilings for one reason: the house is cheaper to build.
Low ceilings can make a home feel poky and cramped. Higher ceilings give a spacious feel and provide better opportunities for taller windows, elegant pendant light fittings and ceiling fans. A clever house design will play around with differing ceiling heights, and this can have a great effect. For example, in hallways the ceiling height might be lower, then as you walk into a larger open-plan living area the ceiling heights are taller, which accentuates the feeling of space. Often in kitchen spaces you can get away with a lower ceiling height, and that will work more functionally with cupboard space (ie high cupboards are not that accessible and difficult to reach) and ceiling lighting is closer to bench working spaces, minimising shadows.
A problem with houses with lower ceilings is that you really can’t change them, and that should be an important consideration when looking to buy a home.
From ancient times, building on a prominent part of the land was of primary importance. Think the seven hills in Rome, the site of the Parthenon or, on a local level, Parliament House in Canberra or Government House in Melbourne.
In simple terms, building on the top of a hill makes perfect sense in terms of prospect for view, great drainage, prominence, security and opportunity for light. Of course, that is not often possible when looking for a home today in an established area, but there are certainly some things to look out for.
Aside from a perfectly flat block (ideal for development potential, access, drainage, easy internal/external connection), a good block is one that will gently rise up from the street to the facade (hence improving the appearance of the house from the street), then flatten off to the backyard fence.
Houses that sit down from the street are traditionally not well received by buyers, as they look inferior and are not well regarded in terms of Feng Shui principles. They can also be affected by drainage as, in extreme conditions, water can run off the street and collect at the front of the home, which makes driving in and out along a sloping driveway problematic and hazardous. These blocks, however, can have a nice sense of privacy and sanctuary.
If the block slopes up from the back of the house to the back fence, this often makes the house feel hemmed in and problematic in terms of looking out to children playing in the yard. A block that slopes down from the back of the house to the back fence is much more preferential, as long as the slope is not too great.
Blocks that slope from one side to another can also be problematic, unless of course the block slopes gently (say 1-2 metres) down to the north, as this improves opportunity for light and lessens overshadowing from the immediate neighbour to the northern side (and minimises any potential shadows you may have from your neighbour to the south).
Size, light and positioning is what we are looking for with bedrooms. Too often in large family homes the secondary bedrooms (i.e. those for the children) are small, dark or lack storage.
Try and look for the following:
- Windows on two sides of the room – this really helps with outlook and more balanced light sources.
- Good ceiling heights – about 2.7 metres (or 9 feet) is as low as you would want to go. The taller the ceilings, the better the air-flow and feel of the room.
- Pleasant outlook – Many modern homes these days are restricted to having translucent panels or screening up to 1.7 metres above floor level. This is a pet hate of mine and, while I understand the need for privacy, it really detracts. The ability to daydream or gaze out into the world is very underrated, and part of any great home. A good design can often get around this problem.
- An area of at least 3.6mx3.6m – It is a good idea to visualise where furniture will go; don’t rely on measurements on plans provided to you by the selling agent. Even though your children may not have them yet (or ever), these rooms should be able to accommodate a double-sized bed at the minimum.
- Good storage – Most buyers like the idea of walk-in-robes. These can be dark, have ‘lost’ corners, be poorly designed or waste space. A built-in-robe situation can be better. How much space should you have? Three lineal metres is about normal, we find.
- Physical separation – While it is good to have children close by when they are very young, we find most people want them further away when they get older. An ideal situation in a modern new house is to have the master bedroom suite upstairs and one also downstairs – this helps the home ‘grow’ as the family does.
- Good acoustic separation – Try and have robes separate rooms and avoid layouts where bedheads will be located directly against toilets, showers or other beds. Homes with internal brick walls help tremendously with the attenuation of sound, as opposed to a contemporary timber-framed plasterboard one. If building new, it is a very good (and relatively cheap) idea to install acoustic batts in the internal walls.
Buyers looking at houses located on corner blocks in inner-city areas have many things to consider. More often than not, we find these properties problematic as a family home option, and you need to be wary of the possible pitfalls.
Corner blocks can, however, perform very well in terms of capital growth, as if the land is big enough it lends itself to better development options as it has multiple access points for cars, and house entrances.
- Broader frontage – house can look more prominent from the street.
- Fewer neighbours – and therefore less impact in terms of overshadowing and outlook.
- If the block is big enough, it often has very good access for construction purposes. –
- Large nature strip areas that need to be maintained and cannot be enjoyed for private purposes.
- >Privacy and security can be impacted – particularly along the side that faces the street, and there is also a greater chance of overlooking into your backyard from the street (particularly from those walking by on the other side of the street).
- Front yard areas are less private and often expansive, not able to be used for private use.
- Greater exposure to traffic – this obviously raises safety, noise and pollution implications.
- More often than not, the garage or car-parking is only available in the backyard, and this can take up valuable space otherwise needed for a pool or yard-playing area or entertaining area.
A topic that comes up often in conversation for buyers is the rear orientation of the block. Why is it so important?
- Enjoy direct access to light all day long in the places where you want it most: into the backyard and traditional rear open plan living areas.
- The rear part of the house is light, bright and cheerful; use of artificial lights often not needed during the day.
- Work well if looking to extend the home up at the rear, as most of the shadows caused will fall on the front home roof space and not unduly affect neighbours.
- Rooms to the south part of the house are often quite dark and this is magnified if these windows are under a verandah. Of course, these rooms can be OK as evening spaces or bedroom areas.
- Often have dark rear open plan living areas.
- Backyards are more shaded, and this can lead to dank areas to the back of the house.
- Rear spaces can be OK if the block is wide enough (i.e. has good access to morning and afternoon sun), well placed windows and generous ceiling heights but they still do not get the benefits of passive solar gain. Generally speaking, these rooms have a cold feeling about them.
- Traditionally have the better original homes built on them, as the style back then was to place the front gardens and formal living areas on the southern side of the home, therefore having direct access to natural sunlight.
Generally speaking, properties on the southern side of a street will turn over (or sell) more frequently, and I think a lot of this is due to the lack of light into backyards and, simply speaking, they are not as pleasant to live in.
Car access and garaging is a really important consideration when buying a property. Irrespective of your reliance/needs for a car, as humans we are becoming increasingly reliant on a car to get around. If a property does not have the opportunity for off-street parking or a garage, it can definitely affect your capital growth potential. It is an element of what makes a property a good or bad one, as your buyer pool will be a greater one when it comes time to sell if you have an off-street option.
That said, in some parts of Melbourne (i.e. inner city areas such as Richmond and Albert Park), on-street car-parking is the norm rather than the exception. In these cases, important questions to ask are whether it is easy to park on the street out the front of the house (often it is) or whether the location is a ‘permit’ area.
Car access from laneways should be checked (often they are too narrow, bumpy or not safe, and history tells us people won’t use these on an ongoing basis as they are a nuisance or impractical). As a general rule, this situation is not practical or popular with buyers.
Garaging is becoming more of a higher property priority for the home-buyer. Most like/need the benefits of safety and security; a place where they can drive straight into from the street or a good-sized laneway and enter directly into the house. Shopping can be brought in easily, children taken care of and observed more closely, and, if it is raining, you do not get wet. In addition, the area can be great for storage.
When looking at the garage during an inspection, you should measure it yourself (don’t rely on agent measurements, as they can be misleading) and even ask the agent to ‘test it’ with your own car/cars if you can. A minimum size for a single garage is 3m x 6m and for a double garage 6m x 6m. I would look for bit wider than that – 4.5m for single car and 7m for a double to allow for easier opening of car doors. Tandem arrangements (i.e. where one car is parked in front of the other) are less ideal, as one car needs to be moved in order to get the other one out.
Should we have a pool or not? Is it worth buying a home with a pool even if we don’t need one yet? These are some common questions and when looking at a property with a pool, there are some key things to look for.
- Positioning – does it dominate the backyard? (i.e. placed close to the house, so you have to walk around or through it, or it there any other space left?) In addition, it should be located in the backyard in a location that maximises its access to natural light (i.e. on the southern or eastern side of block).
- Size – depending on what you are wanting the pool for, a good-sized pool for a younger/growing family is about 6 x 4m. Plunge pools (particularly for larger homes on decent blocks) are seen as a waste and can turn buyers away. Lap pools are becoming more popular with older families/couples as they can exercise at home and they are not too bad to play in either – a good size is 2m x 10-13m. Kidney-shaped pools were popular in the 1980s, but now are not that popular with buyers and are often don’t have self-cleaning equipment or solar heating.
- Safety – goes without saying really, but a good glass fence around the pool is paramount and there needs to be good room inside the pool enclosure.
- Condition/age – Dated fibreglass pools with old filtering systems and those that need to be cleaned manually are not popular with buyers, as they often don’t have the time or inclination to do the work.
- Heating – as standard today the pool would be a heated one. This makes sense living in Melbourne, as the pool can be used all year round. Solar is the way to go, and often is backed up with gas booster systems.
Often buyers do not want a pool and will not look at properties that have them. These can be good opportunities for buyers, as you can easily remove and/or fill them in – at a cost of course. While this is not that simple, it is possible and certainly worth considering.
Natural light is critical: it really makes a house a home. As humans, we need light to survive, and in the day-to-day living within a house it can really affect your emotional state of mind. A ‘happy’ house is one that is often described as light and bright, and these often perform the best in terms of capital growth and resale.
In Melbourne, passive solar design is a very important consideration, given we live within a temperate climate. While things can get quite hot in summer, the winters can be cold and any opportunity to capture natural warmth into a home is well rewarded.
When we talk about orientations of property, ‘north facing’ is often brought up as a key plus to a property. By this, we are referring to the orientation of the rear, and this is often where the private living areas (internal and the external) are located and where the home is mainly lived in during daylight hours. In simple terms, having windows with a northern orientation means that the sunlight can enter directly, hence accentuating the sense of light and passive solar gain.
A well-designed home will try and take advantage of as much access to direct natural daylight as it can and that is often in the forefront of the minds of architects and good building designers.
When inspecting a home, one should always take a good amount of time observing light and natural warmth levels, particularly in the kitchen and informal living spaces. If artificial lights are needed during daylight hours (and often agents will have these turned on, to improve the house appearance), then there is a good chance that the spaces will be seriously challenged for natural light, and you will need to rely on turning on lights for most of the day. This can significantly raise energy costs but, perhaps more importantly, it can seriously impact on the light, warmth and feel of the space.
The ‘quality of life’ difference between a south-facing rear home and north-facing rear home (if the layout is similar) can be huge. One recommendation we often make to buyers who are looking at south-facing rear homes is spend time in the rooms that front the street (ie those with north-facing windows) and then compares your feelings when spending time in the rear section sections of the house (with south-facing rear windows). The difference is often profound!
In life, first impressions really count, and this is particularly true when buying a home. More often than not, the house façade is the first photo that is displayed on the advertising of a house for sale, and, if it is not, then one probably thinks this property is not going to be too good. It is often the ‘public face’ of the family living within the home, and may be personalised as such. If buyers like the appeal of a home from the street, they will be drawn in to it. If they do not, they may not even visit or inspect the home, thus affecting saleability and capital growth.
For period home lovers, Victorian homes (those built 1880-1900) are perhaps the most popular, and the prettiest. Fortunately these were originally built in the time of ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ when there was no shortage of money and a great place for people to display their wealth, investing in ornate and intricate house details. Compare this to, say, homes built in post-war years (when money was tight and resources very limited) and the facades were very basic indeed – some may even use the word ‘boring’.
If you are looking to do a serious renovation to a home, the strength of the façade is critical and something you should really look at. Often buyers don’t, and that can be a cardinal sin. There is nothing wrong with renovating in a big way of course, but the façade needs to ‘look’ like a $3 million property from the street if you are buying it for $2 million and then thinking about spending $1 million in renovating it.
The entry to a home forms part of the street appeal. If the entry is within a prominent gable or underneath an ornate return veranda, this helps with the ‘welcoming’ appeal.
A well-kept garden can also add to the overall appeal, and it is best if this compliments the house style. For example, a native garden can look really good in front of a classic 1970s or 1980s home, but a little out of place in front of a Victorian cottage.
I was told at university: ‘the steeper the roof pitch, the prettier the house’. A generalisation, yes, but not a bad point, when you think about it. In European and North American Alpine areas, you often see a steep pitch to the home, required mainly to deflect and redistribute snowfall.
- On period homes, a pitch of 25-35 degrees is normal and looks best – On contemporary or modern homes, a flat or very shallow roof pitch is most common. Another great thing about a pitched roof is that it can provide a good opportunity for storage. This should be checked when inspecting the home.
- Lichen (light green, moss-like build-up) on tiled roofs is OK – and, in fact, many people think it adds to the timeless look of the home and the ‘pure’ quality of the neighbourhood air.
- While a nice romantic notion, try and avoid homes with external balconies that are built directly over a room below. These invariably leak due to membrane breakdown, and are a constant source of angst to home-owners and builders alike.
- Eaves (the section of the roof that overhangs the upper wall section) can really make or break the house design – Generally speaking, the wider the eave the better, and avoid pitched-roof homes that do not have eaves – they just don’t look good.
- Of course, a building inspector will pick this up, but look for any waves or dips in the roof line and the condition of the mortar bedding or pointing.
- Flat (or skillion) roof forms often are found at the rear of period homes – Why? Generally speaking, they were easier and cheaper to build. It is good to see these if thinking of renovating, as it is not hard to extend the house in this location (STCA).