Interview: Sam Elbanna, Project Director Laver Residential Projects
We discuss home ownership trends, development success and longevity in the sector.
We discuss home ownership trends, development success and longevity in the sector.
Kanebridge News: What’s the allure of working in property for you?
Sam Elbanna: Property is the foundation of much of the world’s wealth and, for many Australians, a fundamental element of our lives. Property houses us, provides us with income, and gives us venues in which to work, play and be entertained. For me, working in property is exciting because it is tangible, always evolving and interesting due to the vast array of people I get to meet daily from all walks of life who are all brought together by property.
How do you think notions of homeownership have changed in Sydney over the last 5 years?
The last 5 years have seen numerous fundamental shifts in the way we live and work with Covid-19 being the biggest influence. Prior to Covid, certainly in the inner city, there had been a shift toward smaller apartments, often for singles and couples. This was further fuelled by affordability issues, investor demand etc. Many people were comfortable with this because the local area provided them with ample amenities to socialise, train and simply be around others.
Since we have adjusted to life with Covid, I have seen shifts in buying behaviour such as a strong desire to buy in lifestyle areas — for example near beaches, wanting apartments with designated office space, a strong desire for outdoor space nearby and as part of dwellings and for local entertainment.
What do you think people need to know before buying a property – what advice would you give them?
How has project marketing changed on the business front in the last 5-10-years?
The biggest change over the last ten years has been the extensive use of technology in the marketing and selling of property. Large proportions of advertising budgets are allocated to online advertising and, over the last 5 years, social media. We are now exchanging contracts and settling online. In February this year, I showed a buyer through a multi-million dollar property via facetime. Last week we exchanged numerous contracts where buyers signed on their smart phones. Essentially, it has become more apparent than ever that if you aren’t using technology extensively, you will be left behind.
You’ve chalked up over 5000 apartment sales in your time. Has it gotten easier, harder, different?
It is just different. For a start, the internet has changed the way we operate. It has broadened the reach of advertising, and the speed of communication with consultants. But with all the changes, the one fundamental that has remained the same is that we are in the people business. People buy real estate from people. They live in real estate with people. The properties are designed, and built by people. So, we in the sales industry have to recognise that, whilst we do this every day, the people we are selling to are making massive, life changing decisions. Successful project marketers take a collaborative approach to selling, act as advisors and play the long game.
What do you do differently that has given you longevity in the industry?
I would love to talk about discipline and hard work which obviously are important but for me, it’s a genuine love for the business. So even though some days are hard, I’m having fun and I’m surrounded by people that I genuinely like. Interestingly, many of my closest friends are somehow related to the business. And because it is constantly evolving, I am forced to constantly learn and embrace change which is exciting. Not really work is it?
What makes for a successful development, is there a recipe for success?
This quite simple… not easy but simple.
A live example of this is a project called The Halston in North Strathfield. Originally almost half the project was made up of 1 bedroom properties. It’s normally easy to ascertain what people want because we would look at other developments in the area and what they’re doing and how people are buying them.
But here, because there’s no new development, and hasn’t been for many years, we interviewed hundreds of people to get an idea of what people in the area wanted. It became obvious that there was strong demand for 3 bedroom properties as many people were selling their homes in the area and there was simply new little three bedroom stock available.
Now in the project, 1 bedroom units make up less than 30% and the number of 3 bedroom apartments has increased markedly. After a couple of days on the market, this has proven to be the right move with much of the interest being focussed on those apartments.
What does Laver offer that other firms don’t?
Laver is very different to other firms. It is a collection of some of property industry’s most experienced and successful people working together for a common goal. Each of us have complementary skills that are applied to each project to ensure success. We offer a complete end-to-end service to developers and financiers, from site acquisition, planning and design, right through to project marketing and sales strategy. Most importantly, our directors play an exceptionally hands-on role in every component of every project, including on the frontline making sales.
What do you think homeowners are looking for, is there a trend you see growing in the next 1-3 years?
I see a move towards a highly segmented market where trends within those segments will dictate the property landscape moving forward. For example, one of the fastest-growing and most affluent segments is the empty nester market. These are the children of the first baby boomers. These buyers are young enough to embrace technology yet old enough to understand the value of time and compounding. These buyers are overwhelmingly looking for lifestyle properties with ample space as they are often selling large family homes and anything smaller is a compromise. The other segment which will be influential on the property market are the first home buyers who are well paid, still living with their parents and seeking a property that appeals to their desire to live a certain way.
For more information on Laver Residential’s North Strathfield project, The Halston, click here.
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You’ll never guess where they found a little extra room when renovating this west coast house
There was a time, not too long ago, when the most important must-have for would-be renovators was space. It was all about space to be together and space to be apart.
But as house prices increase across the country, the conversation has started to shift from size for the sake of it towards more flexible, well-designed spaces better suited to contemporary living.
For the owners of this 1920s weatherboard workers’ cottage in Fremantle, the emphasis was less on having an abundance of room and more about creating cohesive environments that could still maintain their own distinct moods. Key to achieving this was manipulating the floorplan in such a way that it could draw in light, giving the impression at least of a larger footprint.
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Positioned on a site that fell three metres from street level, the humble four-room residence had been added to over the years. First order of business for local architect Philip Stejskal was to strip the house back to its original state.
“In this case, they were not quality additions,” Stejskal says. “Sometimes it is important to make sure later additions are not lean-tos.”
The decision to demolish was not taken lightly.
“Sometimes they can be as historically significant as the original building and need to be considered — I wouldn’t want people to demolish our addition in 50 years’ time.”
Northern light hits the site diagonally, so the design solution was to open up the side of the house via a spacious courtyard to maximise opportunities to draw natural light in. However, this had a knock-on effect.
“We had to make space in the middle of the site to get light in,” Stejskal says. “That was one of the first moves, but that created another issue because we would be looking onto the back of the neighbouring building at less appealing things, like their aircon unit.”
To draw attention away from the undesirable view, Stejskal designed a modern-day ‘folly’.
“It’s a chimney and lookout and it was created to give us something nice to look at in the living space and in the kitchen,” Stejskal says.
“With a growing family, the idea was to create a space where people could find a bit of solitude. It does have views to the wider locality but you can also see the port and you can connect to the street as well.”
A garden tap has also been installed to allow for a herb garden at the top of the steps.
“That’s the plan anyway,” he says.
Conjuring up space has been at the core of this project, from the basement-style garaging to the use of the central courtyard to create a pavilion-like addition.
The original cottage now consists of two bedrooms, with a central hallway leading onto a spacious reception and living area. Here, the large kitchen and dining spaces wrap around the courtyard, offering easy access to outdoor spaces via large sliding doors.
Moments of solitude and privacy have been secreted throughout the floorplan, with clever placement of built-in window seats and the crow’s nest lookout on the roof, ideal for morning coffee and sunset drinks.
The house has three bedrooms, including a spacious master suite with walk-in robe and ensuite overlooking the back garden. Adjustable blades on the bedroom windows allow for the control of light, as well as privacy. Although the house was designed pre COVID, it offers the sensibility so many sought through that time — sanctuary, comfort and retreat.
“When the clients came to us, they wanted a house that was flexible enough to cater for the unknown and changes in the family into the future,” Stejskal says. “We gave the owners a series of spaces and a certain variety or moods, regardless of the occasion. We wanted it to be a space that would support that.”
Mood has also been manipulated through the choice of materials. Stejskal has used common materials such as timber and brick, but in unexpected ways to create spaces that are at once sumptuous but also in keeping with the origins of the existing building.
Externally, the brickwork has been finished in beaded pointing, a style of bricklaying that has a softening effect on the varied colours of bricks. For the flooring, crazy paving in the courtyard contrasts with the controlled lines of tiles laid in a stack bond pattern. Close attention has also been paid to the use of veneer on select joinery in the house, championing the beauty of Australian timbers with a lustrous finish.
“The joinery is finished in spotted gum veneer that has been rotary cut,” says Stejskal. “It is peeled off the log like you peel an apple to give you this different grain.”
Even the laundry has been carefully considered.
“The laundry is like a zen space with bare stone,” he says. “We wanted these different moods and the landscape of rooms. We wanted to create a rich tapestry in this house.”
The owners now each experience the house differently, highlighting separate aspects of the building as their favourite parts. It’s quite an achievement when the site is not enormous. Maybe it’s not size that matters so much after all.
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