Working From Home Sees Aussies Prioritise The Home Office
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Working From Home Sees Aussies Prioritise The Home Office

Additional space for working or schooling is proving to be invaluable for homeowners and potential buyers alike

By Kirsten Craze
Mon, Apr 4, 2022 11:20amGrey Clock 5 min

Working from home was once seen as a temporary measure amid the pandemic, but many have embraced it as a permanent change that’s shaping purchasing decisions.

Luxury buyers have long had a home office high on their wish lists, but now just one dedicated space isn’t enough.

Lockdowns saw parents both try to remotely hold down full-time jobs alongside homeschooling children from primary school to university age. As a result, families are now seeking versatile floor plans that can cater to two, or sometimes three, home offices.

Data from NAB, outlined changing homebuyer priorities since the pandemic and highlighted the increased demand for a work or study area. Of the property professionals surveyed (including investors, real estate agents and developers), 86% revealed a separate work area was more important today than ever before.

The findings were unsurprising, given that more than 40% of employed Australians were regularly working from home in 2021, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

And the shift was evident in buyer behaviour with an extraordinary 1107% rise in searches for the term “home office” on property portal Domain in July 2021 for the state of Victoria—the country’s most locked-down city. The search term doubled in New South Wales, its most populous state.

Two Is Better Than One

Anna Porter, a buyer’s broker with property firm Suburbanite, said with working from home and blended study environments all under one roof, purchasers were seeking innovative solutions to get the most out of their square footage.

“In 2022, a single desk in the back of a family room won’t cut it anymore,” she said.

“Working from the dining table may have been a great band-aid solution while you juggled home schooling and mandatory lockdowns but for a longer term working solution it is critical to have a great space that you can thrive, be creative and really enjoy being in.”

Aussie homeowners and potential buyers are getting creative and looking beyond just another bedroom for their office spaces. They are considering all areas, from the attic or basement, to the garage or even the backyard, according to Ms. Porter.

“For as little as $10,000-$20,000 depending on size, quality of fit out and location, you can get a full home office in your yard and in some areas this can add an additional $50 to 100 per week to the rent if it is an investment property,” Ms. Porter said.

This house on the NSW South Coast sold in 2021 for $3.27 million and has a home office with artists’ pods in the gardens.
Cullen Royle Property Purveyors

What Buyers Want

In an ideal world, high-end buyers are seeking separate spaces as different family members are often simultaneously on the phone, conducting zoom meetings, or needing quiet time.

“But to get two offices into a house you’ve got to steal about 215 square feet of space, which is the size of a single garage and it can be tricky to do it as separate spaces,” Ms. Porter said.

With so much time spent at home over the past two years, Australians are now imagining how they might better use the space they have in their homes.

“If you think about your laundry, your dining room, your attic, your basement; how many hours a day are you spending in those spaces? Compare that to how many hours you would be spending in a home office space? So there are better ways of using space,” Ms. Porter said, adding that it is now a no-brainer for vendors seeking top dollar to show buyers how a home can work for them.

“Homes which already have an office or two laid out are definitely selling at a better price, and faster. If buyers can’t figure out a way to get the office spaces they need, they’re walking away from them.”

Deborah Cullen, selling agent and co-director of Cullen Royle Property Purveyors, specializes in luxury regional homes and has seen a large swing towards multiple office spaces at home. 

“People are mirroring what they had in the city in order to work from home in their country or beach property. A lot of our clients work a couple of days here, a couple of days there, so both partners want to have their own space. Plus they would like a study space for their children,” she said.

Ms. Cullen said when her team lists a home, the key today is to show the versatility of the property and that can come across in the presentation and styling.

“It’s about showing flexibility, demonstrating the option of an office, or two, is there if you want it, but those rooms can be used for other things. So it’s not about spaces necessarily being locked into formal offices, but allowing for the freedom to choose.”

“We never presume to know how people want to live, work and play. But it’s a really exciting time because there are no rules. Even though lockdowns look to be over, so many businesses are saying to their staff ‘You’re free to work from wherever’.”

Caption: For sale by expressions of interest, Brindley Park is a grand estate on 330 acres with both heritage and modern buildings including a freestanding library and office building.
Cullen Royle Property Purveyors

 

Make Space Work

Buying a home with a spare bedroom is the obvious choice for an extra work space, however with Australia’s skyrocketing property prices, each additional room sets buyers back between $250,000 and $550,000,especially in Sydney where the median house price is now just under $1.4 million.

Donna Allen of The Space Within, an interior designer in Sydney’s prestigious Northern Beaches, said savvy homebuyers are looking at ways to make spaces flexible without losing a family or dining room to an office full-time.

“You can morph an underused dining room into an office and still retain it as a dining area. By creating built-in joinery with a desk and storage, it can be made to look more like a traditional dining room sideboard. One day it’s a dining table, the next it could be your quote-unquote conference table.”

Some spacious under-utilized rooms can become two quite easily, according to Ms. Allen.

“I’ve got a project at the moment where we decided to put a glass wall up in the middle of the rumpus room with a sliding door to create two functional offices. If it’s just one of them at home, they can open the doors between spaces so it feels more spacious. They’ve also got some soundproofing and opaque glass for privacy.”

Located in the Southern Highlands south west of Sydney, this home has a purpose-built separate building acting as a home office with its own fireplace.

Cullen Royle Property Purveyors

She added that dual offices at home will likely become the norm as each family member has their own needs.

“The reality is, if it’s just quiet work and you’re not on conference calls, you can almost work from anywhere. But with kids at home doing classes online, and parents on Zoom, you need more than just the kitchen table, you want to actually close a door,” she said.

Open concept has been a style favourite in Australia’s contemporary home designs, however the pandemic could be changing that, said Ms. Allen.

“Although I don’t think open plan is going anywhere soon, people do want spaces that can be closed off so are really starting to rethink the trend to go open plan. Rather than knocking down all those walls, people are now more open to conversation around keeping a few in, more than they would have been just two years ago.”

 

Reprinted by permission of Mansion Global. Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: April 3, 2022.



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They Were About to Move In When the Ocean Almost Washed Away Their New Home

Gail and Ron Fink’s property in Jupiter Inlet Colony sustained major damage during an unusually windy day. ‘The whole backyard is shot. All the landscaping is gone.’

By E.B. SOLOMONT
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Gail and Ron Fink weren’t home the day the ocean swallowed their backyard.

The Florida couple, who are in their 70s, were a few miles away on Feb. 6—an unusually blustery day in the Sunshine State—as waves pounded their beachfront property in Jupiter Inlet Colony, sweeping sand, dirt and trees out to sea. When it was all over, the Finks’ newly-built, roughly 10,000-square-foot home was intact; so too was their free-form swimming pool, improbably balanced on exposed concrete-and-steel pilings.

“That’s what saved the whole thing,” said Ron, founder of an air- and-water purification company. “The pilings are holding up the house and pool.”

Gail and Ron Fink recently finished building a roughly 10,000-square-foot home. PHOTO: JAMES JACKMAN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Drone footage and pictures from local photographers and the Finks’ builder show the severity of the destruction, which left their pool suspended in the air, with pipes protruding from the earth. Town officials said erosion claimed 7 to 10 feet of sand and created steep drop-offs in front of about half-dozen homes, including one belonging to Kid Rock , the rapper-turned-country rocker, who paid $3.2 million for the property in 2012. Conair heiress Babe Rizzuto also sustained damage to her property down the street, which she bought for $6.3 million in 2015 and currently has listed for $22.5 million, according to Zillow.  Neither responded to requests for comment.

But the Finks house, located just past the end of a granite revetment wall—a kind of sea wall—bore the brunt of the heavy wind and waves.

 

“The whole backyard is shot. All the landscaping is gone,” said Ron. Also gone are fully matured Palm trees and an ipe-wood deck. “It’s out floating in the ocean someplace.” Ron is self-insured and the repair work will be quite expensive. undefined

A New Jersey native, Ron is an engineer by training who worked at nuclear-testing sites in California and Nevada before moving to Florida in the 1980s. He is the founder of RGF Environmental Group, which makes air- water-and food-purification systems.

For almost 40 years, the Finks—who have three adult children and eight grandchildren—have lived in Admirals Cove, a gated community in Jupiter about 5 miles from their new house. They paid $180,000 for the Admirals Cove lot in 1987 and built a roughly 6,000-square-foot house, Ron said. The Finks also own homes in the Cayman Islands and Bahamas.

Until now, the Finks have lived in Admirals Cove, about 5 miles from their new house. PHOTO: JAMES JACKMAN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Ron said they began looking for property in Jupiter Inlet Cove years ago. “It’s a neat place, just a closed little colony right on the ocean, low key and quiet,” he said.

About 20 miles north of Palm Beach, Jupiter Inlet Colony is at the southern tip of Jupiter Island. The town, founded around 1959, has approximately 240 homes and is surrounded on three sides by water—the Atlantic Ocean, Jupiter Inlet and the Intracoastal Waterway. Long a destination for wealthy homeowners, homes in Jupiter Inlet Colony tend to trade for between $2 million and $5 million, although one sold for $18.6 million in January, according to real-estate brokerage Redfin. Last year, a home on the Intracoastal sold for $21.4 million, a record for the town.

In 2020, the Finks paid $4.9 million for a vacant beachfront lot and subsequently built a coastal-style house with a copper-and shake-style roof, covered loggia, pool and outdoor fire pit. “You know, it’s kind of a dream home,” Ron said. “We have built quite a few homes, but this is the end of the line for us, hopefully the last one.”

He said the property originally belonged to the singer Perry Como, one of the town’s first residents. A prior owner demolished Como’s house, and when the Finks bought it, there were concrete-and-steel pilings sticking out of the ground.

Ron Fink said he never removed about 60 pilings, he simply added roughly 30 more. “Now I’m glad I did,” he said. (Pilings are based on the design of a house, so Ron retained some pilings that he didn’t necessarily need.)

John Melhorn of design-build firm Thomas Melhorn, which built the house, said the Finks were a final review away from obtaining a certificate of occupancy when the backyard was destroyed. “They were right there at the goal line,” he said.

The Finks’ house and pool are standing on about 90 concrete-and-steel pilings. PHOTO: JAMES JACKMAN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Melhorn said the erosion began in late October amid unusually high winds and ocean swell. During the first week of February, sand beneath a row of sea grapes that stabilized the dunes between the house and ocean began to wash away. By the evening of Feb. 6, the plantings disappeared. The yard was gone by the next morning.

Melhorn said a pre-existing, low wall between the ocean and house—described as a cinder-block retaining wall on land surveys—also washed away, as did a walkway and steps to the beach. But he said the 2-foot-high wall was less of a retaining wall and more like a curb between the street and sidewalk. In this case, a prior owner used it to hold sea grapes back from encroaching on the property. The Finks replaced the wall with decorative stone, now lost to the ocean. An outdoor fire pit is still there, cantilevered over the ocean. “We tried to pull as many things out as we saw the erosion coming, but we lost a lot,” Melhorn said.

In Florida, erosion is increasing because of more frequent, more severe storms and sea-level rise, said Cheryl Hapke, a research professor at the University of South Florida and the chair of the Florida Coastal Mapping Program. But she said it isn’t just hurricane-level storms that cause major damage. “One thing I have found about barrier islands [like Jupiter Inlet Colony] is that sometimes a series of smaller events can have as big an impact as a major hurricane,” she said. “But people get caught off guard. It’s something they don’t think of.”

In Jupiter Inlet Colony, longtime residents said this month’s erosion is the worst the area has seen in years, possibly ever.

Mayor Ed Hocevar, who has lived there for 17 years, said it has been a particularly cool and challenging winter with an abnormal number of Nor’easters. On Feb. 6, local news channels warned of high winds, with gusts between 40 and 50 miles an hour. (There were also reports of an earthquake off the coast that week, causing high waves.)

Since the 1980s, Jupiter Inlet Colony has had a granite rock revetment wall that extends from the northern end of the community past 11 oceanfront homes. “But we’ve got 28 homes along the beachfront, so it isn’t complete,” Hocevar said. “Where the wall ended is where the significant damage occurred.” Hocevar said he doesn’t know why the wall wasn’t completed, although local lore is that homeowners building the wall ran out of money.

Last week, the town hired a local mining company to bring in 7,000 tons of sand to replace what washed away. Hocevar said it would cost about $500,000, which will come out of the town’s reserve fund. Long term, he said, extending the revetment wall isn’t a strong possibility.

Hapke, the coastal geology expert, said that in recent decades, sea walls and hardened structures have fallen out of favor as scientists discovered they are detrimental to the environment around them. “Storm water wants to flow, so it will redirect water to the area without a sea wall,” she said, adding that the most ideal long-term solution is to move homes away from the coastline.

 

Hocevar, 67, who has been mayor of Jupiter Inlet Colony for about a month, said the town is working closely with the Department of Environmental Protection on its response. He said the DEP’s recommendation, should erosion like this occur again, is to bring in more sand. Hocevar emphasised that the community is rallying together. “Think about it as a fortress and your wall has been breached,” he said. “You want to protect your neighbourhood and that’s what we’re trying to do here.”

Holly Meyer Lucas of Compass, who represented the seller when the Finks purchased their property, said Jupiter Inlet Colony is a “special little enclave” where sales exploded during Covid. “Listings sell after a day or sell off-market,” she said.

Lucas said the consensus among local real-estate agents is that property values will hold, despite the erosion. “I think this is a really rare, weird, fluky event,” she said. “I’ve sold everywhere up and down the coast and I’ve never heard of anything like this.”

The couple were close to getting their certificate of occupancy for the newly-built home. PHOTO: JAMES JACKMAN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Babe Rizzuto, whose house is two doors down from the Finks, listed her house for $24.5 million in December 2023 and cut the price to $22.5 million on Feb. 6, according to Zillow.

“She’s going to continue to sell,” said Milla Russo of Illustrated Properties, who is marketing the property with her husband, Andrew Russo. “Even though the timing isn’t great, it is what it is.”

Russo said there has been erosion in the past, and during hurricanes residents of Jupiter Inlet Colony are the first in the area to evacuate. But in general, people are not preoccupied with the weather. “Maybe because we live here, when the hurricanes come, we all have hurricane parties. We go to people’s homes and we barbecue and grill. Of course we’re careful and we lock up and all that, but weather is weather,” she said. “We’ve never been terribly scared.”

(The Russos were also involved in selling the Fink property. However, in 2020 the closing agent on the deal, Florida-based Eavenson, Fraser & Lunsford, PLLC, sued Milla Russo and Illustrated Properties as part of a commission dispute. The seller, Michael Cantor’s Range Road Developers, was named as a defendant and cross-plaintiff in the suit, in which a judge ruled in favor of Eavenson, court records show. Milla Russo declined to comment on the suit. Eavenson declined to comment beyond the judge’s findings and Cantor did not respond to requests for comment.)

Ron was also matter-of-fact about the state of beachfront living. Bring a life jacket, he jokingly told a photographer who inquired last week about taking his picture.

However, the Finks are facing weeks of costly repairs. Although the town is bringing in sand to replace the decimated beachfront, the couple is self-insured and will be on the hook for the cost of rebuilding. Several major home insurers have pulled out of Florida, and Ron said insurance on the house would have cost $100,000 a year. Now, he estimated they could face about $1 million worth of repair work. “We gotta eat it,” he said.

The couple, who was supposed to move into the house this month, has put those plans on hold—for now. An engineer recently inspected the property and deemed the house safe, Ron said. “We’re doing wallpaper today,” he said. “We can put it back together again.” The patio and pool area, meanwhile, are roped off while the area underneath is backfilled with sand.

Ron said being near the ocean makes it worthwhile. “I just love the ocean, we both do. It’s important to us,” he said. “It isn’t easy to look at, but I’ve been through a lot worse.”

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