Eliza Macrossan on creating homes and communities where working from home facilities, are top-of-mind

Our CEO Kirsty Chessher-Brown interviewed Eliza Macrossan, Acquisitions Manager at AV Jennings on creating homes and communities where working from home facilities, are top-of-mind

Eliza Macrossan, Acquisitions Manager AV Jennings

2021 hasn’t been the smooth ride we were all hoping for on a COVID front, but the property market has been a shining economic light.  What are you seeing on the ground?  Who’s buying?

It’s a roller coaster ride!  We are experiencing fluctuations in sales rates that we’ve never seen before.  And when you look at the timing of fluctuations, they align with COVID news on border reopenings, lockdowns, new infection rates and so on. 

South East Queensland is the most volatile of all.  We’ve seen surprisingly strong sales in South Australia, which is encouraging. But, in Victoria and New South Wales we’re not seeing a lot of strength in that market at the moment.

While we’re not ‘post-COVID’ quite yet, what long lasting impacts do you think the pandemic will have on the way we deliver spaces, places and homes?

We are a huge believer in COVID providing us with an opportunity to reset.  In July 2020 AV Jennings set up a COVID design division, where we started focusing on changing the design of homes and townhouses, to reflect what we believe will be the new norm. I really cannot see companies moving back to Monday to Friday, nine to five in the office. I think work from home has been there, but there hasn’t been the confidence I suppose in employees to do the right thing. Companies have been forced into that now and they’ve been pleasantly surprised that actually it does work. So, I think, with our designs that we’re working on, we’ve dedicated not one but two workspaces which we’re starting to roll out. Those workspaces can be sealed, so it’s not just a nook next to the kitchen, it will have a door that will close it off.  The two spaces are reflective of mum and dad being at home, and possibly kids as well and both needing a space that they can hold meetings, without people walking backwards and forwards behind them and all the things we’ve seen online!

We also see that there’ll be more need for things outside of the home, especially when we’re looking at new masterplanned communities. We’ve always had parks and cycleways but it’s got to be more than that now. So, park areas will need to double as work from home spaces. We’re looking at areas within parks that have a roof, and potentially have sliding walls that can be closed, so that people can go into a gazebo and work from there. All our future parks will be Wi Fi enabled and have charging points, which is a huge step.

Another element we’re considering is hygiene areas when you walk into the house, where you could wash your hands or hang up your mask, because I think masks will be with us for a very long time. As well as lockable delivery boxes to provide an area where you can get all of your home deliveries placed into a secure area.

What is the greatest challenge you are currently facing as a business in getting stock to market in Queensland?

One is rare land availability. I’m predominantly speaking about South East Queensland, but we’re certainly facing this challenge across all of the states, trying to find sites at a price that’s cost-effective is really difficult. Moving past the point of acquisition, assuming we can get it at a commercially viable price and terms, the planning, legislative framework is difficult, and becoming more and more difficult. For example, in a Priority Development Area we now have to allow two years to get an approval in Ripley and a million dollars. It shouldn’t be this hard.  Unfortunately costs just keep piling one on top of the other. We’re developing in an area that we’re trying to deliver for an affordable market.

We need more structure planning, and we need to work out a way of working with those areas which were not structure planned properly many years ago.  In those areas, I think there should be flexibility and I think most developers try to work with the authorities and work out a way of facilitating new schools, parks, and health facilities.  That may mean that we need to consider alternative models in developing those facilities, and that may include more vertical integration, particularly of schools.

We just need a lot of the departments, particularly at State government level, to communicate and be willing to come to a meeting. I had a very refreshing email the other day from a director within the planning department, and he said, ‘let’s have a meeting and roll up our sleeves and make this work’. I think with more collaboration, more brainstorming between developers, and the government, we’ll get better outcomes all round.

Thinking ahead to the next 12 months, what is your prediction on how the property market will perform and are there any potential showstoppers?

I believe it will get stronger. I don’t think people will forget about the COVID experience quickly and I think it will remain in people’s psyche particularly out of Victoria where they’ve spent so long in lockdown, and even New South Wales. Queensland, whether it’s a result of climate, management, our government, or a combination of all those things, we’ve managed to present ourselves as a safe and secure place health wise. And I just think that more and more people over the next 12 months will make the move to Queensland.  I can’t see the South East Queensland property market slowing down for at least another 12 months.

With a Federal election likely on or before the first half of 2022, what are the critical issues from a property industry perspective that you’d

First and foremost, infrastructure. There’s certainly been some really good leaps and bounds on infrastructure, for example the connection of the highway between Brisbane and Sydney. However, we are so constrained in terms of availability of land in South East Queensland that really our only options at this point involve looking further afield.  When we consider doing something to the north, our options are constrained by the potential of improving the Bruce Highway.  People want to be on the Gold Coast but that is physically constrained by the ocean and the mountains.

On top of that it’s also public transport infrastructure . I think public transport has taken a hit with COVID in terms of people’s confidence of being in such a confined space, but realistically people can’t afford to constantly take their car, so I think high speed rail, certainly to the Sunshine Coast has got to be looked at.

The only other point I would raise in a federal context is management of a growing population, who need access to affordable land, and the management of habitat to support biodiversity.  The federal government could go out there and buy land, and control it in some form or fashion, and ensure the future of our biodiversity. For every developer that is removing a section of potential habitat, they could contribute to the sanctuary, or the upkeep, instead of having all these little offset patches of land owned by developers everywhere.