In this week’s podcast we dive into the exciting world of flat-sharing … something neither of us have done for at least 30 years.
How different can it all be in the Third Millennium? Well, for a start, we didn’t have the internet, where you can advertise your flat or yourself, including pictures, to see if you may be a better match than just turning up at the door with a deposit.
But there’s more than that. There are now all sorts of useful apps to help you function as a group of like-minded residents rather than just a bunch of people who share the rent, as well as prctical advice on how to be a better flatmate and how to get rid of someone who turns out to be a pain in the butt.
There are a lot of flat-sharing websites around but we focused on flatmatefinders.com.au and flatmates.com.au, which is where we found lists of the most and least expensive flat shares in Australia. You’ll find a guide to the apps here.
Also in the podcast this week we look back at the effects of covid, materials shortages and terrible weather and wonder if any off-the-plan developments are nearing their sunset clause deadlines.
And if so, who is more likely to tear up the contracts – the developers or the purchasers?
We take a quick look at a report that says our worst-designed buildings and suburbs are driving residents out of their overheated homes and into the air-conditioned cool of shopping malls.
And we ask why so many local government areas aren’t meeting their new housing targets. That’s all in this week’s podcast.
If you enjoyed listening to this podcast (or reading the transcript), please share it with your friends using the social media buttons on this page.
TRANSCRIPT IN FULL
Last week, we blithely advised listeners who are struggling even to find somewhere to rent, that they could houseshare.
They need somewhere to live. So we’re going to be looking at that whole house sharing thing in today’s podcast. And, we’re going to be talking about sunset clauses and how they can affect your decisions on buying (or not buying), off-the-plan. And, a couple of other things, that have come up in the news. I’m Jimmy Thomson; I write the Flat Chat column for the Australian Financial Review.
And I’m Sue Williams and I write about property for Domain.
And this is the Flat Chat Wrap.
So, having advised our listeners (who can’t afford to buy, or rent a flat on their own), to maybe consider flat-sharing, I had a bit of a look at that this weekend, to see how you would do it. I mean, it’s been so long, since we’ve shared houses with anyone and of course, since we last did it, the internet has been invented, and stuff like that.
That’s right. It always used to be notes on boards, if you were at college or word-of-mouth from friends and…
‘Room to rent.’
Well, they still do stick them on lampposts sometimes, don’t they? But that’s probably not a very efficient way of doing it.
Probably not, although it does get you people who are already living in the area. So anyway, I went online, and I found a few things; there’s a thing called Gumtree Share, or Gumtree Rent. But the two big platforms seem to be flatmates.com.au and Flatmate Finders is another one. flatmates.com.au is owned by realestate.com.au They bought it in 2016, for $25 million.
It claims to be the most visited website; Flatmate Finder claims to have the most properties and potential renters on it. Some of the figures that they use, it’s quite funny. flatmates.com.au says “we’re twice as big as our nearest rivals,” and then, they show you this graph, that shows that they have 90% of the market, which… So, it’s different figures, but let’s just say that there are two platforms that are big there. There are others, but these seem to be the biggest ones. The way they make their money is that you can list your property (or yourself, if you’re looking for a flat share), for free, but they’re limited; the free version is limited. If you pay something like $25 bucks, for between 10 days and two weeks of coverage, then you get more use and a more prominent listing of yourself, or your property. That looks quite good, actually. Certainly, the flatmates.com.au website is quite user-friendly. The tone of it is kind of young and light, as it should be. There’s lots of different bits of information in there, that tells you how to be a good flatmate and how to find the right flat for you, and lots of basic stuff. It also lists the most expensive and least expensive suburbs in Australia, in which to share a room, or share a flat. So we’ll have a look at them. I’ve got the cheap ones here, and you’ve got the list of expensive ones.
So where’s the cheapest place in Sydney to rent?
According to this, to flatshare; and this is the median cost, per room, per week. The cheapest is Croydon; $205 a week and it is nine kilometres from the CBD. Eastlakes (which is 6.9 kilometres away), is $210 a week…
It’s interesting; I mean, there’s a lot of development at Eastlakes. I think Crown Group are doing a big development, so you’d expect the prices to go up over time.
Yes. Centennial Park, which is very handy; $220.
That’s a suprise, isn’t it?
For a room, per week. Maybe it’s because of the kind of buildings around there. You know, they don’t have a lot of high rise around Centennial Park, but they’ve got a lot of old-style apartment blocks.
That’s true, and transport is a little bit difficult from there, as well. I guess with people going for flatshares, they’re going to be working and they need to travel to their workplace, if they’re not working from home. So probably, closeness to transport is a really high priority.
It’s not just proximity to the city that determines the price, because in this list of the ten cheapest, the furthest away is Hillsdale, which is $250 a week, and it’s nine; nearly 10 kilometres away from the CBD.
So it’s the quality of the accommodation; probably the number of available places…
And you might find in some areas that $200 or $250 a week, is going to get you a much bigger room, because the apartments might be bigger, or the houses might be bigger. Because we’re talking about houses as well, here.
Yes, absolutely. Well, it’s interesting when you look at the most expensive places to flatshare in Sydney; some of these are the ones that you’d expect, and some are surprises. Bondi Beach is the most expensive at $400 a week. Bronte, nearby, is $365, but then the surprising one is the Sydney CBD; that’s $360 a week. In the past, you’d have expected it to be one of the most expensive, but at the moment, property prices in the CBD are much lower and rents have gone down, because lots of overseas students, who traditionally rented in places in the CBD, are not there anymore. So they had to reduce their rents, but they’re obviously not reducing the rents by too much.
Well, this could be an out-of-date list, in terms of specific figures, because I noticed Haymarket is quite high, as well, and I think demand has gone down there. But you know, just as a general rule, the expensive flatshare places, are the places that young people want to be. I’m looking at your list there; I’m seeing North Bondi, Paddington, Rushcutters Bay, Tamarama…
The beachside places.
And that makes sense. You know, they’re paying for the lifestyle.
Yep, absolutely. It’s the same in Melbourne, but these are much cheaper than Sydney. Melbourne rents have always been cheaper than Sydney. The most expensive places are East Melbourne, Collingwood, Port Melbourne, but they start at $320 a week and then they go down. If you look at the top 10, the 10th most expensive on my list is Southbank, and that’s $260, and the most expensive is $320. Prahan, Balaclava, Fitzroy, North Carlton, Richmond; all those places. They are all really lifestyle. Where are the bargains in Melbourne?
Fairfield at $175 a week, and that’s 6.2 kilometres from the city centre.
Wow, that’s a huge difference, isn’t it, really?
Yes, that is a really affordable place to live, but you are a fair distance out, from the city centre. We know somebody who lives in Elsternwick, which is 7.8 kilometres from the city centre.
Yes, and that’s a great suburb.
And that’s $200 bucks a week.
Wow! It’s pretty good, isn’t it?
But you know, that would probably be in a house; a room in a house.
Not so many apartments around.
The other cheap places are Coburg North, $180. Braybrook, $185. West Footscray, $190. These are pretty cheap places to rent a room in.
You kind of think if you were a young person, starting out in your career, you might want to live in Sydney, but it might be much, much cheaper to live in Melbourne, if you could have a similar kind of job.
And if you’re a young person who’s just leaving home for the first time, house sharing, and flat sharing is a great way to go, because you’re living with people who kind of ‘get’ living away from home, already. They’re already doing it. They know the area. They know the best pubs, that kind of thing.
It’s a ready-made social crowd.
And it’s a stepping stone to the next phase, which is saving up to buy an apartment, or renting your own apartment.
My nephew rented a place when he first came to Sydney and it was great, because he had lots of flatmates who were all around the same age and had similar interests, which is an advantage of these flatshare platforms, because you can find people just like you. They were a ready-made social group and they moved from bar to bar and restaurant, to restaurant, and they all cooked for each other. They really made it work well, which is nice.
But it all starts to fall apart, when one of their flatmates; they discovered she was making her money on Only Fans pornography sites.
He didn’t tell me that.
Did he not?
There was a young woman in their flat, who was making a lot of money, doing online pornography.
Oh, wow! Goodness me!
Yeah, there you go.
I’ve had lots of flat share experiences, but we never kind of got really, really friendly. We got a bit friendly, I suppose. Actually, I remember; Jimmy that’s how I first met you! We were sharing a flat together! Oh my god!
There you go.
Wow, that’s only just occurred to me. Oh well, you might find future partner’s there as well, I suppose.
Yes. it’s always possible. Looking at Brisbane; again, a lot cheaper. The cheapest suburb is Rocklea, which is about ten kilometres from the city centre. Fairfield is about four and a half kilometres…
Funny, because we’ve got the same suburb name in Melbourne, which is one of the cheapest as well; Fairfield.
It must be a good place to start your search. Search for Fairfield in your city. There’s a few; Moorooka… These (I have to admit), are suburbs I have never heard of. That might explain why they’re among the cheapest, but $160 for a room per week, is pretty good going.
And the most expensive ones in Brisbane aren’t that much more expensive, because we’ve got Brisbane City, which is $290 a week. Newstead which is a great suburb; it’s a really good lifestyle place, is $280. Bulimba, $250. They’re not bad really, are they? Fortitude Valley is $250.
Yeah, I mean, it’s a kind of different culture up there, isn’t it; certainly in apartments, and there’s a lot of holiday homes, and things like that. I wonder if that keeps the flatsharing cost down? I don’t know. Certainly, they’re lower. Canberra; the cheapest, according to this list, is Mawson, because Canberra rental prices are quite high.
Oh, the rents are the highest in the nation.
So room sharing in Mawson would get you a room for $193 a week. Bruce for $200. The nearest cheap place to the city centre, is Ainslie, which is 3.7 kilometres away, and that’s $220 a week, for a room.
It’s not bad. I mean, in the Canberra CBD, I think that’s the most expensive at $330, and yo’ve got places like Weston.
They’re getting up to; certainly up to Melbourne prices, aren’t they?
They certainly are.
One of the places that rents have gone up a lot apparently, is in Tasmania. North and northwest Tasmania; rents have gone up 20% in Launceston, which I have to mention, is where my new novel is set. It’s not published yet, folks, so don’t be rushing down to your bookshops. But yeah, that area is booming. Partly I think, because of its proximity to Melbourne and Sydney; less than an hour and a half on a plane.
And for people want to get away from it all, it’s a great alternative.
It’s a great little town, Launceston. There’s a lot going on there. You’ve got that market and they’ve got lots of cafes. It’s a bit like New Zealand, I feel.
Yes, it is. I think my experience of Launceston was blighted by the time when I went there and I had to go and I was doing a book chapter on a family who were growing different teas and herbs in the countryside. It took me ages to get there, because the GPS wouldn’t work, because there was just no coverage. When I got there, they were doing everything by hand; no machines whatsoever and it was freezing cold. It’s in the middle of winter; everything was thick snow, and they had an outdoor toilet, which was bloody freezing! They asked me to stay, but I said “no, no, because I’ve got to get the plane back,” and I got completely lost on the plane back. They gave me some herbs to try…
On the way back to the plane; you didn’t get lost on the plane.
No, no, sorry; on the way back to the plane. And by the time I arrived, the plane was just about to take off and they delayed it, so I could get on the plane. But unfortunately, these bags of herbs broke in my haste to get on the plane, and I left this trail of really pungent herbs, all the way up. The passengers were already annoyed with me, because they’d delayed the plane for me and then the smell was just absolutely overpowering. So whenever anyone mentions Launceston, I kind of shudder a little bit, but that’s quite unfair, really.
It is! You can keep that to yourself when I do my book tour, if the book ever gets published. I’m looking for the very cheapest place on this list, to rent a room…
In Australia. It’s a tie between the Perth suburbs of Wilson and Dianella…
$150 a week and Adelaide has $150 also, for Rostrevor and Croydon Park. Interesting; Adelaide is a lot cheaper than Hobart. The cheapest one in Hobart is $180 a week. We know what your most expensive one is; is it Bondi?
Yep, that’s right. Bondi, at $600. Bondi gets the crown, yet again. Bondi at $400.
Right. $400, not $600.
Could be $600. Prices are going up so quickly. The other thing about these websites that really fascinated me, was all the other stuff. So you’ve got people advertising the rooms in their houses or flats… You’ve got people advertising themselves, saying “I want a flat share; come and get me.” You also have things that they organise, that they call ‘meetups,’ where you get people who are thinking of doing a flat share, and they get a chance to meet up and talk about what kind of flat they would want to have. Once they’ve decided they quite like each other, then of course (because flatmates.com.au is owned by realestate.com.au), they can just flick over to their listings for rentals, and find something there. It’s quite a clever thing. They also have a list of convenient apps, that you can put on. Things like a chores app, so you can say “it’s your turn to take the bins out; it’s your turn to do the dishes.”
Gosh, that would revolutionise flat sharing.
So everybody has this app on their phone, and they know “oh, it’s my turn to…”
Clean the cat litter, or whatever. They also have an app that allows you to record. Like, if you went out and bought pizza and beer for everybody, because you were the one whose credit card wasn’t maxed out, then you put that in the app and everybody is told that this is the share that you have to pay back to this person.
They have bills, of course; electricity bills and things like that. They have an app that tells flatmates where the other flatmate is, at any given point.
Oooh, that’s a bit creepy.
Well, I mean, it’s all consensual.
Oh right, so that people can keep an eye on each other.
Especially if you go out to a pub, or a dance or whatever, and one of the flatmates goes off with someone, and the way they word it is, if their date doesn’t work out, they can find you, and join in for the rest of the evening. I think really what they’re saying is, if their date really doesn’t work out, you can find them. Another app tells you what restaurants in your area are giving cheap takeaways, to get rid of their food at the end of the evening.
Oh, do they do that?
Apparently; I didn’t know this.
I didn’t either.
It’s a really good idea. Restaurants go on and say “look, all our kebabs are half price for the next two hours.” The food doesn’t go to waste and as we know, people who rent rooms in flats, tend to stay up late at night at the weekends, and that kind of thing. So there’s a lot of information on these things. I think it’s pretty good. When we come back, we’re going to talk about a topic that’s quite close to your heart, Sue Williams, and that is sunset clauses.
One of the best and most gratifying things you can do as a journalist, is you find a problem and not only do you expose the problem, but you get a solution; especially if they change the laws. And you managed this a couple of years ago, on the vexed question of sunset clauses. So tell us how a sunset clause works.
When you buy an apartment off-the-plan, there’s a date by which it should be finished. If it’s not finished by that date, and if it goes over by too much, the developer always had a right to cancel the contract.
As did the purchaser.
Yes, as the purchaser did, as well. But the problem was, in a market where prices were rising, it was discovered that developers were kind of deliberately delaying work in certain cases, so that they were able to legally cancel contracts. Then, they could put their apartments back on sale, for much higher prices. The difficulty was that it meant the people who had paid for the apartments; you know, put down their deposits in good faith, and waited for maybe a year, maybe two years, maybe longer for them to be finished, suddenly, were being refunded their money back, and they’d been out of the property market for all that time that prices had been rising, and they’d been ready and waiting to move into the new apartment, and suddenly, it was no longer theirs.
And people came to you with a story and in this particular case, a developer had bought the apartment block off the original developer, with the stated intention of letting the sunset clause run out.
I think he saw it was an opportunity to make some big money.
And he had already gone to some of the purchasers and said “if you give me a bit more money, I’ll let you buy the apartment. Otherwise, it’s going to go to the sunset clause.”
And the people who’d come to you; this guy had actually moved into their apartment, himself.
Yep. So the developer was living in their new apartment, which had just been finished.
And saying that it hadn’t been finished on time. I remember, I was in Victor Dominello’s office, and we were having a chat and he said “is there anything else going on?” And I said “you should read Sue Williams’ story, in the Sydney Morning Herald,” and he was absolutely outraged, and he got the law changed. So now in New South Wales; do you have to go to the High Court?
I think it’s the Supreme Court.
Supreme Court, not the High Court; that’s too big. You’ve got to go to the Supreme Court, if you’re a developer, and you want to argue that you have fulfilled the conditions of the sunset clause, which is basically that because of unforeseen circumstances, you haven’t been able to complete on time…
And that’s quite relevant these days, because with COVID, a lot of buildings have been delayed. And also with the supply constraints, the rising cost of building materials, the supply channels disruption in the market… I think a lot of developers are looking at their projects (and especially because prices have risen so much), and wondering if they could justify cancelling contracts under that sunset clause.
Also the weather has been a big factor, as well and buildings that are near completion. There’s also the other aspect of this, which is, you may have bought into a building in an area where prices have gone down. I know, there aren’t many areas like that, but where prices are likely to go down even more, if interest rates go up and you might be thinking, you may have made a bad choice here. So it’s possible that the purchasers could be looking at sunset clauses, as well. But, in most places, house prices are going up, so what should one be doing, to make sure that the developer isn’t swinging the lead and slowing down the project?
You should always be prepared really, for the worst possible outcome. If you can; if you live nearby the building site, you should visit it regularly, and take photos on your phone, and if you can, have them date-stamped as well. If you see that there’s nobody working on a site; if the site’s completely empty, that will be really good evidence that you might be able to present in court. If a developer replies and says it was beyond his control to delay work, and you can say “well, no, there was no work on this day; there was no work on another day.” If you don’t live very close, it might be a good idea if you’ve got a friend living nearby, or if you can speak to a local counsellor, or somebody from even a local shop, or something, and ask them to have a look from time to time, and take a picture for you. You know, you might pay them obviously, or you might go there, whenever you’re visiting the area. I think it’s really important to be forearmed with that kind of evidence, just in case.
I think the idea of taking pictures (and I do recall that case, that you highlighted all those years ago), they had taken pictures and videos of the building site. They had taken all the workers off the building site and they just had one person, who was basically going around sweeping and manning the security gate. They were able to show that there could have been work going on, but they’d chosen to stop the work, until the sunset clause had passed.
That’s right. And it’s also good to keep an email trail. It might be emailing the developer and saying “how are you getting on?” You might say “I know the date that you expected to finish has passed, but what’s happening now; when is the new date? How’s work going on the site?” That kind of thing. And if you keep those emails, and if the developer replies to you, then that will be very handy, as well.
And also try and get in touch with some other owners, because in the case that you exposed, the people who had ended up paying more; had agreed to pay more… Another, I think it was 15%, on top of the cost of the apartment, just to be able to move in. They were a bit annoyed to find out that the other guys had gone to court and won, and got to live in their apartment, at the agreed price.
It’s quite difficult, arguing against the developer in court. I mean, any court appearance is really stressful, so the more people you’ve got on your side, as you say, the better. Reassurance in numbers, really.
I can imagine that the developers, when you go to them and say “can you give me the address and the contact numbers of other purchasers,” they’re going to say “no, no, that’d be a breach of privacy.”
Good old privacy comes in!
You kind of have to be a bit more inventive, I think, in how to contact them.
Social media; even putting an ad in the paper. ‘Is anyone else buying in this development?’
Or maybe, they contracted another real estate agent to sell their properties. You might be able to get onside with that real estate agent and find out from him, or her. They may contact the other buyers on your behalf and tell them to get in touch with you. They probably won’t give you their email address or their phone number, but they can get in touch with them and…
Pass it on.
Yes, there’s stuff you can do. But I mean, there may be some bonafide cases of buildings that have been delayed, because of COVID. Workers not being able to get onsite, because of the weather; because of the supply-chain problems. There could be developments that are being delayed, through no fault of anyone’s, but you just need to keep an eye on it. And talking about buildings; a couple of pieces of news that have come out this weekend that are quite interesting, including a report on the heat in buildings.
Last week, we were talking about what has been described as a U-turn by the Planning Department, about sustainability measures, that are going to be compulsory under planning laws. The Planning Minister decided that he would take them out, because he wanted to make it easier for developers to build developments. There’s a report in the Sun-Herald this week, about an organisation called Sweltering Cities, and it’s been looking at how hot apartments and houses are in Australia. Apparently, they’re just built with very little insulation, and they just get too hot and then people are having to run air conditioning. This is exactly the kind of thing that was supposed to be introduced in these planning laws, and which the Planning Minister rescinded. The Sweltering Cities report says that 49% of people say that the design of the suburbs increases the heat, so it’s not just the design of the houses and the apartments, it’s the suburbs; there’s too much concrete and black tarmac. And you know, black roofs has been another issue.
Too-little tree cover…
And this report says 47% of renters will actually leave their houses or flats, to get away from the heat in high summer.
You know, they go to parks, they go to air-conditioned cafes, or whatever. And for some of them, they’re saying that the cost of running air conditioning, is actually more than the rent. So, there’s something seriously wrong there. It very much highlights a retrograde step by the Planning Department, who are quoted as saying that ‘the New South Wales Government was considering beefing up the basic standards for the design and materials used in buildings, to reduce the heat.’ Well, you just…
Yeah, so why are you looking at it now?
Yes, absolutely. And we know how important that is. In our apartment building, where we live, there are some apartments which don’t go all the way through the building. Most of the apartments go through the building, but some of them don’t. They’re just facing due north, and they get really sweltering in the summer. That’s one of the reasons that some people won’t buy in this building, because we don’t allow air conditioning on those floors and we don’t have the electrical capacity for air conditioning, either. So people find it really difficult in the summer, and particularly renters, because they’re not allowed to instal ceiling fans, or those kinds of things. They have to just make do with pedestal fans, so it can be really hard for them.
Ceiling fans work great.
They do, but if you’re a renter, you’ve got to ask permission to add one and the owner might not let you.
And you know, talking to the original architects of this building (which won an environmental award, because it had the flow-through natural ventilation), they said that originally, all the apartments went through the building and then the developer (or the person who bought the development off the original developer), cut some of the apartments down to smaller sizes, which meant they couldn’t have the flow-through. It’s just typical of developers, if you ask me. The building’s fine, but it is this lack of electrical capacity, to run air conditioners. I honestly believe that, because of the way things have worked out, and because of climate change, the people in the apartments that don’t have the flow-through air, would be allowed to have air conditioning, if the building had the capacity to instal it. Although, I don’t think that’s ever been fully examined, because these apartments are smaller, so they have less voting power and people who have more voting power, don’t see why other people should benefit, when they don’t.
That’s pretty grim tidings. We’re going into winter now, so I guess…
It will be forgotten for a while.
Yes, that’s right, and then it will be brought up again.
Bad timing on this report, you’ve got to think. Sweltering Cities’ coming out as we’re going into winter and people are going “what’s the problem?” The other thing that came out in the paper this week, is the majority of local council areas are failing to meet their targets for new housing and one of the problems highlighted, is building too many apartment blocks on the fringes of the city, where nobody really wants to live, because there’s no transport there. But you know, you come into the inner city, and you have suburbs and the North Shore, where they will desperately fight any high rise buildings. It’s almost like a religion. You can understand, when you’ve got a nice leafy suburb, with lots of little houses… It’s a nice place to live; you don’t necessarily want a huge high rise being built on the corner of the street. There has to be a compromise, though. I mean, there’s some really nice, low to medium rise buildings going up, but everything that goes above two storeys is being blocked, in some suburbs.
That’s right. I think some of those people were cutting off their noses to spite their faces, because when they get a bit older, they might want to downsize from their big house, into something like an apartment, which will be low-maintenance and easy to live in and easy to lock up and leave, and all that kind of thing. But, they can’t stay in the same area, if there’s no supply of those kinds of apartments.
You know, it’s evolving; it’s changing. Everything is so market-driven and it’s interesting that none of the political parties that are campaigning, are even talking about negative gearing, which was one of the issues that cost labour the election, even though every economist I’ve ever heard says, if you want to stop house prices getting out of control, get rid of negative gearing, even if you ‘grandfather’ it, and say it only applies to new sales. People just won’t go for it, because they feel like that’s money being taken out of their pockets. Alright, I’ve covered a lot of ground and it’s another fairly lengthy podcast this week. Sue, thanks for coming in.
Great, Jimmy. Thank you.
And I know when you kick me out (finally), I know how to go and find a flatshare! The links to all that stuff will be on the show notes for this podcast. Thanks for listening. We will talk to you again soon.
Thanks for listening to the Flat Chat Wrap podcast. You’ll find links to the stories and other references on our website flatchat.com.au And if you haven’t already done so, you can subscribe to this podcast completely free on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your favourite pod-catcher. Just search for Flat Chat Wrap with a W, click on subscribe, and you’ll get this podcast every week, without even trying. Thanks again. Talk to you again next week.