01 Jun How things have changed
A new report says that most Australians have identified a 4 bedroom/2bathroom home as their ideal property. So how does that compare to the homes of our parents and even our grandparents? Bernard Salt says what were considered luxuries for our parents in terms of housing was 3 bedrooms and an indoor toilet. My how things have changed.
Kevin: Gee, we have seen house styles change over the years, haven’t we? I reflect back on my parents’ house and even my grandparents’ house and how the yards are getting smaller but the houses are changing. I was driving around some of the areas just last weekend looking at some of these more contemporary homes, and it got me wondering about Australia’s current favorite house versus the homes of our parents and our grandparents.
A report is out saying most Australians have identified that a four-bedroom, two-bathroom home is their ideal property. It got me thinking about how that compares to the homes of our parents and our grandparents. Joining me to discuss this, Bernard Salt – demographer, futurist, and commentator, and also from KPMG.
Hi, Bernard. Have these things changed much over the years?
Bernard: Hi, Kevin. No, in fact, our housing styles and preferences have changed mightily over the generations. What our parents considered luxurious, we would consider to be quite basic. I can remember in the 1960s living in country Victoria when the sewerage went through was a big deal to actually have a toilet inside the house as opposed to having an outside toilet.
At that stage, the three-bedroom brick veneer with one bathroom and an inside toilet was considered to be the height of luxury. That was the pinnacle of the suburban dream for Australians, whereas today we’ve lifted the bar quite considerably. What we expect as a basic standard of living has, in fact, skyrocketed in a generation.
Kevin: Now, it’s not a matter of whether the toilet is inside; it’s a matter of how many toilets we have inside.
Bernard: In fact, that’s correct. Now, it’s four bedrooms, two bathrooms. Back in the 1950s and the 1960s, where it was three bedrooms, one bathroom, there were probably four kids – or more – so you might have the boys in one bedroom in bunk beds and the girls in another bedroom, and you’d have one bathroom shared amongst five, six, or seven people in a house.
Today, it’s four bedrooms, and the number of kids has shrunk to two, so each kid gets a bedroom, the parents get a bedroom, and there is a spare bedroom, and there are two bathrooms. Really, this is not the minimum, but is certainly what most Australians – certainly out in suburbia – would aspire to.
Kevin: Of course, we’ve seen the blocks of land reduce in size and the houses go up to two levels, so the houses have gotten bigger on smaller blocks of land, as well, Bernard.
Bernard: This is very much the case. I suppose it’s the land component that is the expensive part. In fact, it’s halved. A quarter-acre block is about 1000 square meters. Today, if you go to the edge of Brisbane, Sydney, or Melbourne, you’ll have some land packages typically around 500 square meters. We’re building houses on an eighth of an acre – and even less in some places – but the house has doubled if not tripled in size.
I think this is partly because if you go back a generation, there would have been a veggie patch, there would have been a chook shed, there would have been an incinerator – can you believe it, people used to burn stuff in their back yards – a compost heap, places for a trailer, or a few fruit trees, It was almost an era of self-sufficiency, whereas today with both parents working, you don’t really have the time to actually tend a garden as such. It’s just easier and more convenient to buy it at the supermarket.
Kevin: Of course, many things have impacted these changes, among them being technology. The television has now become the media room. And even as you mentioned earlier about the toilet coming inside, all of these things are advancements, and it’s changed the Australian dream for a home, hasn’t it? It’s evolved.
Bernard: It has indeed. The back yard is no longer a back yard; it’s another room, in fact, to be prettied and to be organized. The barbeque area has come back up onto the deck, which we now call al fresco. It’s indoor/outdoor. I don’t think there is a television room anymore because I think there is a screen in pretty much every room – greater flexibility and fluidity of usage around the home.
I think that the kitchen is actually merging with the lounge room, so if you were sitting on a sofa, for example, there will be cup holders. You have the kitchen functionality invading the living room or the family room. Our houses are much more fluid than they once were. Instead of dedicated spaces, there are multi-purpose spaces, and every individual in the house gets far more individual space or private space.
If you’re one of four boys in a bedroom – as I was; I grew up with three brothers in two bunk beds – there was no privacy and you had to wait your turn for the bathroom, of course. That’s a very different lifestyle to the lifestyle we enjoy today.
Kevin: You talking there about outdoor al fresco areas, Bernard. I remember one of the great things in our home was when Dad built one of those Besser block barbeques out the back, but now they are full-on entertainment areas, aren’t they?
Bernard: They are full-on entertainment areas. There will be sinks, there will be mini bars, there will be a [5:31 inaudible] as well as a six-burner barbeque. And then it will be on a deck or an al fresco terrace overlooking manicured lawns with box hedging and whatever.
The old days of a bit of a back yard with back yard cricket – well, there are fewer kids per household, there are fewer kids in the neighborhood, so you can’t really put together an impromptu game of cricket, anyway. And besides, the desire to play cricket, football, or netball is met these days not so much by an impromptu street game but in fact by organized after-school sport. So if you have everything organized after school, then you don’t need that space in the back yard. That, I think, is the logic.
Kevin: Bernard, do you think it’s likely that Australia’s fascination with huge houses and multiple living spaces is going to continue, or are we becoming more miserly and more frugal as a nation?
Bernard: I think there is a backlash in some areas where there are people who are seeking out smaller, more efficient spaces. That’s clearly a movement. But I think that the mainstream of Australia will still want four bedrooms, two bathrooms, and possibly even more in the future.
I think if you could magically transport a four-bedroom, two-bathroom home back to the 1950s and say, “Well, this is how average Australians will be living in the year 2016,” they would say, “Well, that’s far too much space. It’s wasteful.” This was a generation that would have remembered the Great Depression and fought in the Second World War.
Equally, if you go forward to, say, 2050, I think we would be quite shocked at the level of materialism, space, privacy, and communications technology that would be in the family home in 20 or 30 years’ time. Every generation feels comfortable with their space, their time, their housing, but these things do change over time.
Kevin: A fascinating subject and I wish we could project ourselves 20 or 30 years down the track, Bernard. As you say, I guess we probably would be horrified at the sheer waste.
Bernard: The sheer waste, but I imagine also at the cost. I have no idea what a house is going to cost at that time. It would also be great insight to know which are going to be the hottest suburbs in every city and which ones are going to go through the greatest transformations. So this was a down-and-out suburb back in the old days of 2016 and then it went through this great transformation. Which are those suburbs? That’s the greatest insight in property perhaps.
Kevin: Yes, I think I’d much rather look at what are going to be the burgeoning areas as opposed to how we’re going to be living in 30 years’ time. I think I’d become a lot more wealthy by knowing that, Bernard, that’s for sure.
Bernard: That’s true. Or understanding what drives us, whether it’s new technology, whether it’s new infrastructure, whether it’s just the invasion of a particular social group. Who are going to be the hipsters of the 2020s and 2030s? They might be the Techsters – as in the technology people. Who knows? That’s the fascinating part about demography. It can convert into property and the trends.
Kevin: Yes, the wonderful part of what you do. Bernard Salt – demographer, futurist, and commentator from KPMG.
Thank you so much for your time, Bernard.
Bernard: My pleasure.