Feature article

More homebuyers are sacrificing space due to reduced budgets

Help clients visualise how they could live in the home, even if it seems a bit small at first.

New Zealand home buyers are adapting to higher mortgage interest rates and affordability constraints by buying smaller homes than they’d initially planned, according to our State of the Nation Property Report for September.

In the report, which surveyed home buyers and home owners, 41% of respondents were open to sacrificing the size of home they were buying in order to stay within their budget, compared with 28% in our last report.

In the report, Loan Market mortgage adviser Paulette Trotter noted that some of the families she was helping in her East Auckland market were buying two bedroom homes instead of three bedroom ones, and the children were sharing a bedroom.

In these situations, it’s helpful if agents are able to help their clients visualise how they could live in the home, even if it seems a bit small at first.

Dressing the house for success

And how those Tommy’s Real Estate agent Alice O’Styke says if a small home is elevated by windows, a great outlook and or a sun deck, it does much better with buyers.

Built-in storage can also make a big difference to property seekers. Alice says homes with built-in cupboards in the bedrooms, hallway and linen cupboards make a difference. Basements or garages can also prove ideal for people who are happy to store things and live clutter-free.

The layout of the home is another important ingredient. The Tommy’s agent has a small property coming up in central Wellington which has such a good layout that the current owners (a family with two children) have lived there without any problem.

“They’ve done the spaces so well and there’s good-sized furniture. And there’s such great sun there, that people will value that over a bigger, darker house,” she says.

When it comes to staging a smaller home, Alice likes to use clear chairs, mirrors, good lighting, and put baskets in storage spaces to show buyers they work.

Bringing in some architectural nous

It may be that buyers making some space sacrifices with their next home purchase need a design eye to help them visualise how they could live in a small home. If thinking visually isn’t your thing, you can consult with or recommend architects and interior designers to help clients on how they might use the space.

First Light Studio architect, Nick Officer often helps friends and clients when looking at a home to buy. He helped friends turn their two bedroom, one bathroom Lower Hutt home into a three bedroom, two bathroom home a few years ago. He didn’t change the footprint of the house, just flipped where the living room, kitchen and dining space were with the bedrooms, took out a sunroom - and in doing so found space to add an extra bedroom and a bathroom.

“It’s more about making sure the spaces are designed for what they need to be and getting rid of space that’s not used,” he says. It’s important not to compromise on function, he adds.

“They love this house, they never thought they’d live there longer than five years but they love it, and the location, and it works for them,” he says.

Bay of Plenty architect Stephen Bird says the important thing in making a small home feel bigger than it is, is its volume.

“When homes have smaller footprints, you have to think about how to set up the rooms, how you’ll live in them, furnish them and move around in them as well,” he says.

The architect is a big fan of verandah spaces that the living space can flow out to and being inventive about how you access and store things.

Stepehen says there’s also value in thinking up - he’s put in a mezzanine space on the top level for the main bedroom.

Materials are important too, adds the architect. In one recent home he used a lot of plywood in ceilings, as well as white walls and lighting to enhance the space.

Removing the numbers from the buyers’ minds

Thanks to the way Stephen has designed the Mt Maunganui home to have high ceilings, this 112 sq m three bedroom home feels like it has the same habitable space as a 150 sq m property, says the property’s agent, Danielle Hayes from Eves.

Thanks to its clever architecture and aesthetic, the home is appealing to a wide range of buyers.

Danielle has designed her own bespoke homes, and her advice to agents is to remove the numbers, when showing a small home.

“You could have three apartments of 90 sq m and based on layout, they could feel quite different in size. It’s all about the configuration of space,” she says.

Potential expansions are always worth flagging

Though it will likely seem obvious to an agent, buyers may not have the experience to pick up on obvious ways to expand the home in the future, letting them know and giving them all the information can help. Barfoot & Thompson agent, Sam Bowen is selling a near-new two bedroom, 82 sq home which has the future option of adding a third bedroom and a garage thanks to its generous 340 sq m section.

Other owners of homes in the same Glen Innes development have done this in the years after buying, he says. And he’s telling buyers about this.