Why townhouses have an edge over apartments

New townhouses are being built in Auckland and Wellington and buyers are snapping them up. What's to like?

13 October 2020

Auckland has a number of attractive townhouse or terrace house developments springing up as a result of the Auckland Unitary Plan, which gives zoning for these higher intensity developments.

The main difference between an apartment and townhouse or terrace house is that the latter is typically on two or three levels and has some kind of outside space. A townhouse is also often on a strata freehold title.

Pete Evans, national director of Colliers, points out some key elements you should expect in a townhouse. Firstly, they should be close to town, or to amenities. In his experience, NZ townhouses more than Australian ones, tend to be developed in good locations.

Ideally a townhouse will be walking distance of the train, bus, restaurants and shops, he explains.

Colliers is marketing a new development of terrace houses in Manukau, Kotuitui, which has been selling very well, as it’s released to the market in phases. These Ken Crosson-designed, terraced houses all have courtyards extending from the living space.

“New Zealanders love a piece of land, their own piece of dirt. With most apartments you don’t get a very good balcony, but with townhouses you get a courtyard,” says Mr Evans.

Downsizing to a townhouse is easier than to an apartment

If it’s proximity to inner Auckland amenities you want, a new boutique townhouse apartment development, FOUR on SURREY, currently being marketed by Barfoot & Thompson’s Carl Madsen, ticks that box.

The off-plan townhouse on offer at 1/35 Surrey Crescent, is on a site just around the corner from all West Lynn has to offer.

1/35 Surrey Crescent, Grey Lynn

Townhouses can be surprisingly generous in size. This off-plan townhouse, designed by Goodison Architects, at four bedrooms plus a media room, is a much easier transition than an apartment, if you’re downsizing from a large family home, says Mr Madsen.

When complete, the bespoke development will have two townhouses and two apartments.

“The townhouses are over 190 sq m. They’re more like residences than bolthole apartments,” says Mr Madsen.

At a price point of $2.3 million for 1/35 Surrey Crescent, it’s a good alternative for people coming from a big villa who don’t want to lose the space, he says. “The children can come home and stay a week, but no more,” he adds.

And the new owner can spend their weekends having fun rather than painting rotting weatherboard, he jokes.

This small development has a body corporate but the annual fee is a very low figure, just $2500 per annum. The body corporate pays for insurance, maintenance, external things and when you do things collectively it’s cheaper, says Mr Madsen.

Developers putting their money where their mouth is

What’s good to know about this boutique development in Surrey Crescent and another project of six terraced homes planned at 641 Sandringham Road, is that the people behind the developments are planning to live in them too. So it’s in their interests to get the design and feel right.

Annette Church, an Anne Duncan agent, and her husband, are building six terraced houses at 641 Sandringham Road and they want to sell four out of six of them off-plan. To get the homes’ design right, Ms Church has studied other townhouses and terraced house developments for three years.

641 Sandringham Road, Sandringham

She thinks Auckland is going to see a lot of this type of housing in the years ahead. “Aucklanders need to get used to the fact that they’re living in a major city, and land close to central Auckland is going to be scarce,” she says.

“The reason we’re building the terraced homes is we want to live in something brand new. We’re in our late 50s, we don’t want to spend three hours in the garden, we’re at an age where we can travel,” she explains.

There were certain things Mrs Church was adamant about in her design of the three level homes. One non-negotiable was that the living, dining area on the second level should have a decent deck, something terraced homes often don’t have. The ground floor on her houses will also have a back deck with snug room for a trampoline if necessary.

The majority of the homes are a spacious 202 sq m, with four bedrooms and 3.5 bathrooms. The Anne Duncan agent wanted plenty of light, the three level homes are all north facing. They’re homes that families with teenagers will like, where people want separate spaces, she says.

Because it’s in a terrace housing zone, owners can work from home. At the five bedroom home in the development, the only one without a garage, you could work as a therapist on the ground floor, with a couple of employees if you wanted, says Ms Church.

The value for money a townhouse offers

What the agent likes about a terraced house is that it’s more value for money than a single home, she says. “Our terraced houses are about $7,600 a sq m which is far more economical than a house,” she adds.

The Anne Duncan agent saw a 1940s state home sell recently, just two bedrooms and 89 sq m, for $1.4 million. That’s more than $15,000 per sq m, she says. And then you would have to pay for a costly renovation on top of that.

Her terrace homes selling on strata freehold titles, are for sale off-plan at between $1.5 million and $1.6 million.

Buying a townhouse you’re buying into a community

With townhouses or terrace houses, you’re developing a community,” says Ms Church. “You’re going to be close to your neighbours,” she says. And she thinks people appreciate this more these days.

The agent is talking to couples living in apartments in town who are wondering about buying a bigger apartment, or alternatively moving into the suburbs and getting a brand new house. Sandingham village has a lot going for it, including good transport links and being in the MAGS school zone, she tells them.

Mrs Church has also met three groups of buyers currently living in the Epsom area who all want to sell massive homes for around $3.5 million, buy a brand new home, and stick the rest of it in the bank.

Buying off plan you can secure a house that is brand new in a year’s time, she says. After paying a deposit, you can keep saving, you don’t have to move out of your current place for a year, she says.