Rising house prices will improve apartment living

Another weekend, another friend anxious about buying a house, another group of people stopping me in the elevator for the “inside scoop” about whether it’s good to live in our building. Maybe it’s a bubble but at least for now property prices are continuing to rise causing concerns about affordability. Yet I predict that at least one good thing will come out of this: the governance of inner city residential buildings will improve. In the past, Australians would only live in the suburbs, leaving city apartments for “visitors and students, temporary contractors, some empty nesters and some committed dinks“, i.e., people like me. As house prices increase faster than apartment prices, an increasing number of Australians and permanent residents are now choosing to live in apartments in the city. It’s already happening quite a bit in our neighbourhood. This will finally put pressure on body corporates, lawmakers and Councils to improve the governance of apartment buildings, which is presently very poor. In the past, residents of apartments were an unimportant constituent (non voting, and without a long-term interest), and most owners were just distant investors. As a result the laws on apartment living and the governance processes in Australia are under-developed. For example, in Melbourne it is currently a tedious and long-drawn process to take action against a tenant/owner for bad behavior and flouting the rules (I know this first hand as I sit on an owners corporation committee). Another example is parking, a big problem in residential buildings. On occasion we have found vehicles illegally parked in our spot. In Australia, a Body Corporate can do very little about this unlike in other countries. When we lived in Boston and Singapore such cars would have been towed away and a fine imposed, but in Australia all you can do is ask the Body Corporate to put a sticker on the offender’s car. They cannot tow it away as apparently a carpark is “private property”. Recent changes are promising and in the proposed Melbourne CBD parking plan for 2008-2013, concerns such as these may finally be addressed. This mini revolution is occurring because apartment living has become a serious housing option for Australians. It doesn’t require everyone and those with large families to move to the city, all it requires is enough momentum.