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Basement conversions rescue ageing block

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The conversion of unused basement spaces to two new flats and the purchase of common property to allow the extension of existing properties, have financed a major upgrade to a 1930s Sydney apartment block.

And this could be a template for the renewal of older blocks across Australia, writes Sue Williams,  as new building techniques and residents’ attitudes to smaller spaces open up opportunities for better use of neglected areas of deteriorating buildings.

The 1930s building overlooking Bondi Beach was badly in need of repairs and upgrades of its electrical system and plumbing when new strata renewal laws kicked in in 2016

Those laws allowed a majority of 75 percent of owners to redevelop and sell off parts of their common property to finance improvements to the rest of the block.

Now a one-bedroom apartment created out of a formerly dark, dingy and neglected basement is for sale for about $800,000 and a second flat is slated to be rented out, offering a regular income for the block.

The unit for sale is one of four new homes built in unloved and unused areas of the building in a project that’s showing the way forward for old strata buildings throughout Australia that are past their use-by dates.

Maintenance

With judicious planning they can raise funds for vital maintenance, updates and renewal work, and to add new facilities. Many of the flats in the block now have balconies while others have terraces.

“In terms of a lot of old buildings in need of major renovation work because of a lack of money spent in the past, or sheer old age, it’s a great way of subsidising the redevelopment work,” Ed Archibald one of the owners, told Domain in the SMH and Age.

“I’d encourage other old buildings to consider this way forward too, and start the conversation. We’ve had a fantastic result.”

Originally built on a slope, the structure had pockets of under-utilised spaces, like the communal basement area which had been used as a common laundry. But, over time, it had become cluttered with old surfboards, abandoned motorbikes and broken IKEA furniture.

The block, at 101 Ramsgate Avenue in North Bondi, had received minimal maintenance over its lifetime, and was in urgent need of remediation work and improvement. To raise funds for the work, the owners looked for any unused spaces that could be sold off.

Balconies

The owners decided to divide it into two new lots instead, build apartments in the spaces and sell them off to help pay for the rest of the work done on the formerly 18-apartment building.

With design by Giles Tribe Architects, the overhaul included installing balconies or terraces for every unit, rebuilding the facade, replacing the asbestos roof, and upgrading the electrical, plumbing and fire systems.

“It’s now like a new building,” said Caroline McConnachie, general manager of strata specialist builder MAX Build which undertook the project in early 2018.

“It’s had such a major upgrade, there won’t have to be any money spent on maintenance for a while, which is unusual for a 1930s building!

A strata loan was also raised to pay for part of the work before the new spaces could be sold off.

“It makes sense for buildings to borrow to finance the new work when they know they’re going to be receiving funds later from the sale,” said Lannock Strata Finance chief executive Paul Morton.

Now the first newly created 63-square-metre apartment – the new No.20 – has been put up for auction on October 10, in a sales campaign being watched closely by owners from other old buildings in Sydney.

“It’s beautifully built as a new apartment in a building that’s effectively a new building,” said McGrath Estate Agents’ Angus Gorrie who is expecting around $800,000 to be paid.

“It’s just in a beautiful location in that North Bondi-Ben Buckler pocket. In the first two days of the campaign, we received over 80 email inquiries.” 

While the new apartments were being created out of neglected spaces, two owners opted to convert 5.4-metre-high storage areas above their garages into studio apartments.

Additions

Meanwhile additions were also put on top of the two penthouse apartments, building into the block’s roof. All those owners paid into the building’s funds to be allowed to carry out those works.

The whole project has gone so well, Mr Archibald, who runs a family investment business, is now looking around at other new buildings with the potential to be improved, funded by the sale of unused space.

“I think in terms of maximising the efficiency of buildings, it’s a fantastic way to go,” he said. “We created those two new apartments, but still managed to keep a small communal laundry downstairs too, so we’ve still maintained all our services.”

The owners corporation is planning to lease out the second new apartment in the short-term to provide an income stream for the building, and maybe sell it off later.

Ms Connachie sees huge potential for so many of Australia’s ageing apartment buildings, with more than 100,000 built before 1990, and nearly 12,000 with three or more lots registered in Greater Sydney before 1980.

“This is much better than knocking down old buildings and replacing them,” she said. “As long as a building has some spaces it can adapt, or has air space that can be built into with a council that permits this kind of work, then there is so much that can be achieved.”

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