In what turned out to be a fairly hectic week we hit a very welcome speedbump in the form of enforced rest and relaxation at a new apartment block launch, of all places.
The apartment block was Portman on the Park in Sydney’s Green Square where Mirvac launched their latest concept with an evening of meditation, massage and mineral water.
You can hear all about that and what’s so different about this project on the podcast where we also caught up with architects Tina Engelen who co-designed another iconic, environmentally conscious block, the Altair in Sydney’s Kings Cross.
So what has changed in her view of her job in the 20-plus years since the Altair was built? A lot but she still constructs great big wide buildings that are really a series of independent towers stacked side by side.
You’ll hear Tina and her collaborator Will Fung talk about the challenges of creating more intimate areas in massive buildings too. You can find out more about the Portman on the Park here.
Then we move on to the NSW government’s Real Estate Experts panel which has been set up to make the industry more responsive to the needs of their consumers (it says here).
Great idea – shame they didn’t include any consumer groups around the table. Look forward to more reports on people telling us what they think we should have rather than us telling them what we need.
And finally, there’s a tribute to Barry Dickson, who was the real Darryl Kerrigan of The Castle, holding out in his little bungalow on a corner as high-rises went up all around him. That’s all in this week’s Flat Chat Wrap.
Transcript in Full
It’s been a busy week in strata-land.
Well, we were at what is possibly the most relaxing launch of a new apartment building, ever.
And, all sorts of announcements from the government, so we’d better get cracking! I’m Jimmy Thomson; I edit the Flat Chat website and write the Flat Chat column for the Australian Financial Review.
And I’m Sue Williams and I write about property for Domain.
And this is the Flat Chat Wrap.
We were at a very relaxing launch (it was kind of weird, to be honest), at the Mirvac Portman on the Park building.
It’s centered around wellness; everything’s very healthy and sustainable and green. The building’s meant to make you happy and relaxed, so they tried to make us happy and relaxed at the launch.
Well yes, to give us a sense of what it might be to live there, because they’ve got a building in George St (an office building), which has a ‘WELL’ rating, and they want that to be the first apartment building in Australia to have a WELL rating, so I had a quick look at what gets you a WELL rating.
Clean water, clean air and good light, so basically anything that helps you to be physically and mentally healthy, is going to get you those things. We had a water sampling…
A water tasting, and because I don’t drink, I thought I’d be really good at the water tasting, but in fact I was rubbish.
Almost got them all exactly wrong! We had very nice food; very healthy food and then we were all taken into a darkened room and we had to meditate.
We had a guided meditation…
Which I found quite stressful.
Because you had to breathe at the same time. There was a special length of breath that you had to have, which was a bit beyond me.
‘Hold your breath for eight seconds.’
That’s not relaxing at all!
I was gonna fall off the chair. I was sitting there in complete darkness and then suddenly, I feel these hands on my shoulder, around my neck, and I thought ‘oh here we go, my previous life has caught up with me!’
Yes, and because I’m a boxer, one of my favorite movements is when someone comes at you from behind and you do a back-of-fist at someone, to get them on their nose and it was all I could do, to not do that and I’m so glad I didn’t. There were a team of masseurs, giving us a neck massage.
Yeah, neck and head. It was very nice, actually, once you relaxed into it, but this is all part of their wellness thing, and then we got to look at the interiors.
Well, the film was on…
Yes, there was this amazing 3d film, showing the building and where it would be. Will ordinary people who go to sign up for buying off the plan; will they get that?
Yes, because it was more of an impressionist film wasn’t it, really? It didn’t show you so much about the apartments. It just gave you this wonderful feeling of luxury and a great feeling of being in a city of lights and what it was going to be; the sentiment and the emotions that you might feel in this new place. It was really quite interesting, and the film showed over the ceiling and on the floor and on the four walls and at one point I thought ‘oh, I feel a bit dizzy,’ because it was moving constantly. You close your eyes for a second and then you’re okay again.
I spoiled it for myself by noticing that one of the CGI characters that they showed sitting at the café, was also walking down the street.
I don’t know how you notice these things!
It’s ruined so many films for me. Then, we went out and we saw the interiors and I thought it was really interesting, because as with most new apartments (depending on how much you pay or what your tastes are), you get different finishes, so we’re in the show apartment; in the kitchen and the bathroom and the bedroom and all that, but then they had images (big screen images), of, ‘this is what the interiors like, if you choose these finishes’, but then they click a button and here is what it looks like, if you choose these ones. It’s the same kitchen layout, but with the different finishes.
This is such a good idea for people like me, who don’t have much imagination and can’t really picture those different finishes in situ. It was a real revelation; I thought it was fantastic.
And then we got to speak to Tina Engelen, who’s part of our history, because she designed the building in which we live. Twenty years ago, or more than that, Engelen designed this building and she’s designed the Portman on the Park. I had a quick chat with her and it’s a bit noisy in the background, because of all these people eating and drinking. It was very interesting, because I asked her what she would do now that she wouldn’t have done 20 years ago, and this is what she said.
Tina Engelen 05:53
The one thing that I’m doing now that I wouldn’t have done 20 years ago, is allowing the interiors to be designed by somebody else.
Right, because interiors were your thing.
Tina Engelen 06:05
Interiors and exteriors and the way they work together is my thing and I don’t really see where one stops and the other starts. So, that’s something that’s changed.
We had a chat about collaboration, and appropriately, we were joined by Tina’s collaborator, Will Fung, to discuss what it’s like working together and the way they like to work.
Just being older and wiser, I see architecture more as a team effort now. I think all the team needs to be acknowledged, like a film. So, you know, there isn’t just one person; there is one person that might do the first scratches and then other people come in and make those scratches better. By talking to each other, we all make it better together. So, I think that’s something I might not have understood when I was younger, because we had a lot of other issues to deal with. We were trying to change the world and so all energy was going into that. So, maybe as we get older, we obviously get wiser; we get kinder, we get more mature, we get deeper.
So, this Portman in the Park has three towers; Altair has two towers… Is this your thing, that you create kind of, isolated buildings within the building?
Tina Engelen 07:18
Yeah, they’re neighboring buildings. They’re like terrace houses with multiple apartments inside. They’re like the Sydney terrace house; they don’t have the 900-gap between the two houses (which is pretty useless anyway), so why not just use that space back within the apartments? By putting them together, having different lobbies, you break down the mailboxes, you break down the interactions between the people. You can say ‘I live in building Block B.’ You can have an ownership to where you live, because you have a community within your little termite nest. Your termite nest is joining up with two others to share the amenities below. That’s all cost-effective, so again, it comes to substance. Hopefully, it’s giving more for less, but we all know because of the silly Sydney real estate, and the negative gearing, it isn’t actually happening.
Do you think buildings have been (getting back to the idea of splitting the building in one, two or three); do you think buildings can get too big?
Will Fung 08:15
Absolutely! I think out of the rationale of this splitting the lift core’s down, is also getting these cross -ventilated apartments. Because you’d have a big corridor with 20 apartments, they’re always split. One half to the other.
Tina Engelen 08:30
Like in New York, in gangster movies; you always saw those hallways. That’s what we try to avoid and that’s how we get our cross-ventilation.
Will Fung 08:39
It is a planning control now, that you have to hit a quota of cross-ventilated apartments and all that sort of stuff.
Tina Engelen 08:44
We were doing that before. Now, there are rules for the worst offenders. Unfortunately, sometimes the good guys, like the turtles, get caught up in what I call the shark nets. We could be doing even more or being better, but we have to now tick all these little boxes, which are possibly holding us back.
Really interesting, that idea of the three different towers; that’s kind of signature for her. The Portman is a big building but it’s basically three towers side by side.
Just like our building is.
Ours is two towers, yeah, and it’s because she doesn’t like the idea of long, scary corridors.
Which is a great idea. In our building, we’ve only got three other apartments in our lobby, so it makes it much more intimate than if you had a really long corridor and lots of different people all living in the same lobby. That’s a real kind of luxury touch, I think.
Tina was there with her collaborator Will Fung, and they have a company now called CO-AP. It was funny, because I also asked him what he would do now, that he would never have done 20 years ago. He said, ‘turn up at an event like this’, because he used to be so shy. Look, we’ll put more detail on the show notes and there might even be an article about this online, about the Portland on the Park.
It’s at Green Square.
It looks really stylish and oh, one of the wellness factors has just occurred to me… We’re talking about the water and the light and the air… The stress of not having high levies, because they don’t have a swimming pool. They don’t have a gym; all these facilities are nearby. So that sort of takes a little bit of stress out your life.
Yeah, that’s a good point.
All right. When we come back, we’re going to talk about the government’s new real estate expert panel; who’s on it and who isn’t. That’s after this.
Sue, are you across the new expert panel; the real estate expert panel?
Yeah, there’s quite a lot of people on it, isn’t there? I think you noticed that there was a significant sector of the market missing.
Yes. So, they’ve got the Strata Community Australia, who are the strata managers, basically. They’ve got the Real Estate Institute, of course. They’ve got the wool growers; somebody from the wool-growing people (I don’t know what they’re doing there). Who they don’t have, are apartment owners or tenants.
So, the consumers, the end-consumers?
The least important people in the whole thing, are the people who inject all the money into the system. They’ve got the Property Owners Association, which is basically for landlords, but they don’t have the Owner’s Corporation Network, and they don’t have the Tenants Union. Now, to be fair, I called up both of those bodies, and said, ‘how do you feel about not being on this government real estate experts panel,’ and the reaction was pretty much the same, which was, ‘I don’t need to be on any more committees, but we should have been on that one.’
Yeah, because I guess, the Owners Corporation Network is volunteers, so they’re having to give up huge chunks of their own time to appear on those and the Tenants Union work quite long hours and they’ve got a lot of responsibilities.
I asked the government people, the Fair Trading people, why they didn’t have the Owners Corporation Network, or the Tenants Union and they said, ‘this is for service providers.’ I guess we just have to live with that.
What kind of things will they be advising the government on, do you think?
Well, I guess when you think of real estate generally, and you’ve got rentals and buying and selling and you know, all that stuff… I didn’t notice anybody there from the developers. It’s that kind of that nexus, where the provision of accommodation one way or another, meets the clients, but not the owners or tenants? I guess that strata managers; it would be good for them to be talking to real estate agents, because their interests, obviously, crossover, if not collide. It does sound a bit like an opportunity for a bunch of people to get together. I mean, their first meeting agenda is going to be, ‘what are we going to be talking about?’ I don’t think anybody really knows what it’s for yet, but let’s hope it’s going to make everybody’s lives better. Also, last week, the government had a go at Labor, because Labor (I think it was a private member’s bill), called for an end to no-fault evictions, which is basically, as it stands in New South Wales, when your lease is up, (or at any point, given enough notice), your landlord can come along and say, ‘okay, I want you out by this date.’ Usually, the reason for that is so that they can put another tenant in at a much higher rent, because if they just tried to put your rent up, you could go to tribunal and say, ‘look, this is excessive.’
Yeah, because you’re only allowed a certain percentage rise.
Yeah, they calculate how the markets going, et cetera, et cetera, but it tends not to be at market rates. A lot of people think ‘well, what we really need if we’re going to have people living in apartments or anywhere and renting; they should have some security of tenure.’ If every six months, the landlord can come along and say, ‘alright, I want you out,’ either so that you can get a new person in or so that you have to sign a completely new rental agreement, it just makes the whole thing so uncertain and a bit unfair.
Yeah, because if we’re saying renting is a lifestyle choice, it doesn’t really become a valid lifestyle choice if you’re going to have to upend all your stuff and move along every time the market goes up.
Labor had supported a private member’s bill to change that and the government; the Fair Trading minister, said this was an attack on landlords.
Oh, good god! Most landlords are pretty fair and reasonable, and they want to have good tenants and they want to have tenants who are going to stay there for a period as well, so to lump them all together like that, and to try and pretend that it’s an attack on them…
Is to make it politically partisan; it’s ridiculous! We’ve been banging on for ages about strata not being in Fair Trading because Fair Trading has so many other issues to deal with… I was just reading today; there’s the Fair Trading minister, off giving his tick of approval to show bags for the Easter show. I mean, that’s the level that we operate at. Bloody show bags, you know, and last week there was a story in the paper (that we talked about), about the woman who found out that her apartment had been given a Certificate of Occupation based on a false certification. So yeah, go and check your show bags, but do your job when it comes to people’s homes!
That’s right. It shouldn’t be just about a nice publicity opportunity with an Easter Bunny. It should be actually getting down to do this work, to safeguard the quality of people’s lives.
People are putting their life savings into these things, and they’re getting ripped off and the Fair Trading minister is running around, checking show bags. Right, maybe you’ll find some certification in those show bags! When we come back, we’re going to talk about another thing to do with government, which is the Airbnb short-term holiday blacklist. That’s after this.
Right, so there is a black list?
No, there isn’t.
Okay. Well, there was always plans for a black list.
There’s an invisible blacklist.
How can you have an invisible…Is that a whitelist?
I don’t know. It’s not a whitelist. Okay, time to talk sense…
The government brought in a code of conduct for short term letting and as part of that, there is going to be a register of everybody who’s doing short term holiday lets, and as part of that, there was going to be an exclusion register for people who had misbehaved. So, hosts, properties, or guests could be excluded from either letting or renting short term holiday lets, if they misbehaved twice in two years.
Okay, so if guests booked an Airbnb rental and had wild parties and created damage, or for hosts…
If they encourage that.
If they really upset the apartment building…
Or even houses, if it’s a house. The government said, (I can’t remember exactly how they’re going to do this), but at the beginning of December, they said, ‘we’re going to crack down on party houses.’ Everybody went, ‘yeah, great, thanks, and what about the register?’ They said, ‘well, we’re working on that, and we’ll have that ready for June.’ It came up in Parliament last week; somebody was saying, ‘well, what’s happening with this register; what’s happening with the blacklist, the exclusion register?’ They said, ‘oh, it’s planning; planning has got it, so, you’ve got to ask planning what they’re doing with it,’ they being Fair Trading. I asked planning and I asked Fair Trading. ‘What’s happening?’ I asked, ‘have you got anybody waiting to go on the blacklist; people who have misbehaved twice already and there’s been complaints…Is there anybody waiting?’ I got this interesting, kind of convoluted answer. What they told me was, ‘well, there is no blacklist because there’s no register, but people who would have qualified to be on the blacklist have been told ‘you would be on the blacklist. So, you’ve got to stop renting or letting, holiday lets.’”
Wow! So, are the actually stopping? We don’t know, because they’ve not received any publicity.
Well, here’s the other side of this. When the register and the exclusion register come into force, the platforms like Airbnb, and Airstayz and rental agencies, have to take those properties off their list and they have to ban those people from going on their list. They don’t have to do that, yet.
Wow, so they’re still out there, the bad…
The baddies are still out there, and the bad properties are still listed, but the people who run them have been told to stop doing it. It’s just kind of really messy.
Well, why don’t they just publicize it? Why don’t they give their names to us? We’ll publicize their names.
Yeah, okay. I think it’s because they don’t really want it. You know, this secret blacklist thing is such a piece of nonsense. For all we know, it could be one person or one property, or it could be 100. They’re just not very forthcoming in that regard. Anyway, it’s been a while since we’ve talked about Airbnb. I feel like it’s like chatting with an old friend.
Or an old foe, I suppose
Talking about old friends, Sue, you had a bit of sad news in the past week?
A few years ago, I did a story about a man called Barry Dixon, an amazing man. He was kind of like Darryl Kerrigan of The Castle. He was holding out in his little house; he was surrounded by big apartment towers and he was determined that he wanted to live in the house that he’d lived in for many, many years, since he’d married. He refused to sell up to the developers so that they could take over his space as well. He lived there in his little house with his Hills hoist in the backyard, with all these apartment towers, and all the resident’s kind of looking down on him, but he lived there very, very happily for many years. Well, when I say happily, he loved being there, but his wife died, and he thought it was possibly the strain of the developers wanting them to leave. He unfortunately died last year, and the house is now up for auction and probably a developer will buy, because it’s a valuable bit of space there. It’s also got rights to the access of the three-level basement carpark of the apartment building next door. It’s probably quite valuable for a developer to have, but it’s kind of sad. It’s a bit like the end of an era really. It’s in Kogarah, and this little nice house with a white picket fence is probably going to be gone very soon. I think it’s been a bit of an iconic sight for a lot of people driving on the Princes Highway.
I looked at pictures and you can see the building next door to it that’s gone up has a blank wall overlooking it, and you think the developers are going, ‘yep, as soon as you go, we’ll just tack another bit of the building onto the side of it.’ Sad story. They could get Tina Engelen to do it; she likes separate towers. There will be links to most of, if not all of these stories on the show notes that go with this podcast on the Flat Chat website. Sue, thank you for giving up your valuable time again to be with us.
Great pleasure, Jimmy, always.
And thank you all for listening. Bye Bye.
Thanks for listening to the Flat Chat Wrap podcast. You’ll find links to the stories and other references on our website www.flat-chat.com.au And if you haven’t already done so, you can subscribe to this podcast completely free on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your favorite pod catcher. Just search for Flat Chat Wrap with a W, click on subscribe and you’ll get this podcast every week without even trying. Thanks again. Talk to you again next week.