Shrinking backyards are changing the face of Australia

Smaller housing blocks may be keeping prices affordable but at what cost to the traditional “Aussie” way of life.

Australians love of the single detached house with a “quarter acre” block is strongly embedded in our culture and often referred to as the “Australian Dream”.

However, as we approach another Australia Day, the tradition of the backyard barbie and game of cricket may soon be a thing of the past as more Australians are either choosing or being forced to settle for a smaller backyard.

Up until the end of the 1980s, nearly all suburban houses in Australia had (by world standards) large backyards.1 In the 1990s, the focus changed and the era of the “McMansion” was born with multi-storey houses taking up more space at the expense of the garden.1

Now, however Australia is no longer building the largest houses in the world – recently losing its two-decade title to the United States.2

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has found that, the average floor area of a newly-built detached Australian home built in 2015/16 stood at 231 square metres down from a record 247.7m² in 2008/09.2

According to the report, Victorians are building the biggest houses – an average of 241.1 square metres in Australia, ahead of Queensland (237.7) and New South Wales (227.4).2

Driven by the need for more affordable housing and changing lifestyles, in addition to smaller houses, we are also seeing narrower frontages with little vegetation, leading to a surge in display homes that maximise every square metre of these smaller sites.

According to a recent Daily Telegraph article headlined “Living on Squeezy Street”, overall lot sizes near Penrith and other areas in Sydney’s southwest have shrunk dramatically.3

The latest Urban Development Institute of Australia figures report that the average median new lot size nationally is now 453 square metres, down by 4.3% over 2015, and down 12.2% since 2010.4 This is a far cry from the roughly 1000 square metres Aussies once aspired to own!

The average block of land in Sydney now sells for $440,725. In 2015, lot prices jumped by 30% up from an average $745 per square metres to $973 per square metre.4

Despite the prohibitive cost, many still desire a reasonably sized backyard for entertaining options and to give the kids somewhere to run around – especially in the vain hope of tearing them away from various household screens.

In terms of adding value to your property, the backyard can still be seen as a positive asset in many ways including:

  • the ability to add a studio, granny flat or pool
  • larger blocks offer increased capital gain over apartments in saturated inner/middle suburbs.

However, the changing way we live and longer working hours means that there are many advantages in having a low maintenance yard and house for this time-poor generation. Environmental concerns are also an issue – smaller houses and gardens use less energy and water helping with often stretched household budgets. The rising popularity of air conditioning and on-demand entertainment has also seen a trend towards a more indoors lifestyle.

Whether as a reaction to the soaring costs or by choice, Australian’s accommodation preferences are definitely changing to include a greater proportion of apartments, townhouses and smaller blocks of land.

McLennan Steege Smith & Associates (McSSA) can provide professional advice regarding the valuation of your property. We also have extensive expertise. Contact us today on 1300 852 639.


  4. file:///C:/Users/admin/Downloads/UDIA+2016+State+of+the+Land+Report.pdf