Designing regional homes vs city homes – What’s the difference?

mark lawler architects residential home

What’s the difference in designing and building a house in the city vs a regional area?

The houses we see published in magazines and featured on TV are generally the best examples from the major capital cities within Australia.
These projects have set a high bar using the very best materials, finishes, with large spaces and are usually located on spectacular sites.

These houses are also built with spectacularly large budgets. Such high end houses have a universal attraction and spark a desire to try to achieve something similar in quality. Hence, these are the types of houses clients typically bring to meetings with their Architects to discuss their own projects.

#1. The brief is different

Although everyone’s budgets will vary (particularly compared to these very prestigious houses), generally the accommodation we seek in a family home is much the same.

A typical brief is for four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a powder room, a double garage, possibly a study, open plan living/dining/kitchen with generous decks and terraces for outdoor living.

Included with this accommodation is usually the desire for a large kitchen, well appointed bathrooms, customised lighting, ducted air conditioning and generous amounts of glass for good light, ventilation and outlook.

#2. It’s all about the value of real estate

Real estate values set an economic framework for most buildings in most locations.

The size of a house that is built and the budget that is allocated, in most cases needs to be related to the potential selling price to avoid over capitalising on this large, important investment. For example, building a substantial house for a cost of $1.5 million dollars in a town or a suburb where the highest recorded selling price is $650,000 is a poor decision.

The prestigious houses constructed in capital cities reflect the local real estate values, but also the generally higher construction costs associated with building in a capital city.

The higher building costs are due to the cost of labour and the higher cost of living in larger cities, transport costs, the often restricted building sites.

These houses also include many highly customised and labour intensive details. So, within this economic setting in a capital city, almost everything to do with the construction of a luxurious house is based on the higher costs in this setting.

#3. Construction + land costs are wildly different

Offsetting these higher land and construction costs are the substantial higher sale values that can be achieved.

A capital city usually enjoys a much more varied market and particularly many more people with large incomes.

In the more prestigious areas, the market is highly contested with much competition amongst buyers to secure the better houses.

In a capital city, it is a truism that the more money that is spent in building a house the higher the selling price may be. In other words, the construction cost is usually justified by the investment returns through capital gain when the property is sold.

In capital cities, there is almost an unlimited “top end” which is only regulated by the current supply and demand. When the land value in these prestigious suburbs can be $2 million, $3 million, $4 million or more the house that is built must reflect the value of the site otherwise an owner will run the risk of under capitalising.

#4. Regional and city market values are world’s apart

In regional centres such as Newcastle, there is generally a different economic framework. The land cost is lower (compared to capital cities), the resale values are correspondingly lower.

These factors result in a different set of aspirations and attitudes in our clients and the house market. Due to the property valuations, there is more limited finance available.

In a regional centre there is usually a quite well defined upper limit on the highest price, or resale value of any house in a particular suburb. The pool of buyers is generally not large enough to allow for an unusual peak in the selling price due to intense competition.

All these factors influence the decisions our clients will make on the size of the budgets for the construction of their houses.

As architects operating in a regional centre, our challenge is to deliver the same standard of design, quality and finish in a new house for a much lower cost compared to houses in a capital city.

While it is impossible to deliver an identical result to the best houses in Sydney or Melbourne, it is possible to achieve a very high standard using clever design and with the careful selection of materials and products, for example selecting $50 per square metre tiles in lieu of $200 per square metres tiles.

The tiled wall or floor may look much the same, but the actual cost is much lower.

#5. Regional houses use different construction methods

Another distinction with regional houses compared to those in the cities is the methods of construction used.

In regional areas, the construction must be more closely based on traditional, residential construction to achieve an economical outcome.

In capital cities, often more commercial techniques are used (e.g. steel framing and suspended concrete).

By using more traditional construction systems familiar to most house builders, it is possible to build an economical envelope with an attractive appearance. This then allows more money to be spent upgrading the finishes internally to provide higher quality bathrooms, kitchens etc., which can deliver “more bang for the buck”.

So, while the accommodation within a house in Sydney or Melbourne maybe very similar to the accommodation provided in a house in Newcastle or other regional centres, there will be substantial difference in the construction cost.

The capital city house may have a construction value of anywhere from $2 million to $5 million dollars.

The equivalent house constructed in Newcastle is more likely to have a construction value of $1.0 million to $1.5 million. Typically the houses designed by architects in a regional centre are below $1.0 million.

So, there may be some initial disappointment when a client realises that those spectacular images they have seen in magazines of multi-million dollar houses in the capital cities is beyond their budget. However, it is still possible to achieve an outstanding result using creative design and lower cost methods.

The houses featured on our website show examples of how this can be done successfully. Of course, this difference in the houses and building costs is more than offset by the quality of the lifestyle that we enjoy living in a regional centre.

Get in touch with the team at Mark Lawler Architects today – we can help you with your house design in Newcastle and the Hunter.



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