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FLICK THE SWITCH: All-electric sustainable luxury in Brisbane

FLICK THE SWITCH All-electric sustainable luxury in Brisbane

A former minerals explorer turned developer is proud that each home he and his team builds is more sustainable than the last. With a new luxury home called Vanquish in the Brisbane suburb of Auchenflower, this has culminated in a Passive House certified home that was offered to market for between $3 million and $4 million.

Vanquish, a speculatively built Passive House at Auchenflower in Brisbane has stirred a lot of interest since it came to the market with a sale price of between $3 million and $4 million.

Its sustainability features clearly intrigued, but so too the luxury positioning of the house.

Developer Harley Weston of Solaire says luxury is an important aspect of the property.

“The sustainable elements of these properties are expensive and, until we can convince people to pay five to 10 per cent more for their homes to be sustainable, we have to build premium houses in premium locations that can absorb the cost.”

Passive House consultant on the project John Moynihan of Ecolateral says sustainability is important to the luxury.

“If you’re paying for a premium product you want an unequivocal level of enjoyment from being in it – that’s what Passive House brings to the home.

“It’s quiet, it’s well ventilated, while maintaining a comfortable humidity and temperature and no allergens because the air is filtered down to a few microns.”

Surfaces are natural stone, low VOC painted finishes and New Zealand wool carpet. The tiles and porcelain benchtops are zero waste, manufactured with 60 per cent recycled water and 40 per cent recycled material. Even the tapware throughout the house is zero-waste Sussex brass.

Among the features are carbon reduced concrete, FSC and PEFC certified timbers, low VOC carpets and paint, carbon positive timber-based Weathertex cladding for the building fabric, and high-performance, thermally-broken windows and doors. Even excess Gyprock is recycled back into a soil conditioner that is used for food production just West of Brisbane.

The rooftop solar array is managed by a Control 4 management system coupled to an Australian made Redback energy three-phase, 10kW hybrid inverter and battery system.

The inverter and storage was about 40 per cent cheaper than the Tesla Powerwalls and paired 5kW inverters that Solaire has used in its previous projects.

Another innovation is a “green switch” that shuts down stand-by appliances when the occupants go out but leaves power on to DC variable speed, solar optimised pool pump, dishwasher, fridge, washer and dryer that can run while you are out.

Water heating is by an innovative air-source heat pump, developed with Stiebel Eltron, that incorporates a heating element. On sunny days, excess solar power super-heats the hot water supply to act as an energy sink, before exporting to the grid.

There is a pool that functions off-grid for days at a time and an overall Net Zero grid power consumption.

Even the electricity used to build the house was sustainable – sourced via an arrangement with the owner of La Fleur, next door, an earlier Solaire development.

Harley Weston says Solaire has been a sustainable developer from its first project at 85 Agnes Street, also in Auchenflower – a classic Queenslander that opens out into a modern rear extension – that sold for $1.9m in December 2017.

“I used to work in mineral exploration where I was able to witness the carbon cycle in person. It brought home how important it is to bring carbon dioxide emissions under control.”

Weston teamed with project manager James McElhenny and builder Paul McElhenny to do something about his convictions.

“I saw people spending their lives paying off expensive, poorly built and poorly performing houses. They were being sold pigs with lipstick, and that wasn’t fair. We knew we could do better,” Weston says.

“We could see that the industry was heading towards Net Zero so we thought we would get ahead of the pack. Every house we’ve developed has been more sustainable than the last, with Vanquish achieving Passive House certification.”

Every house has also been a test platform for sustainable technologies and techniques that Solaire can use on future projects, with the aim of increasing performance while reducing cost.

The challenge

Moynihan said that converting architect Joe Adsett’s original design to Passive House was a challenge.

The property has the typical high glass to wall ratio (R value around 0.8 to R value of about 2.5) that you would expect of a luxury Brisbane house with views from each floor, and standard thickness timber frame walls required the highest performing membranes and insulation.

“But the final result is great because we have this stylish, comfortable, sustainable, low-energy building that’s desirable for a broad range of buyers – not just those attracted by sustainability.

Another project by Solaire’s is next door,La FleurIt is of a similar size, orientation, build standard and uses passive design, but without being certified Passive House.

The juxtaposition of the houses has inspired a research proposal by the University of Queensland Centre for Energy Data Innovation to compare energy performance, air quality and comfort levels of both houses.

Other Solaire projects include Bellevue in Paddington, a Queenslander renovated beyond recognition, with sustainable features that earned it the title of “Brisbane’s most socially responsible home” by the Courier Mail sold for $2.36m in December 2018.

Cheval, at Ascot, an arts and crafts Queenslander on the outside and best described as looking like the Guggenheim Museum inside, renovated with sustainable materials, solar and battery storage system and underground pool water storage tanks under its tennis court, was sold as a house and land package with an undisclosed price believed to be around $7m.

La Fleur, was sold for $2.935m in 2018 and may be quietly on the market again, following the interest in Vanquish, for a price between $3m and $4m.

This story first appeared in The Fifth Estate’s Flick the Switch ebook, an industry guide to achieving Net Zero and all-electric buildings. Read it here.

This article is republished from under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article


Damian Clarke


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Cromwell Lands Former Flight Centre HQ


Brisbane-based fund manager Cromwell will add the former Flight Centre headquarters at 545 Queen Street in Brisbane to its managed portfolio.

Settlement is imminent for the $117.5 million acquisition being sold by Axis Capital, which bought it in 2017 for $70 million, in a deal that requires Foreign Investment Review Board approval.

The 13,300sq m, A-grade office building is located on a 2735sq m parcel of land at the entrance to the Brisbane CBD’s ‘Golden Triangle’ and has undergone an extensive refurbishment programme.

Hamish Wehl, Cromwell’s head of retail funds management, said the property fit its target profile with 88 per cent of income derived from the federal government, as well as listed or multinational tenant-customers

“The current interest rate environment has made things challenging for investors searching for opportunities that meet their income needs.

“Cromwell is actively seeking additional assets that will help DPF meet its objectives and benefit unitholders even further,” Wehl said.

DPF, which started in 2013, owns seven office and retail assets—in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and ACT—outright and has exposure to a further three with a total value of just over $1 billion.

Wehl said the fund had been strongly supported by local investors who are paid a monthly dividend averaging 5.8 per cent a year.

The transaction was negotiated by CBRE’s Peter Chapple, Bruce Baker, Flint Davidson and Stuart McCann.

“We have seen a strong increase in buyer demand for high quality, multi-let Brisbane office towers, with long-term investors backing that there will be a flight to quality as tenants seek to upgrade to prime grade CBD and metropolitan office assets,” Baker said.

Brisbane’s renowned Golden Triangle has been subject to a number of high-profile transactions in recent years.

The tower, at 410 Queen Street, sold for $53.5 million to local development and investment group PGA Properties early last year.

Dexus and Canada’s CPP Investment Board also recently sold Brisbane’s 10 Eagle Street office tower for $285 million to Brisbane-based investment manager Marquette Properties.


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Speculators back in the game to push up property prices

property prices

Investors in residential property have come out of hibernation and were the driving force behind the record 5.5 per cent increase in housing finance in March.

Having kept a low profile during the pandemic, investors and speculators are now returning to the market with gusto. And that suggests only one thing – home prices will continue to be pushed higher.

The colloquial definition of what turns a housing boom to a housing bubble is the increasing participation of investors. Judging by the latest numbers from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) investors could soon replace first home buyers as key drivers of the red-hot property market.

The 12.7 per cent increase in financing to investors dwarfed the (already strong) 5.2 per cent increase in finance to owner occupiers. And the value of those loan commitments to investors is up 54 per cent on March last year.

And the phoenix-like rise in housing investors has coincided with early signs of a peak in demand for finance by first home buyers whose participation in the housing market appears to be running out of steam. In March first home buyer finance fell by 3.1 per cent (seasonally adjusted), according to the ABS.

The levelling out of first home buyer demand was only ever a matter of time as this group would ultimately come up against the barrier of affordability.

Government assistance and low interest rates spurred demand from first home buyers last year but as prices have moved up the window of opportunity has narrowed. Meanwhile, some of the robust demand from those making their first move into property is thought to have been pulled forward.

Investors deserted the residential property market in response to COVID as rents and returns fell as did values in the early stages of the pandemic. The apartments segment was hit particularly hard as immigration disappeared.

While rents remain at historically low levels, there are clear signs that rental increases are starting to come through – particularly in the outer suburbs of capital cities, the smaller capitals and in regional areas. In March rents rose by 0.6 per cent in Sydney and by 0.2 per cent in Melbourne according to CoreLogic

But the broader enticement for investors is capital gains on offer in the housing market, which is now in full swing. Prices nationally rose by 1.8 per cent in April and by 2.8 per cent in March and careered ahead 6.8 per cent over the past three months.

For big banks lenders the return of the residential property investor could provide them a new source of demand growth in the event the first home owner market continues to run out of puff.

Despite historically low interest rates, the banks say they are not seeing any deterioration in the quality of their loan books. This is despite intense competition among bank and non-bank lenders to capitalise on the demand for housing finance driven by low rates.

Westpac’s accounts for the six months to March, which were released this week ,showed that only 2 per cent of customers were behind on repayments – a level that has remained the same for a year.

For the most part the banks are arguing that there is no need to apply any macroprudential brakes to the housing market.

But history tells us the rise in investor participation also sets off alarm bells within the regulatory agencies, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) and the Reserve Bank.

Both have been disinclined so far to wade into the rapidly heating property market and introduce measures that will hamper first home owners. But regulators have plenty of form in targeting the more speculative investor cohort with macroprudential tools. And the banks will need to avoid the riskier lending that has traditionally been associated with financing investors.

’The resurgence in investor financing and the continuing surge in owner occupiers who are trading up points to further near term strength in home prices,” according to AMP chief economist Shane Oliver.

“It also points to a further acceleration in housing debt, a further rise in the share of interest only loans and increasing lending at high loan to valuation ratios. All of which is increasing pressure on the RBA and APRA to move to tighten lending standards in order to head off increasing risks of financial instability – which we expect to occur sometime in the next six months.”



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Cromwell buys in Brisbane and on the hunt for more properties


Cromwell Property Group has confirmed it is buying the former Flight Centre headquarters at 545 Queen St, Brisbane, for $117.5 million.

Hamish Wehl, Cromwell’s head of retail funds management, said the refurbished office building in the Brisbane CBD’s so-called “Golden Triangle” was purchased for its Direct Property Fund (DPF), a retail investment vehicle.

“We are actively looking for further acquisition opportunities,” he said.

“The fund remains open, we’re seeing attractive investment inflows and it’s all about acquiring the right property that suits the return profile of the investors.”

He said DPF has been strongly supported by “mum and dad investors” who are paid a monthly dividend averaging 5.8 per cent a year.

DPF, which started in 2013, owns seven assets outright and has exposure to a further three with a total value of just over $1 billion . All but one – a Bunnings in South Australia – is an office building.

Mr Wehl said office will remain a focus for DPF though there is scope to invest in other sectors, depending on returns.

“We are cautiously optimistic in the current environment and think the office sector as a whole will always be relevant for white collar employment,” he said.

“It fosters innovation, creates and maintains workplace culture.”

He added: “There’s still a bit to play out from last year’s fallout [and] if we see quality property that is attractively priced within the retail and industrial sectors, the fund has the ability within its investment mandate to acquire those assets.”

Cromwell bought the 13,000sq m building – now 100 per cent leased with average weighted expiry of 4.1 years – from Axis Capital, which paid $70 million in 2017 shortly after Flight Centre moved to other premises and left it mostly empty.

Axis Capital refurbished and repositioned the building, leasing it up before selling to Cromwell on a yield of 5.9 per cent.

The sale required Foreign Investment Review Board approval due to the large stake activist investor, ARA Asset Management, based in Singapore, has in Cromwell.

The transaction was negotiated by CBRE’s Peter Chapple, Bruce Baker, Flint Davidson and Stuart McCann.

Brisbane CBD has sprung back to life after the quiet 2020, with at least four other major properties still on the market. Total transaction value this year is expected to exceed $1 billion over the next two months.

The catalyst for the listings surge has been strong post-COVID-19 prices paid for office towers at 10 Eagle Street, which fetched $285 million, and 310 Ann Street, sold to Ashe Morgan for $210 million.


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