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Gimme space

Property developers need to balance affordability with residents’ need for space.

By Nia Magoulianiti-McGregor

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Gimme space

Property developers need to balance affordability with residents’ need for space.

By Nia Magoulianiti-McGregor

, |

Yes, economy of scale is important in the residential market in order to make home ownership affordable. But is there space for personal space and why do we need it?

That it’s a challenging time for developers in the property market in this economic downturn is indisputable. That people are increasingly downscaling or seeking affordability due to financial pressure is also irrefutable – just check out January 2020’s FNB property barometer, which shows that activity is mainly happening at the lower end of the market. So while smaller spaces are becoming increasingly unavoidable in the property market, and even desirable if you’re taken by the tiny homes movement, how much space is too little? And is there a happy place between profits, the need for developers to stay afloat and personal space?

Economic security

MD of Amdec Property Developments, Nicholas Stopforth, believes that, while smaller living spaces are about affordability and being ‘economically attractive’, there should be a quid pro quo. ‘There needs to be a space outside the home where residents can engage with their family or friends, whether it’s a walking or bike track, a tract of land around water or, in urban mixed-use developments, even just an attractive path down to your local coffee shop.

‘In residential estates, it will make a difference to a resident if their living space spills out into gardens, parks or a clubhouse.

‘This should be rationalised against economic considerations.’

Even so, while evidence shows that many property buyers are happy to sacrifice large gardens and swimming pools in favour of more manageable bond repayments and a secure, low-maintenance lifestyle, few want to stub their toes every time they walk into the living area.

Stopforth says that flexibility in compact living spaces can take the pressure off small environments, especially those aimed at millennial first-time buyers. ‘A small space has numerous uses, so a folding bed that tilts into a recess may provide more space for a dining area or a lounge when people come over. A panel may come down and be used as a table.’

Certainly, as space increasingly becomes squished, we can expect functional stowaway furniture items – folding kitchen counters and clever storage ideas – to morph into a design niche of their own.

Stopforth says a raised platform can add another ten square metres for a living room or study. He says: ‘However small, if your investment is in the right geographical area, in the right precinct, it’s a solid one.’

Emotional security

Johannesburg-based clinical psychologist May Cotterell believes that a smaller space may translate to a feeling of containment. ‘On a deeply psychological level, a house can serve a maternal function in that some people feel “held” in a smaller home.’ Also, she says, those who spend a lot of time socialising outside the home may be happy with the manageability of small spaces. But, she cautions, for those living with partners and families, ‘too little space might start impacting on family dynamics, especially if one partner is more compulsive about tidying than the other.’

Certainly, she says, for urban families, a small space may cause anxiety when privacy is at a premium. ‘It becomes even more stressful if one of the couple works from home.’

Cape Town-based Nicholas Simons, co-founder of Trilogy, which specialises in residential developments, agrees with Cotterell. He says that, increasingly, the 30-plus section of the market ‘feels safer and more in control in a small space.’ It also means less maintenance, and panders to the prevailing lock-up-and-go ethos.

He says: ‘Smaller is where the market has taken us.’ Developments in Cape Town, he says, are legislated around parking ratios, and the size of units is dictated by what the market is prepared to pay. ‘Developers, of course, are there to make profit and each company has its own target in relation to return on investment, but lending institutions also dictate. They want to know that there is enough of a cushion to withstand a problem, whether it’s a design issue or a contractor that goes bust.’

‘Ultimately,’ says Simons, ‘the market dictates where we go. If the market moves again to bigger, we’ll shift along with it.’

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