A New House

Firstly a bit of background. I’m an architect working in Melbourne with a wife and young son. Just over a year ago we decided to move to a new house that we could renovate. I thought it would be fun to write a blog about this so that other people moving and  renovating or thinking about renovating could understand the process better.

Before we moved we were living in a single storeyed, single fronted, two bedroom Victorian house in St Kilda. It was bought by my wife in the nineties and was derelict. We renovated it and loved it. But when our son came along and grew and grew we started feeling like we needed a bigger place. A place where we could sometimes go into seperate rooms to do seperate things.

We wanted to stay in St Kilda because we liked the neighbourhood and we were happy with the primary school our son would be attending. On the weekends we would sometimes look through the real estate section of the paper or online but we soon realised that we would not be able to afford a bigger house in the same location. We stopped looking.

My wife and I argue about who spotted the house we were to eventually buy. We were visiting a friend nearby and the house next door had a for sale sign on it. We had given up looking but we liked the look of the house and it had some factors working against it that we hoped would reduce its value.

On the minus side it was next to a commission housing scheme, it had bad parking, it was further from the ‘cool’ part of St Kilda, it had some awful internal planning and it was poorly fitted out.

On the plus side it we liked the look of it and it was solid with a bigger garden.

Less obviously it had potential to build up at the rear and potential construction access if we could arrange this with the housing commission. These two factors are very important.

Town planning has guidelines about what you can and cannot build, these are available online and are complex. Importantly there are issues about bulk, overlooking and overshadowing which often shape what is possible. This site had great potential. The land to the south was communal land shared by residents of the housing commission and wouldn’t trigger clauses that ‘private open space’ would trigger. To our North, where our friends lived, the house presented a blank wall to the boundary that we could build two storeys against. Because our friends were to the North we would also avoid overshadowing.

Access was less clear so I arranged to meet the Department of Housing. I discussed the site with them and explained that we were looking at purchasing the property with a view to building at the rear. I explained that the available access for construction was limited to the corridor through the house or a 900mm pathway down the side of the house. If we could obtain acces through their land it would allow us to use small bobcats and excavators that would considerably reduce time and costs. The DHSS were fine with the idea of temporary access providing we could draw up agreements that would ensure that the land would be reinstated and that safety was always maintained.

We hoped that the minus’ would put people off buying the property and that others wouldn’t understand its development potential. We also hoped that there wouldn’t be too many other people with a similar taste for utilitarian Victorian buildings.

We decided to try to buy it.