Residents of new estates want a lot more than a house set on a block, writes Carolyn Cummins.
Designing and constructing a master-planned community is not for the faint-hearted. Once it was a case of putting houses on quarter-acre plots of land, joined by roads and the occasional tree.
The so-called communities were not much more than barren, soulless row after symmetrical row of houses, loosely termed "little boxes" after the Malvina Reynolds folk song made famous by Pete Seeger.
Master-planned developments in future will resemble cities, with (almost) their own ecosystem. If developers do not provide a community hall, swimming pool, bike paths and sustainability features, they might as well pack it in.
Consumers now rule the roost in retail and residential developments, and residents want more than just a house; they want all the accoutrements and are willing to pay for them.
Cinemas, coffee shops and upmarket restaurants sell estates as much as the traditional offerings of transport, proximity to schools and general infrastructure.
Among the biggest housing developers, Mirvac, GPT, Stockland, FKP and Lend Lease will all attest to this. If the community is not taken into account, their "little boxes" will sit empty. At GPT's The New Rouse Hill development, the retail component was built to serve the residential stage, but the project was designed to add buildings in and around the core, to fill out the concept with other uses.
Delfin Lend Lease's selling point for its Ropes Crossing development is its proclaimed environmentally friendly, family oriented parklands and community facilities.
In the coming year, Mirvac will start developing its $486 million Harold Park, Glebe, project. Its selling points for this development are the provision of some new bicycle pathways and nearby existing sporting fields and its proximity to the CBD.
Stockland says its Arbourlea development in south-east Melbourne will have a "full array of educational and sporting facilities all within a few minutes from your new home".
A research director at Savills Australia, Simon Hemphill, says providing community facilities such as cinemas and outdoor attractions are as important in selling a project as the residential component. However, he says developers need to weigh up the cost of these facilities to the strata fees.
A director of the architectural firm Nettleton Tribe, Jeremy Bishop, says developers of master-planned estates are increasingly providing facilities that are well above the usual pool-gym combination, as competition between them increases.
"[With developers] seeking to foster a strong sense of community, we have seen the diversity and sophistication of amenities offered by developers increase over the past few years and we don't see this trend abating any time soon," Mr Bishop said.
The Rose Group's Breakfast Point development in Cabarita has a country club, a village green, a community hall and a village centre with shops, cafes and restaurants, and a childcare centre.
Payce Consolidated's Waterfront development at Wentworth Point is designed to an Italian village theme, with the heart of the community being the piazza with shops, cafes, restaurants, a dental and medical centre, a day spa and a hairdressers. There are also indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a gym, a library and community rooms.
Some developers will offer retailers an initial deal on lease agreements to help build up the hearts of these communities at an early stage, so there is an active social hub for prospective buyers to see.
Some of the most successful masterplanned communities are those where people from neighbouring areas can use the community's facilities and amenities, such as cafes and restaurants.
While extra facilities and amenities can be considered a drawcard, the additional cost in body corporate fees needs to be kept in mind.
Knight Frank's national director , James Parry, says having green-star rated properties is also a selling point and it will be the main issue in 2012.
Sustainability is a bigger element of building criteria since the introduction of the NABERS performance rating scheme for commercial freehold buildings of more than 2000 square metres. And because this is a mandatory requirement for large occupiers, it is also a significant issue for owners.
"We forecast sustainability will become a more significant agenda item in the short to medium term, for small- to mid-sized tenants," Mr Parry said.
"For example, it is similar to customers picking out household appliances like a refrigerator," he said. "You have your list of prerequisites - i.e. size, height, colour - then when the choice is narrowed down to one or two items, you may compare the energy stars and power consumption and make your decision that way."
Choosing to buy a planned community property could well be decided on those small distinctions, he indicated.