We're no longer building the world's biggest new houses

Units and apartments make up a growing share of new housing in Australia but they are getting smaller too. Commsec's home size trends report said the average apartment size last financial year was 131.3 sq m, about 9 per cent below the high of 143.7 sq m in 2004-05. More than 40 per cent of all housing completed nationally last financial year was medium and high density.

Craig James, CommSec's chief economist, said smaller lot sizes was one reason for the decline of average floor plans in detached houses. Different housing-style preferences among younger home buyers and new migrants are also a factor.

"People are re-thinking the way they want to live," Mr James said.

Victorians built the nation's biggest detached houses in 2014-16 with an average floor space of 241.1 sq m followed by those in Queensland (237.7 sq m) and NSW (227.4 sq m). The smallest new houses built were in the ACT (180.8 sq m) and Tasmania (188.1 sq m).

The Northern Territory built the nation's biggest units last financial year (179 sq m on average) followed by Victoria (134.7 sq m) and NSW (132.4 sq m).

The average size of new homes in Australia surged by 50 per cent between the mid-1980s and 2010. For a period of about 15 years prior to 2012, the average new house in Australia was bigger than that in the United States. While global comparisons are difficult, CommSec says it is likely that Australians were building the world's biggest new houses in that period.

But during the past few years new detached house sizes in the US have drawn ahead of Australia's. The average newly-built home in the US last year was just under 250 square metres - around 10 per cent bigger than in Australia.

"US houses built in 2015 were the biggest on record and arguably the biggest in the world," the report said.

Even so, houses in Australia are still large by international standards.

"European homes are far smaller than in the US or Australia, New Zealand homes are 7 per cent smaller than Australia, and latest data suggests that Canadian homes are around 10 per cent smaller than in Australia," the report said.

New houses in Australia are also far bigger than in the past. The average new house built in Australia is still 10 per cent bigger than 20 years ago and more than 30 per cent bigger than 30 years ago.

Mr James said that while Australians continue to build relatively big homes, there had been a clear shift in the past few years.

"Australians are reassessing their needs," he said. "Couples and small families are considering apartments. Down-sizers are also moving closer to the city or sea-changing or tree-changing. There is less need for big 4-5 bedroom homes and it is clear across suburbia that consolidation continues to occur ?homes being demolished and replaced with apartments, town houses and villas."

Last year Victoria built a record number of dwellings and NSW built the greatest number of homes since the Sydney Olympics in 2000, the report said.

CommSec was able to calculate average floor space for new houses and apartments using dwelling completion data it commissioned from the Bureau of Statistics.

SMH / October 31 2016

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