When you look at the older hilly suburbs of Melbourne, such as Camberwell, Balwyn and Hawthorne, there’s hardly a flat block. These suburbs are expensive to buy into; those homes with outlook are prised. Yet compare this with current trends in hilly suburbs such as Diamond Creek and Greensborough. The available less expensive blocks are those on a slope. Twenty years ago in Melbourne, the most expensive blocks in any estate were the ones at the top of the hill, because they offered the best view. The cheapest blocks were at the bottom, where the land flattened. Now, it’s the reverse. The expensive blocks in an estate are the flat blocks at the bottom, and ironically the cheap blocks are at the top with the beautiful view.
What has changed? The answer lies in the construction methods utilised by large Volume Builders. When homes were built in the 70s and 80s, they were built on stumps with timber sub-floors, and it was relatively easy to adapt stumps to a slope. Now, Volume Builders build most of the new houses in Australia, so they dictate how the industry operates. Volume Builders build exclusively on concrete slabs so it is necessary to turn everything into a flat block. They exploit the bottom of a hill, areas with no view and no aspect. Developers looked at the equation of supply and demand. Because of the greater costs involved in excavating a flat footprint on a sloping block, it is cheaper for Volume Builders to build on a flat block. So developers decided to increase the prices of flat blocks.
This is why the most expensive, and first-to-sell blocks in a modern estate in Melbourne are the flat blocks. Yet if you drive through an estate, and you take off the rose-coloured glasses given to you by your salesperson, and look at the existing homes critically, you will see that the most inviting and impressive houses are still those on hills. They are, and will always be, more inviting than the blocks where everything is on the same level.
However, when you buy a sloping block from the developer and approach a volume builder, be prepared for a shock. Either they will simply refuse to build on this block, or the site-costs they charge will be astronomical or the works that they propose to turn your block into one they can build on will destroy all the intrinsic beauty of the block itself.
What’s in it for you? This may sound like bad news, but it represents an opportunity. In a sense, the best blocks are now the cheapest blocks. And you have many alternatives that are not restricted to the construction methods utilised by a Volume Builder. Custom Builders are generally far more up-front with their costings, and will create a design with consideration for the view, orientation and useability of your new home. Consider that in the current market, that sloping block-with-a-view can be as much as $30-50,000 cheaper than the flat easy-to-build-a-Mac-Mansion-on blocks. This savings will go a long way towards the costs of building a home that far outshines those built on the more expensive flat land.
In Melbourne, we can be grateful that the Volume Builders didn’t exist 50 years ago, or we would not have the beautiful older hilly suburbs that are part of our city today. The good news is, that the possibility of building a lovely home on a sloping block is not a thing of the past. In fact, if you locate the right builder for your situation, you may discover that the riches-to-rags story of sloping blocks actually assists you to make your home-with-a-view an affordable reality.
John Kearney is a Melbourne Building Design and Construction Consultant who has been in the building industry for over 20 years. He is passionate about giving people a cost effective alternative to building in areas they love, and specialises in creating solutions for difficult and sloping blocks.