Chris Miller, Managing Director of the ACT’s largest strata company, Vantage Strata

Close to 40,000 people in the ACT now live in an apartment or townhouse. That’s one in 10, myself included.

We’ve all heard it suggested that migration from high density cities has helped redefine a home as one that forgoes the white picket fence and a backyard. Yet more than half of the capital territory’s apartment residents are Australian-born, with just six per cent hailing from India, and five per cent from China.

Our young professionals are flying the flag for apartment living; they make up 62 per cent of the occupants. Singles make up 39 per cent of unit residents, and couples with no children are another 26 per cent.

But apartment living isn’t a child-free zone either. Children make up 11 per cent of Canberra’s apartment population, with couples with children occupying nine per cent of apartments here. Single parents occupy another four per cent.

In Canberra the strata community is home to thousands of Australians and as affordability, urban sprawl and population growth continues to intensify, it is imperative that the sector is supported in its growth.

Here’s four crucial changes we need to see in the strata sector in 2023 to ensure enduring appeal for both current and potential homeowners, and investors.

Investment in skilled strata employees

The strata sector is an economic powerhouse. And it’s run, more often than not, by reluctant volunteers.

The sector generates more than $6billion annually just through tradies, electricians and cleaners etc. Another billion plus dollars a year is generated through work from accountants, lawyers, and other professional services. There’s more than a trillion dollars of insured replacement value (bricks and mortar) – and that doesn’t include the real estate value.  It’s a sector that needs talented, skilled staff. NOW!

The Australian Government’s commitment to establishing Jobs and Skills Australia is a bid to strengthen workforce education and training in order to address the growing strata skills shortage.

The investment in quality, industry-specific education of new and skilled strata workers is – from my perspective  – a necessity moving forward.  In conjunction with the Job and Skills Australia, we believe that the government can support the strata industry through investment in both TAFE and university courses; structured apprenticeships and traineeships; improving restrictions around skilled migrants and international students; and updating the skills shortage list to include strata management to attract workers from high-density living countries like Singapore, United Kingdom and United Arab Emirates.

Tech catching up, slowly

We want to attract quality workers to the industry with flexible working arrangements, ongoing and funded training, along with innovative new technology to support efficiency as we navigate a changing and in-demand industry.

NSW Fair Trading announced new strata and community scheme laws in late-2022, relating to electronic voting for meetings and using an electronic form of the common seal when executing documents.

Strata and community schemes can meet and vote in person, or by using electronic means specified in the meeting notice without the need for a prior resolution. If using electronic voting at a meeting, reasonable steps must be taken to ensure eligible voters can participate in and vote at the meeting. It also includes updated procedures for nominating and electing strata and association committee members and office holders. Schemes can keep and use an electronic form of their seal for the execution of documents.

It’s a step in the right direction for an industry that has long suffered a lack of technology and automation backing up strata management practices. Where other industries have benefited from improved processes thanks to innovation, strata management has fallen behind and we need to regain valuable hours of productivity and economies of scale.

Renewable energy to reduce strata costs

Australia is significantly behind when it comes to electric vehicles – only two per cent of new vehicle sales are electric vehicles – and our uptake of new low-emissions vehicles is nearly five times lower than the global average.

Our policy settings are currently outdated but the government’s commitment to establishing Australia’s first National Electric Vehicle Strategy, designed to improve the affordability, supply and uptake of electric vehicles, is a crucial opportunity to put strata at the heart of future electric vehicle policy.

According to Strata Community Association, residential and commercial buildings contributed around a quarter of Australia’s emissions in 2019 and account for just under half of Australia’s electricity consumption.

As strata buildings and complexes are poised to support infrastructure capabilities needed for Electric Vehicle Chargers, this will facilitate significant reductions in emissions and consumptions in these buildings.

Further support and investment is needed from the government to make these plans a reality but there’s no doubt that their rollout in strata is instrumental to the overall success of electric vehicles in Australia.

Other reforms promised by the Australian Government include the installation of 400 community batteries and 85 solar banks. With the policies targeted towards apartments and units, they represent significant opportunities to make strata more affordable through the use of renewable energy.

Renewable energy is among the most cost efficient energy sources in our country and adoption of the above policies is a chance to make sure people living in strata are given equitable access.

Help to Buy opening unit doors across Canberra

The government’s Help to Buy scheme rolled out in January 2023, helping more Australians buy property by sharing the upfront purchase costs. The catch? The government gets a share of the equity. So while the government is essentially buying the property with you, it’s also an avenue that can save you tens of thousands in lender’s mortgage insurance premiums, and get you into the strata community with a small deposit.

How does it work?

Buyers using the scheme can buy a unit with just a two percent deposit and the government contributes up to 40 percent of the purchase price.  Buyers can also avoid lenders’ mortgage insurance, however the government will own a portion of your home until you repay them.

The price cap for this scheme in Canberra sits at $600,000, with townhouses and units presenting the most likely option for scheme users.

Am I eligible?

To take advantage of the Help to Buy  scheme, buyers must meet these criteria:

  • Earn $90,000 a year or less. For a couple, it’s $120,000
  • The price of the property you’re buying in the ACT needs to be $600,000 or less.
  • Live in the property for at least 12 months.
  • You can’t currently own any property or land.
  • You need to be an Australian citizen aged at least 18 years old.
  • You need to get approved for a home loan with a lender, and pay stamp duty and all other purchase costs.

How do I apply?

The scheme opened to 10,000 buyers from January 23, 2023. Apply through the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation.

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Strata is a sector profoundly influencing our social and economic landscape. The industry is growing faster than our determination to put regulatory frameworks in place to protect both residents and investors, but with government action and innovation, the opportunity that exists for strata communities is enormous.

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