Property developing on the Upper North Shore

The upper north shore has always been known for its large leafy residences.

But increasingly the area is home to a wider variety of housing stock to suit every buyer and lifestyle – from units up the Pacific Highway and train line to townhouses in Gordon, villas in Turramurra, retirement villas in St Ives as well as the established family homes from Roseville to Wahroonga. In recent years we have also observed a rise in knock-down rebuilds, and large scale renovations – particularly in suburbs like Pymble.

Developers familiar with the area have been quick to snap up opportunities. If you are keen to take on a project, we’ve got you covered. Whether you are a first time developer or a professional – here’s what you need to know before you put on your hard hat on the Upper North Shore.

Changing Times

The face of the upper north shore is changing rapidly. In the decade leading up to 2016 Ku-ring-gai had gained more than 7500 new residents who were younger than 14 and 4717 people aged 25 to 44. This influx of young families and young professionals is, in part, due to the increased availability of townhouses and apartments in the area, which means that couples who grew up in the North Shore can afford to stay and start their property journey here when they have children of their own.

Just to our North, Hornsby Shire Council’s 2011 Housing Strategy transformed the suburb with rezoned precincts encouraging the construction of townhouses, five-storey and eight- to ten-storey residential developments. As a result, young buyers and savvy investors can also look within Hornsby instead of moving further away.

And you don’t need to be a seasoned developer to have noticed the rapid change thanks to rezoning in Chatswood. This once sleepy daytime shopping area is now a mini city of its own, with shopping, nightlife, The Concourse and a fantastic transport hub.

Having thriving, growing centres like Hornsby and Chatswood accessible to us brings great amenities to the Upper North Shore. The flow on effect is that they also bring more demand for a variety of housing stock in our areas.

Other things, like good schools can also catalyse a lot of change and migration. For example when St Ives North Public School shrunk its catchment zone in 2015, it converted St Ives Chase into a buzzing enclave.

These trends are all worth following and it pays to be very careful if you’re looking for an opportunity. In July this year, developers who spent half a billion purchasing suburban blocks in St Leonards, just south of us on the lower north shore, were halted by an independent panel who found that council rezoning amounted to over-development.

What Kind of Developer Are You?

Many people dream of making money with a development, but the type of project you embark on will depend on the size of your wallet and the extent of your experience. Here is our advice depending on what you would like to do:

  1. Extend and Flip

This is a great option for a property-development newcomer:

  • If you have a high threshold for dust, you can live in the home while you are renovating, which is a budget-friendly option.
  • If you have time and skills, you might be able to save money on building by supervising the bulk of the work or getting involved in a bit of DIY.
  • If you are detail-oriented and have an eye for design this is your time to shine.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Budgeting might sound obvious but to make a profit you really have to spend wisely. Some renovation experts believe you shouldn’t spend more than 10% of the current value of the property on renovations. Be wary of overcapitalising. Seek advice from a local agent on what will add value.
  • Know where to spend your money. A paint job and skylights can sometimes go further than wall demolitions and state-of-the-art appliances.
  • If your property has good bones or heritage features try and accentuate them.
  • If this is your first time renovating then really research the market. Flipping works best in a rapidly rising market.
  1. Knock Down and Rebuild

This is the ideal option if you spy a house with a lot of land value, or a small home that could be completely transformed into a big one. A new home in an established suburb will often drive up the worth of your property.

There are many advantages to demolishing and starting again:

  • You don’t need to accommodate the existing design and there can be fewer surprises during the build (no rewiring or old pipes to deal with).
  • Your builder will know everything about the structure – and won’t need to guess the material beneath the foundation.
  • Budgeting is easy to manage because the project starts with you.
  • It’s all brand new and appealing to buyers looking for that lifestyle.

Things to keep in mind:

  • You need time. Finding the right architect or builder is crucial and if they are familiar with the upper north shore and Ku-ring-gai Council, the process will run much smoother. Once you are happy with the design, it usually takes at least four months to get council approval to knock down an established building.
  • Market conditions can change over time, so have a contingency in place for 12 months down the track.
  • You need to research design and heritage restrictions. You might know a lot about demand in your suburb, but before you design the perfect family home, check the zoning on the street. For example, if all of the houses are single-storey – you may not be able to add a second floor.
  • The other reason to check zoning is to see the potential. If you can knock one house down and turn it into a duplex your profit might increase.
  • Do the maths, sometimes it might be cheaper to work within the scope of the existing building.
  1. Create Units or Luxury Townhouses:

This is an option for someone with a larger budget who has some experience in property development – it’s best left to the professionals. With great risk comes great reward – but you need to know what you’re doing.

  • We currently see strong demand for certain types of medium density developments. There is a big shortage of quality unit options for downsizers, who struggle to tick all their boxes when leaving the family home – oversized apartments with level access do well here. Likewise, first home buyers are a demographic who struggle to get on the ladder in a competitive market, and well-built, well-designed units can be their first choice.
  • If done correctly, medium to high density developments can be the most profitable option.
  • They are a great way to capitalise on the higher population density zoning near the North Shore train line and the hubs around Gordon, St Ives or Turramurra.

Things to keep in mind:

  • It’s crucial to find the right block of land. You want something that is large enough, with good access and that is zoned for medium-density residential development.
  • Zoning is a complicated and regulated process. Learn everything you can about the area where you wish to purchase and get an expert to advise you.
  • If you are buying several houses with a view to transform them into units or townhouses, allocate a lot of time.
  • Not only do you need to know what the council will allow for, you need to be certain about what the market wants – whether to rent or to buy. Speak to a local agent for advice.

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