The Inner City Apartment Market Stirs Again

Above Spaghetti Junction, between a 1980s office block on Karangahape Rd where City Sales conducts a high proportion of cbd apartment sales and the narrow Meridian apartment building slotted beside the Hopetoun St ramp, Conrad Properties Ltd launches its campaign this weekend to revive its city living programme.

The new project is Urba Residences, 143 apartments to be built in a 10 storey plus basement block on the Chubb NZ Ltd site at 5 Howe St, designed by Leuschke Group Ltd and marketed through Alistair Brown, of Barfoot & Thompson.

Conrad was responsible for many of the bigger apartment blocks erected a decade or so ago up Hobson & Nelson Sts and also on Queen St, reviled from a distance by many but, say directors Ben Dearlove & Jamie Hutchens, 99% occupied, selling well and giving owners good returns.

My own observation, too, is that after the austerity immediately following development, a community buzz is slowly growing. Many of these apartment blocks went up without any accompanying amenities such as parks or reserves or even nearby shops. There are still no parks, but numerous convenience stores have popped up.

The apartment blocks of the previous era were very geometric – long straight lines of balconies & balustrades, every floor identical. For the new building the geometry has changed, the façades have been broken up (with the help of the urban design panel), there is variety. The apartments have to be bigger to meet new rules introduced in 2003, which slowed development ahead of the global crisis as the stricter design conditions occurred at the same time as development levies increased sharply.

Around 2007-08, Mr Dearlove & Mr Hutchens estimate those levies were adding about $29,000 to the cost of every apartment, through itemised contributions plus the value of 3m² of land, which really penalised multi-unit development. Now, although gst has increased, the development levies have been brought down to about $18,000/unit through a general revision, discounted to about $12,000/unit for multi-unit development.

The price/m² ranges from $6500-9000, very similar to the rates for the Eclipse development in Vincent St, completed in 2009. Overall costings are the same as in 2007-08 off the plan, taking into account the increase in gst and reduction in development contributions.

The Conrad duo have looked at a number of sites around the city and taken ideas to the urban design panel to gauge what would be acceptable. For their new Urba Residences, they’ve introduced a more spacious lobby, plus a second lobby to give better access to Western Park, and will provide facilities such as a pool, a gym & a steamroom.

The interiors include stone tops on the benches and stone tiles in the bathroom, a very different style from the painted walls & plastic shower box of a decade ago: “Gone are the days when you could buy an apartment for $89,000.”

Most of the 143 units are 55m² – one bedroom and a “flexi-room”. As Mr Hutchens & Mr Dearlove explained: “It’s a Conradism. We don’t want to pigeonhole it as a study. Currently it couldn’t be a bedroom, but under the unitary plan it could be. The current minimum for 2 bedrooms is 70m² including a balcony, so we want these to be smaller & cheaper. Currently the one-bedroom minimum is 40m² plus a 5m² balcony.”

The building will be anchored by apartments of about 70m² at the corners and there will be 5 studios overlooking the courtyard, with 30m² internal space & a 5m² balcony.

Capping the 10-storey building, Urba will have 8 “sky terraces” – 2 bedrooms, 70m², 2 storeys.

The price range is $275-785,000 – studios from $285,000, one bedroom + flexi from $275,000, 2 bedrooms from $478,000, sky terraces from $495,000. The building will have 31 parking spaces, offered separately. At the top of the scale is a 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom + study 74m² corner penthouse. There are no 3-bedroom units.

For buyers, “It’s as big a building as you can get close to Ponsonby, basement plus 10 storeys. And if you don’t see yourself living right in the city, you are out of the cbd but far under Ponsonby prices.”

Bob Dey Report


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