Lack of suitable medium-density housing stalls downsizing

The "missing middle" of Australia's housing stock – medium-density properties such as townhouses and terraces – is a major barrier preventing older people from downsizing their family homes, freeing up more real estate for the next generation.

More than half of those over the age of 55 are open to downsizing but a lack of housing that suits their needs is holding them back, a new report by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute finds.

Meeting the needs of older Australians means an increase in medium-density housing, a report by the Australian Housing and Urban Insitute findsCredit:AVJennings

Just over a quarter of 55-plus residents polled nationally in a survey of 2400 households say they have downsized. Another third have thought about downsizing.

The findings indicate a strong appetite among older Australians to sell family homes but the building industry "is not meeting the needs of this generation," the report's authors, Amity James and Steven Rowley of Curtin University and Wendy Stone of Swinburne University of Technology, say.

"Downsizing is really about rightsizing. It is not about necessarily going to something smaller, it is about meeting your housing needs at this stage of life," the report says.

Mark McCrindle, social researcher and founder of McCrindle Research, says there is a "missing middle" in Australia's housing stock.

"There's this redefined life stage – the 55s and over – who are not old by any stretch but are looking for an easier-to-manage lifestyle where they can 'lock up and leave' and travel," Mr McCrindle says.

They don't want to move to a small apartment or relocate to one of the so-called retiree hotspots, he says.

"What we are building is not meeting the needs of this generation. Developers tend to go for the maximum development possible under the zoning rules," he says.

The report says a lack of suitable housing options matching would-be downsizers’ preferences may explain why so few were able to remain in their original neighbourhood, with 42 per cent of those who have downsized moving to a new area.

If the local market does not have enough options available to meet their needs, it is difficult to downsize in the same community, the report says.

Space remains important to downsizers, according to the report. Three bedrooms was the preferred dwelling size, but with a smaller garden.

"Meeting the needs of older Australians generally means an increase in medium-density housing," the report says.

"Developers are likely to require incentives to produce medium-density products, rather than potentially more profitable high-density development."

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