Perfect for housing guests, adult children or grandparents, the once humble granny flat has come a very long way
The tiny house movement has gained a lot of traction in Australia in recent years, with more and more people realising you can pack a lot into a small space without compromising on style, functionality or liveability. This revolution in thinking — in tandem with the ever-growing need to provide families with a range of flexible, affordable and design-led multigenerational living options — has spurred home builders and granny flat designers to greater heights.
“Granny flat designs have become much more stylish and the designers more savvy in ensuring all space is used correctly. A granny flat is definitely not just a converted shed out in the backyard any more. It is expected to be well-thought-out with exceptional storage and space-saving solutions while offering high quality inclusions to match the main house,” says Nathan Thurston, McDonald Jones Homes’ marketing manager.
The use of the granny flat has also changed. “The term granny flat has now evolved to encompass a place where grandparents, adult children or siblings can live. The cost of living is high, so a granny flat keeps different generations together and alleviates financial pressure. This might be because it provides a cost-effective way to look after elderly parents or is a means to help adult children save for a deposit on a home of their own,” says David Bourke, marketing manager for Clarendon Homes.
There is no shortage of companies specialising in granny flats, and that includes modular experts such as Parkwood Modular Buildings, but, increasingly, they’re being offered by the big volume home builders such as Clarendon Homes, which offers internal granny flats integrated into the design of the main home as well as one- and two-bedroom detached granny flats. McDonald Jones Homes also offers a standalone option with a choice of one or two bedrooms and either an alfresco or patio.
For those who prefer an attached granny flat, Rawson Homes gives families that option with some of its homes. Because the dwellings share a fully compliant fire wall, this allows them to be classed as separate dwellings, giving you the option to rent out the granny flat for income if you don’t plan to use it for your extended family. Stroud Homes, on the other hand, offers both attached granny flats (available with seven of their home designs) and a choice of one- and two-bedroom standalone dwellings.
Says Nicky Lowson of Stroud Homes Northern Rivers, “External granny flats ensure privacy and separate living and access, while with attached, under-the-one-roof designs you are only separated by a party wall.” Adds David, “With a detached granny flat, yards can be fenced off to give to give the feel of a separate property. This is particularly popular on a corner block.”
According to research conducted by Gateway Credit Union in 2016, the top uses for granny flats are additional space for recreation (32 per cent), a home office (25 per cent), additional rental income from tenants or Airbnb (23 per cent), house aging parents (20 per cent) and enabling children to stay at home longer (17 per cent). The research also showed one third of homeowners are currently considering the addition of a granny flat, with a further 22 per cent saying that they may consider this in the future.
“The cost of living and the aging population has really boosted the granny flat market as we see families moving back in together. University-aged children are also living at home longer and this gives the opportunity to stay at home but have privacy and a space to call their own. The granny flat can then be used at a later stage for elderly parents — it’s quite flexible,” says Nathan.
“A granny flat can also be a great source of income for homeowners to rent it out or make an income from Airbnb. In Sydney, a two-bedroom granny flat could achieve a weekly rent of approximately $350,” he adds. Of course, a well-designed granny flat can perform other important roles, too — as guest accommodation, a home office, a studio, a pool house or a prayer room. Or its role can change as the family’s needs change.
All states and local councils have strict planning and building regulations regarding the approval, construction and use of granny flats. That said, in NSW the approval process has been made easier to meet the growing demand for more affordable housing options. In NSW, council approvals may take just six to eight weeks whereas in Victoria and Queensland, the process may take up to a year.
Generally speaking, a granny flat needs to be under 60sqm to comply but regulations vary, as does the minimum land size needed. A good guide is to have at least a 450sqm block but consideration needs to also be given to the size of the main home. The combined size and footprint of both the main home and granny flat must be under a certain amount to comply.
Never forget that with all dual occupancies you need to obtain development consent from the local council before proceeding. This means a Development Application must be lodged with council before building while any adjoining party walls must also be suitably fire rated. And you need to check with the council in regards to a range of issues, from zoning and covenants to costs of contributions. Also remember that building a granny flat does not permit the actual subdivision of your property, unless it’s already allowed under a local planning scheme.
Now or later?
“If you’re building a new home and have plans for a granny flat down the track, there are a number of reasons it makes sense to consider doing both at the same time,” says Nathan. “Constructing them in unison means you can integrate both designs to achieve a natural flow between the two buildings and ensure their overall styles complement each other.
“What’s more, you’ll be able to make the two dwellings look the same with matching fixtures and fittings without running the risk of materials being discontinued over time. There are also significant cost benefits to building them together because it is far more efficient and cost-effective to do so when you already have workers on site.”
Nicky agrees, saying it makes financial sense to build them together and that it’s a trend she’s seeing in new builds and knockdown-rebuilds. “While building a granny flat will cost slightly more than just building a much bigger house to accommodate everyone as you have another kitchen, bathroom, laundry etc to fit out, building it at the same time as the home is more cost-effective — as is building an attached granny flat as opposed to a detached granny flat,” she says.
The financial side
“A home will always have a higher resale value with a granny flat as there is additional space for the family or even an additional source of income, and this is very attractive for the astute investor or owner-occupier,” says Nathan.
And if you’re wondering if a granny flat is a good rental prospect, it depends. If it’s well designed and well-built, is in an area where people are looking for reasonably priced or short-term accommodation, and is close to public transport and shops, then it can provide a decent return.
That said, granny flat rental regulations vary from state to state, so check first before making any decisions with rental potential in mind. In fact, thoroughly research all aspects before deciding to build a granny flat, whatever your goal. Says Nicky, “Definitely look at all the costs and potential benefits. Consider things like liveability, how you’ll use the dwelling, what future income you might make and your property’s resale value. Rules, requirements and fees can vary from council to council so you need to do your research before you start with plans. The best idea is to find a builder who can help you with the entire process, from planning to handover.”