The Elephant in the Room Property Podcast | Australian real estate
The Elephant In The Room Property Podcast with Veronica Morgan & Chris Bates

Episodes

Episode 62 | How to reduce running costs of your property & increase its value | Cecille Weldon, Liveability

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The 17 Liveability features that will benefit owners, investors & tenants

We picked the brains of Cecille Weldon. Cecille is responsible for the creation and development of the Banksia Award-winning Liveability Real Estate Framework.

Now owned and backed by the CSIRO, this new way of marketing property introduces 17 new property features into the real estate transaction. These are liveability features which cover passive building design, energy and water efficiency and renewables.

The liveability mandate is to create your best home: healthy, efficient, comfortable and connected to your local community.

Here’s a snapshot of what we covered:

  • 17 liveability features of a property & why they matter for homeowners & tenants

  • How to reduce your property’s running costs & increase comfort

  • Why fixing liveability of your property will give you more disposable income

  • Why it’s not just about comfort of living, it can increase the value of your property.

LINKS:

www.liveability.com.au

Tankulator - Rainwater Tank Sizing Tool

Cecille Weldon's Website

PODCAST TRANSCRIPT:

Veronica Morgan: You're listening to the Elephant in the Room Property podcast, where the big things that never get talked about, actually, get talked about. I'm Veronica Morgan, real estate agent, buyer's agent and co host of Foxtel's Location, Location, Location Australia.

Chris Bates: And I'm Chris Bates, financial planner, mortgage broker and wealth coach.

Veronica Morgan: And, together, we're going to uncover who's really making the decisions when you buy a property.

Chris Bates: Veronica will introduce our guest in a moment and I can tell you that you wanna listen on because this is a bit of a different conversation. We talked about liveability not so much at a suburb level but a housing level and what you can do to not only make your house more livable but to actually reduce the running costs and improve its value.

Cecille Weldon: That's why we say this isn't an optional extra. This isn't something you do depending on what your politics are. This is about creating your best home and every measure ... Why would you want a home that's going to be expensive to run? It's not your best home.

Chris Bates: Please stick around for this week's elephant rider boot camp and we have a cracking dumbo of the week coming up.

Chris Bates: Before we get started, everything we talk about on this podcast is general in nature and should never be considered to be personal financial advice. If you're looking to get advice, please seek the help of a licensed financial advisor or buyer's agent. They will tailor and document their advice to your personal circumstances. Now, let's get cracking.

Veronica Morgan: In this episode, we picked the brains of Cecille Weldon, a pioneer in the area of sustainability in real estate. Cecille is responsible for the creation and development of the Banksia Award-winning liveability Real Estate Framework. Now owned and backed by the CSIRO, this new way of marketing property introduces 17 new property features into the real estate transaction. These are liveability features which cover passive building design, energy and water efficiency and renewables. And they are key to finding a home which is comfortable, efficient, healthy, and connected to your community.

Veronica Morgan: This liveability mandate, which is to create it your best home, is deeply ingrained in all Cecille does. She even lived in a contemporary tree house, so I understand. We'll certainly be putting in the show notes some links to all of this stuff but also Cecille’s personal blog where she talks about that so, if you're interested ... Okay, Cecille is known as an innovative thinker with a proven track record in and ability to see opportunities in unexpected places. And she's come to the property industry from a very different background to most of the people we have interviewed in this podcast.

Veronica Morgan: Her expertise has been developed over 25 years in areas as diverse a strategic and creative management, operational systems and processes, knowledge and management and education. Now, thank you for joining us Cecille. We're fascinated to find out what inspired you to create the liveability features but also why these matter for homeowners and how you see them translating into social and financial outcomes.

Cecille Weldon: Okay. Well the first conversation with myself, I suppose, was when I was working within the real estate industry. I later was on the executive leadership team of a major real estate brand. And I was known for having a look at throwing a line out into the future and going, “Hey, what's coming down the line?” Interestingly, when you're working in the real estate industry, you're thinking about everything, the renter, the owner, the investor, everybody's got a property, a home, whether they're renting or owning. So it impacts everyone, right?

Cecille Weldon: It's one of those most basic essential things is your home. I'm obviously passionate about that because how to create better homes was something that drew me into the real estate industry in the first place. And I sat there and I thought, “Gee, what's going to impact real estate?” And real estate is traditionally fairly conservative. A lot of times the real estate industry thinks that innovation is only about a piece of technology.

Veronica Morgan: It's funny you're saying that because, looking to the future, we've had so many people we've been talking to on the Elephant here talking about how technology is gonna impact the way in which we interact with real estate and make decisions around real estate. But this is the first time someone's really come at it from thinking about the impact on how we live, right?

Cecille Weldon: That's exactly right.

Chris Bates: Architects things like that all the time, right? But they're not really seen as a big part in the housing design. It hasn't really been a big part of thinking really, has it?

Cecille Weldon: And I think what occurred to me and what was really clear to me was there was a huge missing link and that knowledge itself could be innovation and knowledge itself could be incredibly empowering for every homeowner or investor. I started to say, “What is the missing piece of information and what are people going to wanna know?” And I started to notice an interesting trend, and this is back in 2009, certainly not like it is now with the narrative on rising energy bills that is impacting all of our political conversation and everything.

Cecille Weldon: Back then there was very little conversation about that but I started to notice a trend that potential buyers and renters were asking for power bills. And I thought, “Mmh, that's interesting.” Well, first of all, a power bill isn't reliable. It's only gonna tell you how the last person lived in that house. But what are they asking for? They're asking for the running costs and what are we delivering them? Nothing.

Veronica Morgan: Oh, no.

Cecille Weldon: What's the real estate industry?

Veronica Morgan: Council rates, water rates and strata levies, if you are lucky.

Cecille Weldon: Yeah, right.

Cecille Weldon: So what people were upsizing, they were extending their mortgages, they were going to really big commitments and there was absolutely no information on what the running cost potential of that property was going to be. And that was going to impact their available cash, right? And so what I thought is, “Wow, this is huge.” But what I also realized is that there was a really big block of this information coming through and that's to do with language. And so, one of the things you did was introduce me as sustainability and I don't identify as that.

Veronica Morgan: Ooh, okay. Good, take me to task.

Cecille Weldon: I'm gonna give you a bit of a push back there. What I found is the word sustainability gets in the way of the opportunity.

Veronica Morgan: Okay.

Cecille Weldon: Okay? And so because a lot of these property features are known as a poster children of sustainability people weren't understanding what they were actually gonna deliver to them in terms of comfort and in terms of reduced running costs. What I did is completely flipped the message and started to talk about the things that really impact everyday Australians, which is comfort. I mean, you want a house that can respond to different climate extremes winter, summer. You just want a comfortable house, right?

Cecille Weldon: Because how many people are sitting in the lounge room and everyone's getting up and changing the thermostat or they're opening the door or they're uncomfortable? A comfortable house is a house associated with people wanting to be there. Right?

Chris Bates: It's interesting.

Veronica Morgan: But it's also unconscious because at the end of the day, then, if it's comfortable you don't even think about it-

Cecille Weldon: That's exactly right.

Veronica Morgan: Whereas if it's uncomfortable you do.

Cecille Weldon: That's exactly right. And to get a bill that is … We all remember the time when you got an energy bill and you didn't even notice it. You just paid it. Now you have to stop and go, “Well, I'll wait till my next pay cycle. I need to think about this, what's going on here?” And so I was seeing that very early, a trend … very, very early and I started to research that. I started to look at the word running costs and that really started to engage and I started to understand, well, what are the features that will deliver that potential for reduction of running costs and increase comfort.

Cecille Weldon: And, of course, one of the big things that people forget to say is it depends on how you use the house. You can have double glazed windows which are great in winter but if you leave them open all winter they're not gonna do nothing for you. Right? I realized that there's a huge piece of super exciting information we can start to be delivering to homeowners. Imagine a liveability opportunity for Australian homes at a time when we need it the most. Right? Understanding what these 17 features are.

Chris Bates: How did you come up with these 17 features that you started just to analyze how a property is used and what ways?

Cecille Weldon: They're all sorts of different ways. First of all, I had to look at what was the real estate moment because a real estate transaction is very short. It's highly emotional, highly competitive and time sensitive so you can't have a huge conversation about all the scientific reasons why these do this or these. Eyes are gonna glaze over. What you needed was something very simple but very robust. It needed to be trusted.

Chris Bates: So a kind of stamp of approval to say that this property ticks these boxes and it's been checked?

Cecille Weldon: Yeah. And it's very simple. It's features based so you know have property. That's the language of value, right? Three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a car park. You look at the property ad, that's the language of value in residential real estate. And then you go to the home and you're verifying it and you're going, “One bedroom, two bedroom, bloody hell, it's a sunroom.” You know what I mean? You're verifying it in terms of features. And so it had to be in features language but it had to have something backing it up.

Cecille Weldon: Because you couldn't just have the whole real estate industry just talking a whole lot of kerfuffle about these things because you'd forgive the real estate industry if they say it's three bedrooms and it's really two bedrooms and a sunroom. But you don't forgive them if they say it's an energy efficient hot water system and it isn't. There's a need to a different level…

Veronica Morgan: I don't forgive them for the sunroom.

Cecille Weldon: Yeah. Well, okay. Put it this way, it's a generalized acceptance. You know what I mean? I don't think … What was needed and what the opportunity for the real estate industry was, was to provide better information. How great is that right? To be more relevant and to be more trusted. Because, currently, you can say, “Yeah, it's got insulation, tick,” but no one's checked.

Veronica Morgan: I know it's rather infuriating actually. What's the take up like because I would imagine there's a lot of agents that wouldn't give a rats. I mean, if buyers aren't demanding it, then, the agent's not going to bother. Why would they bother?

Cecille Weldon: Well, actually, it's a lot of agents. And, again, there's always 10% of the industry that are understanding that you can't be a property expert if you're not getting better property knowledge and these days more than ever. In fact, there was a huge piece about it yesterday. Lifelong learning is about what we all need. We need to be continuously upskilling our understanding, so most real estate agents will invest in their own training. The thing is it's often the same thing over and over again whereas, well, this is using new knowledge to innovate and meaningfully disturb the industry.

Cecille Weldon: A lot of people have all sorts of emotions towards the real estate industry and wanna disrupt it. But we have to remember that the real estate industry oversees a hell of a lot of Australia's … you know. You don't wanna disrupt that industry because it impacts every single person so you wanna go very carefully. It's not like a taxi industry thing. So much of Australia's wealth is rested in that so if you can disturb the industry, so they introduce these new features that are meaningful and relevant and empowering and also the people that have been investing in these things.

Cecille Weldon: Like every time the hot water system broke, they got a more efficient one, they get rewarded suddenly because they're showcased. These houses are brought forward because there's a missing cut.

Chris Bates: And the numbers are there nowadays to show that you can buy the solar panels for X and it's gonna give you these Y benefits and the numbers will stack up. And it's really just whether you can afford the solar panels and you can get some cheap finance for that now. I guess that sustainability as a conversation is probably playing into this a lot as well as people are becoming much more conscious, do you believe, with their home has a impact on the climate or do you think they just wanna see their energy bill go down?

Cecille Weldon: We just keep it very simple because we want it to be a conversation that everyone can connect with. And so, unfortunately, everyone understand solar and even rainwater tanks. They're the poster children, as I said, of these. But you know what, there's so many things. That's why there's 17. Actually the two most important features, that are the most cost effective and will give you a really big bang for your buck, is insulation and external shading. So, actually, insulation in the ceiling and external shading for your windows so that the sun never hits your windows in summer.

Cecille Weldon: Those are not very expensive to do and will give you a really great impact on that potential for running cost reduction. Sometimes one of the benefits of liveability features is, yes, solar PV is there, but we give a wider list so that if you're wanting to do a simple upgrade you can do it. If you have $5,000, you can do the insulation, maybe shading on the north and the eastern side. It gives you really specific things you can do. And you know, “Every time I do that, I'm gonna get the benefit while I'm in the home, but I'm going to be rewarded when I sell this property because it's going to be identified.”

Cecille Weldon: That means that there's that extra reason to do it because we all know that every homeowner is an investor.

Chris Bates: Yeah.

Veronica Morgan: Okay, this … I'll put it right out there. I'm 110% in favor. I think that we all have an opportunity to make our homes more comfortable to live in that actually reduces our energy costs but also it's better for the planet. In terms of our own personal footprint, it's smart to think about future capital growth doing these sorts of things for your property to be as an investment and think of your property as an investment and these things as an investment. But I also know what people are like.

Veronica Morgan: And I also know that, as a society, we're not great on delayed gratification and we're not also great on … We are very much in this now, now, now culture. I've looked at your website. I've met you a couple of times at REI. I met another guy that works there at one of the REI things. I'm on board with it. I've sat there and I haven't actually implemented this in my team even though we discussed all these sorts of things and they actually are not exactly in that form but they are part of the characteristics we evaluate every property on.

Veronica Morgan: The thing is, at what critical point will buyers, and let's get to tenants in a minute, but will buyers start to pay more for this? Because at the moment, I'm telling you, I don't see any of that. I don't see…

Cecille Weldon: Okay, well the awareness of that and that's fine but the actual … in fact, we can give to your audience some vendor testimonials of people that had an agent. First of all, don't underestimate the power of the award winning training. Agents wanna do a good job for you, let's just assume that. They wanna know more about property, they wanna get a higher price for you. When they get a higher price, you've got a high price, right? They wanna get a high price in the marketplace.

Cecille Weldon: And so when agents have done the training and they go, “Now I get it. These are all these features that I was missing. This is hidden value.” Let's say it's hidden value, right? Because if you're gonna push forward granite bench tops just because, well, why not push forward features that even if you're paying more for that house you know you're running costs are covered. Rather than paying more for a house and not knowing … going in blind. And I will tell you an example of … recently, on a 7:30 Report, there was a tenant that said, “I couldn't get the energy bills down, so I had to leave the property.” Okay?

Cecille Weldon: I can tell you right now, and all of the research that we've been doing because now we're owned by the CSIRO, absolutely after a while those properties they're gonna have a high vacancy rate because people can't afford. If you imagine, from a property investor's point of view, there's a tenant, they've paid $250 a week rent and then they get a bill for $1,500. Well, how much disposable income do they now have to keep paying their rent and what are they gonna keep paying when it's freezing? They're going to stop paying their rent and they're going to keep paying the hot water bills.

Cecille Weldon: I think you would be very foolish, as a property investor or an owner, not to start upgrading over time. You don't need to do it all at once but just start going, “You know what? This is the direction because I can keep my rental value. I will have longer tenancies.” Because if you get a big bill after three months, you're not gonna stay another 12, right?

Chris Bates: I agree. I think there's lots of parts to this. Fundamentally if you're trying to sell the property and you've got an agent that actually has trained up on this work ... If you haven't got to train an agent that knows how to identify these or have the language or to be able to sell these benefits to the people buying but when someone is looking at that property, if they are socially minded or they do wanna have a low energy bill, they might not be able to add these features in or have the money left over from their deposit to go and spend $20,000 or $30,000 to do all these upgrades once they're purchased the property.

Chris Bates: They might be able to borrow that money from the bank but they might not be able to do the actual upgrades themselves. For most properties, I know that it must be hard, but what would be the cost to become fully licensed or fully ticking all the 17 boxes?

Cecille Weldon: Well, first of all, you don't need to do all of them. It's not a rating where you need all 17, even one of those that real estate agent could put forward. And every house that we've appraised, and this is for existing homes not for new homes, but this is for the old big mess of existing homes all over Australia in every climate zone, every house has about three. Because what's happened is people have been upgrading over time without thinking about them. They just don't see them as a feature that can be brought forward when they sell the house.

Cecille Weldon: They just see it as something that's going on behind them. Do you know what I mean? I think for around $20,000 you could get all 17 but I actually think that the $3,000 you could have a big impact. You could get ceiling insulation, LED lighting, shading over your north and you're eastern side or it could be adjustable shading. Look, I can't…

Veronica Morgan: Question, do you mean western side?

Cecille Weldon: The North and the East West, both those two sides.

Veronica Morgan: Why? Oh right. Right, sorry, yeah.

Cecille Weldon: The North side and the East West side. I can't stress enough, there's three paradoxes that lie underneath this that something very simple can be very robust.

Chris Bates: So you thinking the 80-20 rule basically, if you do your top three or four that will get you 80% of the results, sort of?

Cecille Weldon: Well, not even that. You know what's great about this, it's not making a value judgment and it's not making a moral judgment saying you're bad if you don't do this. It's just saying, “Here's your shopping list. Add them whenever you want, whatever you want. If you're doing an upstairs, well put insulation.” A lot of these things are already covered in building compliance if you're doing a big renovation.

Veronica Morgan: Yeah. I was gonna ask you about that because that's Basix, right?

Cecille Weldon: Yeah.

Veronica Morgan: What's the alignment with that?

Cecille Weldon: Well, number 17 is a Basix Certificate. It's an energy rating. What we're trying to do is get homeowners to actually ask for that Basix certificate and we want them to say, “We wanna go beyond compliance.” Because beyond compliance, that house will always retain its value when they're selling it later rather than just meeting compliance. We wanna have a completely different story there. What is important to understand is that, first of all, it's not a value judgment. Do what you can but at least you know that these will deliver because there's a lot of myths around this area.

Cecille Weldon: And sometimes it's caught up in that word sustainability and it's not super clear to everyone so we just call them the 17 things. It's super easy and it's about reduced running costs and increased comfort. I think what is important about all your listeners is to understand that … just have a look how many you've already got. The agent that does the property appraisal, the trained agent, has a special prop-tech, which is on their mobile phone, a checklist which has benchmarks right underneath it. And these have been verified by the industry peak bodies as well as the CSIRO.

Cecille Weldon: And when that appraisal is completed, it automatically generates an image for the property listing. On the online property listing in the photo gallery, they can see how many liveability features are in that house.

Veronica Morgan: That must be cool. What about … Okay, so that's if someone's about to sell their house?

Cecille Weldon: Yeah.

Veronica Morgan: Where else can I get a…

Cecille Weldon: A liveability appraisal?

Veronica Morgan: Thank you very much.

Cecille Weldon: Any liveability real estate specialist can do one for free at any time, it's not just when you're selling. A lot of agents get lots of calls every day saying, “I just wanna know how much my house is worth in today's market. I'm not ready to sell.” In fact, if you were planning on renovating or planning on selling in two to three years, I'd get a liveability appraisal from one of these liveability real estate specialists. You'll see the icon on their profile and you can go to our website and book an appraisal. Just go in and say, “I'd like to book one,” and we can find an agent that's close to you.

Chris Bates: And how many agents have got this?

Cecille Weldon: Well, it launched again in last year in February and there are 220 all over Australia that had begun to do it and our training kicks off again in the next month. And the agents get 12 CBD points when they do it in New South Wales so there's no reason not to.

Chris Bates: I guess at how I look at it is two sides of the coin. You've got people who live in the property, they're the homeowners, and there's a real benefit of thinking about your home as really an investment for two reasons. One, you never know when you're gonna have to sell it because you might have to sell your home when you don't want to whether it's work, relationship, transfer or something like that. And so you should be investing in maintenance, upkeep, et cetera.

Chris Bates: And so thinking about these things would help you with a sale. And so even if you don't have to sell it, you should always be thinking about that mindset. Secondly, I guess, is always the power bills, right? If you can reduce your running costs on a property-

Cecille Weldon: And your water bills because it's…

Chris Bates: -and your water bills and you think about it like that well then those things add up over time. And if you can do one outlay now, you'd get all these benefits so it makes sense. Where does it really make sense for investors though? Because for them the running costs, a lot of them is gonna be covered by the tenant so…?

Cecille Weldon: But this is where you need to change the conversation and say, “How much disposable income does that renter have and how much are they wasting on a power bill that they could be using for my rent?” Because what an investor doesn't want is a rent default, a vacancy or to have to reduce their rent. What this does is it keeps a property top of mind. It transparently shows all the benefits so it enables it to be marketed to maintain its rental value if not have a bit more. It's more likely that that tenant will be a longer tenant because they're not gonna get a power bill and go, “See you later, chip potato."

Cecille Weldon: There's another thing where if your renter comes to you and says, “You know what? I'm getting a huge power bill.” I'll give you an example. If you have a really old hot water system in Sydney a lot of money goes to hot water. I could upgrade that. And with the same amount of energy usage, the bill would be reduced to $198. Okay. What I'm trying to say is that's more disposable income. This idea of the landlord not caring because it doesn't impact them, I think, is an old fashioned idea.

Chris Bates: I agree and I think if you're an investor you should be thinking, “How do I market this property?” And so when a renters in that property, the last thing … They might be thinking about staying or leaving and that's why it's so important to keep your property, your upkeep and keep on top of your repairs.

Cecille Weldon: You've gotta capitalize on each property, right?

Chris Bates: Yeah. And so depending on what the tax deductibility of some of this is well, repairs and you might find not all will be tax deductible. It makes a lot more even sense for investors because if you do get to keep a tenant, you can potentially put your rent up because they know that they're paying less on their bills so you can get a high market rent. I guess it's just flipping that and a lot of investors will think, “Well, I don't really wanna spend money on the property or my investment,” but it was probably just a mindset shift that they need to have.

Cecille Weldon: And it's not a lot, right? Ceiling insulation is gonna add so much more comfort to that rental property. It's gonna make a huge difference. A lot of real estate agents sell properties that they're so hot they have to arrive an hour before the open home or they're freezing cold. You know what I mean?

Veronica Morgan: Yeah.

Cecille Weldon: This is a big deal and if you just think about how much this is such a dominant part of our national conversation, we're trying to get energy retailers to reduce their costs when all the time we could all be empowered and doing our own stuff. The mortgage industry knows that it's not just the cost of the first time that's a barrier for a first time buyer, it's the cost of living. Right? Every generation, millennials and gen X's, are super excited about this because they just get it, right? I want more disposable income.

Chris Bates: Could we talk through these 17 things, and just slowly go through them, because I think that each one of them is actually a conversation for people to think about.

Cecille Weldon: The first one is to understand what's the climate zone pattern in the city that you're in because a lot of people don't even realize. Sydney is a mixed climate which means that your heating and your cooling needs are similar though your summer and your heating bills will be fairly similar. Whereas somewhere like the ACT is a heating climate so the winter bill is gonna be more. It's important to know before you even look at a house how does this house need to respond to the climate that it's in?

Veronica Morgan: Yes, like when you're in Melbourne, you actually need central heating and no one even thinks about it when you're in Sydney. Yeah.

Cecille Weldon: It's getting that understanding for people from the get go. It's a new idea of location, location, right? It's giving more information.

Chris Bates: Does that even happen within the city? Like if you're on the beach side suburbs and you've gotta...

Cecille Weldon: It's still generally speaking, the pattern for Sydney. And, remember, we're giving very big chunky climate zones. You can go right down to a suburb level climate zone.

Chris Bates: That's what I mean, yeah.

Cecille Weldon: Okay. But in terms of liveability, because this is simple and we've only got a few moments, we talk about the general trend of a city. But you can go in and have a look on liveability at the deeper level climate zone maps. You know what I mean? But, it's important to understand this is what our city does, this is our city. And the next thing is this idea of a living locally. Some people are actually wanting to buy a property because it's close to a vibrant community experience and not about the house at all. Do you see what I mean?

Cecille Weldon: And so this is really acknowledging that this is a new trend in real estate that has been going on for a little while but it's actually much bigger than most people think. Okay? It's about understanding the community gardens, if you've got an apartment, knowing where they are. It's about understanding where local produce markets are. It's about saying, “If you're close to any of those, that's a great liveability feature.” Because you're within walking distance, which is great, but also you've got that experience of being near a vibrant community.

Chris Bates: It's amazing when you're living in these areas and you do know about them and you're going down to the markets on a Saturday or a Sunday and buyers do care about that.

Veronica Morgan: Massively.

Chris Bates: A huge part of their decision on buying the property is knowing that on a Saturday morning they can go and get their flowers and their fresh fruit and it's only a 200 metre walk. But I don't think that's really what agents had been saying in the past.

Veronica Morgan: No.

Cecille Weldon: Yes they do.

Veronica Morgan: Come on.

Cecille Weldon: But, normally, they don't have … The liveability real estate specialist has a much deeper knowledge about these things. One of the problems you've got is if you're out of state or if you're in don't know a suburb, you may not know where all these things are. And sometimes agents, what we ask of our agents is a deeper level of community research so that they really are extremely expert in the street name, how often … it's a deeper level.

Chris Bates: Got you, yeah.

Cecille Weldon: So, yes, this has been going on and this is a conversation in real estate out there, but what this is doing is quantifying it. Do you see what I mean? And so you get an icon for that to say you're close with this. And so the next one you start … that's more around layout those two. The next is really the floor plan. Sorry, the location. The next is really the floor plan and layout and so this is where we're looking at really good building design. Everyone knows that north facing is good, but a lot of people don't know which face should be north facing.

Veronica Morgan: I know it's one of the bug bears. If you see an ad where the house faces north, it's actually the front of the house faces north and that's gonna help you.

Cecille Weldon: Yeah, every face is gonna face north though there's going to be … What we're looking for is north facing living rooms because these are the rooms that you're wanting to heat and cool the most. If you've got a north facing living room, that's great. And, remember, if you don't it's okay. This is not a hierarchy, it's just a tick.

Veronica Morgan: They're trying to get 100 out of 100.

Cecille Weldon: Yeah. Do you know what I mean? It's not a rating. It's just simply saying that's a feature that's there that that agent can market.

Veronica Morgan: There's also … When you talk about a good design just as in aside, if you are looking at a site and you're gonna renovate, then, these things obviously are very important to consider.

Cecille Weldon: Super important.

Veronica Morgan: And you see a really good design with architects that have popup windows to caption northern light in rooms that don't face north so when you go I'm sure that's factored in.

Cecille Weldon: Well I think what's important is what we've done is created … if you imagine we've created like a national standard of the features that we'll deliver, okay? Now, that is a baseline. And so there are all sorts of ways a good building designer can adapt if you don't have north facing living rooms. But what we need to do is get what is a feature that will deliver if I'm a renovator. Because sometimes they're lost in echo features and everyone can come up with their own list. You need something that's verifiable and I can trust to invest in.

Cecille Weldon: The other thing is cross ventilation. A lot of times we pick, we think it catches breezes but actually cross ventilation does something much more powerful. And that's a through a breezeway that goes from one side of the house to the other. It actually sucks the air through the building even when there is no wind because of the pressure on the building so cross ventilation is pretty amazing. If you think orientation of your living rooms with the right shading can be free heating and cross ventilation is free cooling, especially because in Sydney in the evening the temperature drops. That's a great start, and especially if you're wanting a healthy home, to know that you can get some natural, heating and cooling is fantastic.

Chris Bates: And so how would they do that … just some simple modifications?

Cecille Weldon: Well, you know what's interesting is sometimes, just look, can the air flow from one side in a clear pathway? Breezes don't take a right or left hand bend and then there may be a fixed window on the other side. Okay, just make it an opening window. Do you see what I'm mean?

Veronica Morgan: Here's a good one other one for you. Your front door, if you had that open, and your back door, you'd have cross ventilation.

Cecille Weldon: That's exactly right.

Veronica Morgan: However, most people don't wanna have their front door open.

Cecille Weldon: But you can have a secure fly screen.

Veronica Morgan: Yeah, exactly. I was about to say put a grill on there and lock it and have the front door open. We do that. But this is where a lot of apartments have a problem because if they are built in the corner of the building or if some of them only got one face with windows that's not gonna be happen.

Chris Bates: Yeah.

Cecille Weldon: There are some little tricks that you can do outside of the checklist. If you've got an older home with double hung windows, and it's an apartment, you can put those little secure screws. If you have a little gap at the bottom and a little gap at the top, it will create a thermal current-

Veronica Morgan: Really?

Cecille Weldon: -which will suck the hot air out and the cool area in and vice versa.

Veronica Morgan: Love it. That's great.

Cecille Weldon: The beauty about liveability is it's not just telling you the features but it's telling you stuff about how to use your house. Because we need to understand, right?

Chris Bates: And, exactly, who trains you on how to-

Cecille Weldon: No one, right?

Chris Bates: -to actually best get the use of your house and to…

Cecille Weldon: And we feel disempowered because we feel like if the energy companies are choosing this much, what do we do? But there's so much we can learn to love about our own homes and help our homes work for us not a static thing.

Chris Bates: Yeah. We've got a behavioral bias that if we actually invest into something or we'd go through work, and that might be just fixing something, we actually start to value it a lot more. So, you're paying this big mortgage, you've got this 1.5 dollar house or whatever it is, right? Yeah, you need to value it. And the way to value it more is actually just investing a little bit into it in your time and effort. And so you actually get this huge mental reward by just actually thinking about these things and actually getting results.

Cecille Weldon: And, interestingly, the agents that have done the training halfway through the training and they start asking questions and this happened in every single training. Right?

Chris Bates: Yes.

Cecille Weldon: And I said, “Is this about a property that you've got a listing?” And they said, “No, it's about our own homes.”

Chris Bates: Yeah.

Veronica Morgan: Yeah.

Cecille Weldon: I've got to that it really changes you because what we need to do is think about our homes as being responsive to different climate not a static thing. We need to change our minds. We need to understand what it needs to do in summer and what it needs to do in winter. And that means that when we've got climate extremes, we know how to make that work. Right?

Chris Bates: Yeah.

Veronica Morgan: Yeah.

Cecille Weldon: If we just keep moving through the list, zoning is something very simple. It just means that the rooms can be closed off in order to heat and cool them separately.

Veronica Morgan: Which is funny because we've got this big trend towards open plan living which has been around for the last 20 odd years.

Cecille Weldon: And that's when energy prices were super cheap. They took all the walls out, took the heaves off, put big sliding aluminum, glass doors but they're very expensive to run and they're very uncomfortable. Remember we're not saying they need to be closed all the time, it could still be open plan, but in the dead of winter we just want a sliding door that can go across it so you can actually zone that area and all the hot air isn't going upstairs to the upstairs rooms. Do you see what I mean?

Chris Bates: I think this is like cutting out the gaps, assuming, at the bottom of the doors properly.

Cecille Weldon: Yeah, there's a lot that can be done with draft sealing very simply and window sealing, all of those sorts of things but these are the bigger things where hot air rises. I don't know if you've been to places and you go upstairs and it's hot as Haiti in summer.

Veronica Morgan: Yeah.

Cecille Weldon: It's because there was no zoning downstairs so it's just a really inefficient use, nobody's comfortable in that house.

Veronica Morgan: You're saying if you actually zone a house, that will stop the hot air rising?

Cecille Weldon: Well, what will happen is if you imagine in the dead of winter you've got a big family room downstairs and you've got an upstairs and you've got an open area from the family room that's going upstairs. Everyone in the family room, because that's where everyone's the most … they're all sitting there, your heating that room trying to get warm and all of that warm air is going upstairs.

Veronica Morgan: Yeah, nicer when you go for bed.

Cecille Weldon: There are people upstairs, the kids are upstairs or doing their homework and it's getting hot as anything. And what are they doing? They're opening a window and so create thermal current where it's actually sucking the cold air through the house and out. Nobody in that house is comfortable. And can I tell you how big their power bill is gonna be?

Chris Bates: Yeah, exactly.

Veronica Morgan: Now, I'm curious so…

Cecille Weldon: So just by putting a sliding door … you don't need to see it. It can still look open plan. Australians, we love an open plan right? You don't wanna change lifestyle. These are about getting benefits without sacrificing lifestyle, really important. You can just have a sliding door and when it's really cold have that and then upstairs is heated separately. Do you see what I mean?

Veronica Morgan: Yeah, of course, now so I was thinking in summer.

Cecille Weldon: The reverse, the reverse is true.

Veronica Morgan: Where there's hot rooms upstairs … So many houses you go upstairs and you melt.

Cecille Weldon: Yeah, that's right.

Veronica Morgan: Probably because I haven't had on insulation.

Cecille Weldon: And they can have a split system up there that's just doing that but you're not…

Chris Bates: Yeah, you're not trying to cool the whole the house down with one little split system. Just cool down one bedroom that you're in and then when you go to the other room cool that bedroom down.

Cecille Weldon: And a lot of times, look, we need to remember that before we had mechanical air conditioning, this is just what we needed to do. Our homes we're naturally designed with zoning. Right? And so if you've got a rental property and the doors and in the garage because you took them off, bring them back and put them back on because some of these made sense. Do you see what I mean to do some of these things?

Chris Bates: And we have talked about insulation which you've, obviously…

Cecille Weldon: Ceiling insulation is a minimum. I wouldn't even think of not putting … installation is like a barrier. What it does is it needs to be kept … when you push down insulation it stops being effective. It's the trapped air that works because it takes a long time for the temperature to conquer that next piece of trapped air and move through it. What you want if you've got ceiling insulation, then, that means your heating and cooling, and you're gonna get much more from it and it's not disappearing through the roof.

Chris Bates: Yeah, okay.

Cecille Weldon: That's basic but if you have an opportunity to have wall insulation and under floor insulation, if you're doing … the thing is that you can't do those later once the walls done. You can but it's a little trickier. I would definitely do those as well. Insulation is a gift that keeps giving because it lasts for 25 years.

Veronica Morgan: Certainly, like if you're having a weatherboard house or something like that, then, I highly encourage you to insulate walls. It's funny actually, I did a renovation a number of years ago and I insisted on wall insulation. A lot of that is Basix anyway, the ceiling, the ceiling. But I had tin roof and when it rained, oh my God, because I'd never lived under a tin roof before.

Chris Bates: Yeah, loud.

Veronica Morgan: Oh my God, it was loud and no one had ever mentioned. You can get acoustic insulation as well so I'm about to do another renovation. I'll be getting another color bond roof and this time I'm getting not only heating installation but sound insulation so that I don't get woken up in the middle of night if there's a storm. But that's … Once again, you talk about the fact that there's not a lot of education around this.

Cecille Weldon: And also, really important, I wanna tell all of your listeners. If you're getting installation, absolutely keep the receipt because that is your warranty. As I say, it can be warrantied up to 25 years but also liveability real estate specialist will need that independent proof. If you've put the insulation in yourself, you also need to have independent proof it's been installed correctly.

Veronica Morgan: Oh yeah.

Cecille Weldon: Because you can't get into the wall for argument's sake.

Veronica Morgan: You wanna know the evidence is even there.

Cecille Weldon: That's exactly right. When you're getting a renovation say, “I would like the certificate to prove, the warranty and the receipt to prove, that is in there.” This is very important. And also just remember that if you've installed it yourself, it's worth getting a building inspector do an insulation only check. And we have a little checklist that you can download on liveability that they can just give that. It won't be a whole building inspections, it's just that tiny insulation one. Because of everything that's going on with insulation, it just means to a homeowner potential buyer. If you've got proof of that and it's been verified by that appraisal, then, they know, “Wow, this has really got it.”

Chris Bates: And the next one is density of building material.

Cecille Weldon: Yeah. Now, this is interesting. You may have heard this idea of passive building design. A lot of architects use this where it's actually the way the house is designed that delivers a lot. You don't need to turn anything on yet. And so the density building materials is referring to something called thermal mass, which is really just building materials that are really dense like concrete. Yeah. And if they're appropriately located so that they can get access to the sun in summer but not in winter, then, that's like that dense materials stores that heat and rereleases it when the room becomes cooler. If you imagine…

Veronica Morgan: You want it to store in winter and not summer?

Cecille Weldon: If the sun hits it in winter, it's stores that heat and then when the temperature drops at night it releases the heat into the room. Normally it's an architect designed home, it won't be happening by accident. Do you know what I mean? And all these other factors need to be there as well. But it's worth saying to your architect, if you're having a big design, can you design with the principles of passive design and is there any opportunity for putting some thermal mass in there?

Chris Bates: So, if you're doing a renovation or a big extension on the back of the house, this should be something that you could do in terms of your slab or concrete.

Cecille Weldon: You just need to make sure that you've got the external shading so that it's not heating it up in summer. This is where you'll find on liveability how all of them come together. Do you know what I mean? How important external shading is.

Chris Bates: Use it in the winter and then in the summer you protect it sort of thing.

Cecille Weldon: If you've got the right shading, and we've got a magic formula or on liveability for the right shading when we come to that one which is soon, the right shading will let the winter sun go into the room but it will keep the summer sun out.

Veronica Morgan: Because if you've ever paid attention to this, the sun is lower in winter time.

Cecille Weldon: That's right.

Veronica Morgan: Basically in summer-

Cecille Weldon: It's high.

Veronica Morgan: -instead it hits your awning and it bounces off and in winter that drops in and it comes underneath your awning. That's obviously…

Cecille Weldon: And we've got a fantastic animation that explains that and gives the magic formula. If you've got floor to ceiling doors, you need glass windows, you need a much wider awning. If you've just got normal windows, just an eve will do.

Cecille Weldon: It's pretty amazing.

Chris Bates: You could always wire them back though as well, couldn't you?

Cecille Weldon: You can't have adjustable shading or you can have fixed shading. What's so exciting about shading, I think it's amazing, is it just really makes a difference to comfort. Because if the sun hits that window in summer, they change from short to long waves, it's trapped inside and keeps heating and heating and heating and can't go back out the window.

Veronica Morgan: All right.

Cecille Weldon: What you want is no sun to hit those windows.

Veronica Morgan: It's like a magnifying glass. You're an ant inside or underneath.

Cecille Weldon: They call it the greenhouse effect. Do you know what I mean? Because that's like when you're in a car, when you leave your car locked up.

Chris Bates: Yeah.

Cecille Weldon: Why? It's just so much hotter.

Chris Bates: But in winter you might want the sun to hit those windows, right? So you might not…

Cecille Weldon: That's why you have the right shading.

Chris Bates: Yeah, you might want the shading back. And that's why some people might not get shading as they go, “Well, I actually wanted it in the winter,” but they don't think through that actually they could just get adjustable.

Cecille Weldon: Or, they could get just the right size.

Veronica Morgan: It doesn't actually need to be adjustable.

Cecille Weldon: It doesn't need to reduce if it's the right … that's why we give the magic formula, depending on the size of your windows.

Chris Bates: Yeah.

Veronica Morgan: And the orientation. I remember the first time I worked out that walls stored heat because I was walking past this west facing brick wall on an early evening on a summer's night one day. And I could feel the heat coming out of the wall.

Cecille Weldon: Yeah, the radiant heat.

Veronica Morgan: When I first started and got into real estate and suddenly all this stuff started occurring to me and I was like, “Oh my God, all that all day long or all afternoon on that's basically been just absorb, absorb, absorb.” And you could feel it. It was almost like it was a furnace blowing on me.

Cecille Weldon: The next one is windows and glazing and this is super interesting to me. The Australian Windows Association a few years ago started to develop energy efficient windows and there is a certificate that goes with these windows. It's called a WERS certificate and you really need that certificate. Because, do you know what, you cannot tell the difference between that and another window when you look at it visually but these windows are phenomenal. So because so much heat is lost and gained, depending on the season, through your windows these windows are 30% better for winter, 30% better for summer. It just means, again, you're getting more from your mechanical heating and cooling. Do you know what I mean?

Chris Bates: Mm-Hmm

Cecille Weldon: If you're getting windows, absolutely get WERS rated windows because people talk a lot of language, “Oh it's a glass, it's see this,” but some of that isn't verified. Okay?

Chris Bates: And is it similar price to other windows.

Cecille Weldon: So it's the WERS certificate ... They can be a little bit more expensive. A lot of them are a requirement and basics but what we want you to do is get the WERS certificate. Ask the installer because, again, that's proof. And some of them, if you've really invested in them, because you have that western side or whatever it is, then you wanna be rewarded when you sell your house and you wanna be able to get that uplift back. So windows are an amazing opportunity to increase the comfort of your home and reduce your running costs.

Cecille Weldon: And the next thing is that shading and sun control which I've been talking about. I just wanna stress it's external shading so if you've got shutters inside your window you may physiologically think it's making a difference. And it may psychologically make a difference but it's not really gonna make that difference until you've got external shading because you want the sun not to hit the glass in the first place.

Chris Bates: Got you.

Cecille Weldon: Then you come down to the energy and water saving inclusions and we've got efficient heating and cooling devices. This is the only thing and area which sometimes people can get their back up because we don't recognize ducted air conditioning. What we're looking for…

Veronica Morgan: And you don't recognize it .

Cecille Weldon: For liveability.

Veronica Morgan: Yeah, yeah.

Cecille Weldon: It's not in the benchmark because it's inherently inefficient. Even if there is a rating, there's not a national rating scheme. What you need to do, what we ask people to do, is really…

Chris Bates: Is that because you can't do the zoning?

Cecille Weldon: It's not because some ducted air conditioning does have zoning, it's because it's inherently inefficient because you're having to generate so much to move through the house even if it gets to that zone and it's zoned off.

Veronica Morgan: Right.

Chris Bates: Got you.

Cecille Weldon: You've already gen... But also you can't see in the installation whether it's been done well, you can't check for faults. It's largely a hidden. Now, it may be in the future that that there's a national standard rating system that we can say you've got this rating. When that happens, the beauty about the liveability benchmarks is they're updated every 18 months but, absolutely, split systems are incredibly efficient.

Cecille Weldon: They measure efficiency based on energy in and energy out and some of those you're getting four times the amount of energy out as energy in and so there's a whole list of what a different. It might be ceiling fans. They're also really important for cooling.

Chris Bates: I think it's just bringing awareness. If you're gonna put a new fan in, anyway, why not make sure it's energy efficient. If you are gonna upgrade the hot water system, why not just be a bit smarter there and you pay a little bit more but get X benefits.

Cecille Weldon: That's exactly right. And look and little tip with the ceiling fans is ceiling fans work better when they're closest to you. And a lot of people put ceiling fans in the…

Chris Bates: Just not too close.

Cecille Weldon: Well, yes. A lot of people put ceiling fans in the middle of the room but the dining table might be on the left and the lounge might be on the right. Okay, you're not gonna get the benefit of that ceiling fan so make sure you place the ceiling fans over where the people are because the ceiling fan cools the people not the house.

Veronica Morgan: I know, this is what makes me laugh. These people think, “I got all the fans and all the time to keep the air moving through a bit.” I said, “It's what it does to the air-

Cecille Weldon: It increases evaporation on your skin.

Veronica Morgan: - touching your skin. That's actually what makes you feel cool.”

Cecille Weldon: Yeah, so don't leave them on when you leave the house, it's not going to cool the house down. But, interestingly, even a small amount of air movement can reduce your feeling of the temperature up to four degrees. And that's the ceiling fans. They're not an expensive thing, right?

Chris Bates: Yeah.

Cecille Weldon: This is what we mean.

Chris Bates: And as such you're putting on the air conditioner because you then go off feel fine, that's fine I’ve got the ceiling fan.

Cecille Weldon: And, look, I personally have a ceiling fan and good cross ventilation. I don't need an air conditioner so it's interesting.

Veronica Morgan: Certainly at night too. And I think that's the thing.

Cecille Weldon: Yeah, above the bed is…

Veronica Morgan: Oh, they're fantastic.

Cecille Weldon: Sleeping with an air conditioner on, is horrible. I hate hotel rooms for that reason. Then, you've got energy efficient lighting and that's LED lighting throughout. There's no excuse not to have that these days. There are lots of rebates and things available for people but, also, LED lighting is just so … The big thing about LED lighting is they're cool. The halogens bulbs emit heat as well so that means you're increasing the heat in your room in summer. When I recently bought an apartment, the first thing I did was replace all of the halogen bulbs for LED.

Veronica Morgan: You can just rip them out and put the LED in.

Cecille Weldon: Yeah. There's not any such lighting situation now where there isn't an LED equivalent.

Chris Bates: Right.

Cecille Weldon: Yeah, so it's very exciting and there could do that too. What a great thing. That's another liveability feature that you can add very simply.

Veronica Morgan: That's pretty cheap.

Cecille Weldon: Yeah.

Veronica Morgan: But they last longer too, right?

Cecille Weldon: Yeah, they last longer, they're cheaper to run and they're cooler. People forget about being cooler.

Chris Bates: Yeah, it's a no brainer for us.

Veronica Morgan: It's a no brainer.

Cecille Weldon: No, it really is. A lot of these things are like Duh. Then, you've got an efficient hot water system. And as I said in Sydney, a lot of your energy bill is your hot water and there are all sorts of very efficient hot water systems on the market and they come with a rating, a national disclosed rating scheme that's very simple for everybody to understand. So definitely as high as you can go … Well, you don't have to be as high as you can go but at least get a decent one so it'll last.

Veronica Morgan: Also where it's had in the house though, isn't it? You can have a hot water system that's located in one corner and your kitchen and bathrooms and everything are located in the opposite corner.

Cecille Weldon: It depends on the system. There's solar, there's heat pump, there's all sorts of things so when you're talking to the dealers about that you just ask and when they're coming to the quote they'll talk to you about that. Then you've got the poster child, solar PV. We all know that it's … A lot of people don't keep their receipts, keep your receipts if you're putting a solar PV system in. And any sort of regular maintenance that you're doing, make sure you keep a log book. We recommend if there's any manual that comes with the system that all of that's recorded in there because it's very important to have that information disclosed.

Cecille Weldon: And, remember, there's two parts of the solar system. One is the inverter and the other is the panels. And so the panels will last sometimes 25 years, the inverter maybe around 10 to 12. So, if you're going to look at a property, you wanna know how old the inverter is. And this is where a liveability real estate specialist shares all of that information and it's verified.

Veronica Morgan: Now, on this is … I'm doing a reno and I said to my architect I definitely want solar panels up there and he was like, “Oh, there's issues with them. I'm still a bit unclear as to what you see.” And so on the plans it's like revision for it at a future date without actually committing to putting them in now. Now, I still intend to get them put in but I'm interested in and I wish I knew the detail of why he's objecting. But why would people object and say you better wait.

Cecille Weldon: I honestly don't know because one in five homes now in Australia have solar PV. One thing I would recommend is you go to the clean energy council and they have a fantastic consumer guide to solar PV and that answers all the questions. And you make sure that your installer is qualified. They need to have a clean energy council verification. And what I'd also do is the clean energy council side has approved retailers and they've signed a code of conduct, there's 150 of them or so.

Cecille Weldon: You can go in and check that your retailer, that you're getting your quote from, is part of that group. That's very important. And there are a lot of local council initiatives around solar PV, Northern Beaches, Kuring-gai, all sorts of things that have helplines and all sorts of things. Solar PV really is a bit of a no brainer but if you've got a certain amount of money, do you know what I mean, and you go … Look, most people these days are looking at I don't know how many rooms in your house.

Cecille Weldon: If it's a four to five bedroom home, you'd be wanting to do at least a five to six kilowatt system. Most people are getting those bigger systems because they're planning for electric cars. And, remember, currently there's no standard for battery storage in Australia yet. It’s expected to come soon so I definitely would invest in solar PV really.

Chris Bates: And just while we're there on battery storage, you've got the Tesla power walls and LG have got one. I know they're quite expensive if you look at them as a one-off but if you come back in five years' time, the tesla power walls won't be $6,000 or $8,000, there'll be $1,000.

Cecille Weldon: Yes. And look, again, the Clean Energy Council site has some great stuff as well as liveability. What I would do is just wait until there's a standard in Australia because it, liveability refers to industry standards. Do you know what I mean? But, definitely, I would be looking at there are so many amazing offers and remember the rebate scheme is still integrated into your retail price. And every year that's getting less and less so I'd probably invest in them sooner rather than later. It's just about changing our mindset that our houses can be energy generators not just energy users.

Veronica Morgan: I'm actually amazed. It's funny because my brother in law is Italian and they were out here for Christmas and they went out to visit some friends of my sisters that live out in Green Hills. I don't know if it's that called that now and it used to be sand dune. And there's this whopping great big development, full of whopping great big houses and Giovanni is saying, “I can't believe it. There's not a solar panel on site.” And I find it astounding. He was saying, “How can this be? These are still under construction, some of these houses, how can this be?”

Cecille Weldon: And that's I guess … And the volume housing industry will change and I know there are some big government incentives being planned on a local level to look at how they can support that new conversation coming down the line. I think the more people use solar, the more affordable it becomes, the more becomes like the new normal, to be honest. These are the new normal.

Veronica Morgan: Look, I agree but it's interesting. It's just comes into that take-up period. There's always a period of time where you've got much lower take-up than it really is ideal. And I think it's interesting just that people are getting a brand new house built where they've got these greenfield opportunity to get all the stuff in there and, obviously, no one's bothering.

Cecille Weldon: Yeah, absolutely. And also they're focusing on … and this is where I'm the real estate industry … I hate to say it cause I love them but they have a lot to answer for, because they haven't identified these features, they haven't driven a market in these features. And so everyone's got Caesar Stone Bench tops because why? Because they're recognized. What we wanna do is go, “You know what? We want these front and center for Australian homeowners,” and that will drive the market. And so that means that it will become more cost effective, our homes are gonna become more comfortable. Another reason is, sometimes, these have been hidden in a sustainability conversation and so it's been seen as a political decision and it's not. Right?

Veronica Morgan: If you liked Tony Abbott, for argument's sake, you can't possibly do any of these things to your house.

Cecille Weldon: Well, and this is where we've gotta get rid of that because it's actually…

Veronica Morgan: Ridiculous.

Cecille Weldon: It's actually holding everyone back from a better life. That's why we say this isn't an optional extra. This isn't something you do depending on what your politics are. This is about creating your best home and every measure ... Why would you want a home that's going to be expensive to run? It's not your best home.

Veronica Morgan: Or that's unnecessarily hot.

Chris Bates: And the fun part of this is you can measure nowadays, right? You can have trackers in your house to be measuring the temperature really easily.

Cecille Weldon: And different people that matters too differently. You know what I mean? Some people just wanna know, “I don't wanna know about it. I just wanna know it's delivering.”

Chris Bates: Yeah, and that's right and then you get the results, right? You can see that you're getting results and people love that kind of gamification. What are the final ones just so we can finish it off?

Cecille Weldon: The last four is a low water garden and I can't stress this enough. A lot of people think it's something like breaking bad and it's a whole bunch of cacti in the desert. Low water gardens are local native but there's a lot of Mediterranean gardens that are low water gardens. And most of or so much of Sydney's water usage goes to garden so we really recommend you start to transition to a low water garden because then no matter what's with the water restrictions, it's always gonna look great.

Veronica Morgan: What about, what's the best grass?

Cecille Weldon: Okay, well there's also … Actually, there's an amazing native grass that you can almost have as a lawn so it's really worth looking. We have the low water guides on liveability, but your local council … I'm Pittwater council. In Pittwater council area, northern beaches sorry now, and you can get five free plants every year from the council because they're low water natives. Definitely, don't underestimate how much water you're wasting on your garden. And, remember, gardens do a lot. They help the radiant heat of the property as well as providing just a better livable environment.

Chris Bates: So it's about getting a garden and doing it and having a nice garden and planting natives and things that'll be low water.

Cecille Weldon: Look, you don't … and trickle irrigation if you're gonna have any irrigation but you don't want popups sprinklers.

Chris Bates: Yeah, okay.

Cecille Weldon: You don't. If your garden needs that, I would be transitioning away from that because that's gonna cost you a lot and once there's a water restriction it's gonna look dead. It will be dead.

Veronica Morgan: Yeah, that's a good point.

Cecille Weldon: The next thing is water efficient devices and these are really just your shower heads, your flush toilets. The Duh, right?

Chris Bates: Yeah.

Cecille Weldon: They really do make a difference. And for those people that had water efficient shower heads and has such a bad experience in the first generation…

Veronica Morgan: Remember them, running around to get wet?

Cecille Weldon: And also they pierced you like little needles. You could never get the soap suds out of your hair. The new generation are amazing and that's because they use micro airasion where they actually put air into the droplet. And so it actually feels like a lot more water and it's great. If you've had a bad experience for the first generation, I'm gonna challenge you to go and have a look at the new ones because they really do deliver so much better usage of your water.

Chris Bates: I think I just tried that.

Cecille Weldon: You can see they've got a WELS rating.

Chris Bates: Yeah, you just put your head under.

Cecille Weldon: The ones with the little plastic nodules are the aeration and you wanna ask about those. And so the last … Well there's rain water tanks. And a big tip for everyone, if you're thinking of putting a rain water tank in, the bigger the better. Some of the problem is there are tiny little rain water tanks that will really need … The problem with rainwater tanks is that when you really needed is when there is no rain so you've got a little bit of a disconnect there. That's why a low water garden is much better. But if you're going to have a rain water tank, you wanna make sure it's the right size for your house.

Cecille Weldon: And a big tip for everyone is if you go to the tank you later, just do a search for tank you later, the ATA has created a great little side and you put in your post code it will calculate the rainfall. You say how many people in your house, what you wanna use it for and it will tell you how big the rainwater tank needs to be.

Veronica Morgan: Now, what if somebody wants to connect their rainwater up to the toilets?

Cecille Weldon: Well, if you put that in it will tell you exactly.

Veronica Morgan: There's quite a fair amount of reworking of your plumbing if you can do that, aren't you?

Cecille Weldon: There is very simple guidelines in your council area to be able to do that. And, again, this is just one of those things that you need a bigger system.

Chris Bates: Every week, we hear incredible stories of the dumb things, property buyers do, dumb things that end up costing a whole lot of money and/or creating a whole lot of stress … mistakes that can be avoided. Please, Cecille, can you give us an example of a property dumbo? We can all learn what not to do from the stories.

Cecille Weldon: I'll tell you just a trick or just a bit of a warning system. Sometimes you don't know when you're buying a house, whether it's connected to the garden or the house. I'll tell you a bit of a horror story. A person in Canberra bought a house with a rain water tank and used the rain water tank all summer for the slip and slide. But it was attached to the mains and she got a bill for $2,000. Remember that a lot of rain water tanks have a mains top up. Just remember if it hasn't been raining it's unlikely that the tank will be full. We say about 10,000 litres is useful. 5,000 to 10,000 liters, you can use that. So, again, bigger is better.

Chris Bates: You don't bother with that like my mother did. My mother bought a little rain water tank and it's probably does about 50 litres. I said that's a bit pointless.

Cecille Weldon: It's good for the roses but you know what I mean? And so the last one is an energy rating and in 2006, the Federal Government bought out of compliance for new homes where they all had to have, as part of the construction code, an energy rating. And this is really great news for Australian homeowners. This is new homes and so we recommend that if you're building a new home, you're going to be asked about your Basix Certificate or if you're working with your building designer or architect we want you to say go beyond compliance.

Cecille Weldon: Okay? Because around the seven to eight star level is showing a big uplift in value no matter what. But we want you to keep that certificate, understand what that certificate relates to because that's talking about the whole building design and how much, theoretically, heating and cooling that house is gonna need.

Veronica Morgan: You talk about the reasons for doing this, improving the comfort of living in the home-

Cecille Weldon: And health.

Veronica Morgan: -100%.

Cecille Weldon: Yeah.

Veronica Morgan: That really should be a no brainer. China. And then secondly, obviously, improving your running costs or reducing your running costs and, thirdly, there's the increasing the value of your home which I could see that happening long term but that's very much an education piece as well. Because if people haven't done it to their own home, they're not necessarily gonna value it for the next one until they actually live in it and go, “Ah, now I get it.”

Cecille Weldon: I understand why you're feeling that way. I think you'll find that people who have been investing in these things over time that when it comes to time of upgrading the hot water system they're going for more efficient one or the washing machine, they're going … You know what I mean? This is a natural part of our thinking these days.

Veronica Morgan: Yeah, no, I get that.

Cecille Weldon: But what about the real estate industry needs to catch up.

Veronica Morgan: Exactly. Because the thing is, if I'm out there looking at buying a house, and we do this day-in day-out with our clients, and so I'm not arguing the toss with you in terms of…

Cecille Weldon: No, no, I'm with you. I'm with you sister.

Veronica Morgan: Yeah. But the simple fact is that buyers, there's a lot of other big elephants that they're dealing with, you know what I mean, that end up becoming more of a priority when they're buying a property than this and I'm sure that there'll be a tipping point where this becomes part of the conversation where everybody … It's sort of a bit chicken and the egg, isn't it really? It's like where the…

Cecille Weldon: I think, yes, there's a, there's a critical mass or a critical point. One thing I will say is if you're out there as a buyer and you go to an online property listing and it has all the liveability features that are there and you know that helps with running costs and comfort and you know that agent is trained and can answer any question you want, I guarantee that house will stand out for you. Okay so, again, it's about agents really wanting to deliver this better service. If you've got a favorite agent, if you've got an agent that you really love, even if you've got an agent that you haven't, just say, “Hey, do the training because I'm investing in these things and when it comes time to sell, I want you to sell my property.”

Chris Bates: Yeah. A client, bought a place last year and they moved in in May and it was freezing so they've had an awful experience trying to heat this place. Now, it's summer and I caught up with them last week and, unfortunately, it's been ridiculously hot in his house so they've got hit twice. They've got hit really hard on the winter. They've had a horrible experience. If they go buy another house, they're not going to. But if they did next time they're gonna be a little more focused on how's the heating in this house, what's happening?

Veronica Morgan: I think a lot of people are switching onto that as well. And energy prices have come up a lot and it is a national conversation now so I think that's gonna also play into it as well. Where if that could be the little thing that gets that buyer to go for your property over your neighbor's property, well, that might be the reason it sells.

Cecille Weldon: And look, it's a win-win because you get the benefit while you're in the house.

Chris Bates: Yeah.

Cecille Weldon: Sometimes we just capitalize on a property to sell it and we go, “Oh my God, I wish it was like that. Why didn't I do this before when I lived in the house?”

Chris Bates: Oh, that's also my case.

Cecille Weldon: How great to be able to do something that then you're going to see the benefit both sides of the equation. Do you know what I mean? And I think too that it becomes the renovators guide so wouldn't it be great if this is really the renovation for your financial stress?

Chris Bates: Yeah.

Cecille Weldon: Okay. Because those people, those friends of yours, they're spending more, they've got less disposable money to pay down their mortgage.

Chris Bates: Oh yeah man.

Cecille Weldon: Right?

Chris Bates: Yes, exactly.

Cecille Weldon: And that's gonna cause stress.

ChrisBates: And it's costing time. It's a cost on their time and effort and … Yeah, exactly. And having a bay and how the baby is gonna be here next year. It's like we've gotta get this fixed because your hormones … all that sort of stuff. So it's like it's compounding the problem and so if this house did have all these things-

Cecille Weldon: They've got a head start.

Chris Bates: -it's much easier for them to think about that stage.

Cecille Weldon: And, remember, we're just saying add them to your renovation list, just don't do it without it. And we're gonna do what we can to get the real estate industry on board to support the other end of the transaction but you as a consumer can say to your agent, “I need you to do this training or do the property manager.” Because the agent's gonna get the professional uplift from that. You know what I mean?

Veronica Morgan: Absolutely. Now do you have a property Dumbo for us?

Cecille Weldon: Well, I guess the Property Dumbo is the rain water tank. Just check where whether the rain water tank is attached to the mains and when you get that property before you start using all the water in there, just make sure that it's not actually just going to increase your water bill crazily.

Veronica Morgan: Well, I guess, you could say the same thing for solar panels too, couldn't you?

Chris Bates: Put them the wrong way.

Cecille Weldon: They might be up there but if they're not actually connected properly and your still draining on the public…

Chris Bates: Or, hopefully, they're at least faced towards the sun so that…

Veronica Morgan: Yeah, not the north south side of the house. Look, Cecille that was very, very informative. Thank you so much for coming along and sharing all that with us. We will have all the relevant links on the website, theelephantintheroom.com.au and the show notes as well. And, obviously, anybody who wants any further information there's plenty there. All about Cecille and the background and where this came from and how you can implement them, how you can pressure your agent to go into the training. And it's practical. It's actually really practical stuff. It's just that…

Chris Bates: Really, liveability, that's what I find it interesting. It's what's really sells property or one property worth more than other properties their liveability has greater lifestyle benefits. But that could be the suburb and the location of the property.

Cecille Weldon: As well.

Chris Bates: A lot of the time people think of the actual inside that property. And if you can then add that second layer to it, not only is it a great place to live but internally to actually comfort for every day in that property is much better as well.

Cecille Weldon: And understanding that it's empowering. Okay? It makes you feel good that you're not a victim of something, that you can do something in your own home, that you know what to buy, that you can trust information. It doesn't often happen these days in the property market, right? That you can say, “You know what, this is something I can do to take back control.” In the same way that you're buying your solar panels you can go, “I want these other features.”

Chris Bates: Maybe don't complain about your electricity bills until you've done these things.

Cecille Weldon: Until you've done it, absolutely.

Chris Bates: Yeah. Or, it's too hot until you've done these things-

Cecille Weldon: Yeah, that's the way I feel.

Chris Bates: -so take control.

Veronica Morgan: Fantastic. Thank you.

Cecille Weldon: Thank you.

Chris Bates: Thank you. We want to make you a bit of elephant rider and this week's elephant rider training is…

Veronica Morgan: Well, now that we've been talking about the 17 liveability features, and these are really important things by the way and very hard to determine, like some of the things that Cecille was talking about for instance insulation and the density of building materials and whether the awnings are the right depth and also windows and things like that, that really do make a massive impact to the comfort of living in a home. I just wanna talk about when you're inspecting properties and what to look out for.

Veronica Morgan: When you're buying in summer it's really obvious what houses are super-hot. Okay? You've got to be mindful too if the air-conditioners are pumping out that it might be really an inefficient house as well. If you are looking at a house that's been really well designed and great cross ventilation and thermal mass, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera and the don't have the air conditioning on and you see it in summer and you think, “Wow, this is a really good house.” If you go out looking winter, same deal. All the heaters are on that, the home is toasty and warm and all the rest of it, that might be a good sign or it might be a bad sign.

Veronica Morgan: When you are looking in the temperate times of the year, so in spring and autumn, that's actually when you're most at danger of making assumptions around property. I can tell you that a lot of owners who know that their house is really, really hot in summer and upstairs rooms are a classic on this, particularly if they have been poorly insulated, they will avoid listing their property in the middle of summer in the heat. Because they know that it's gonna turn off buyers. And, conversely, if they know they've got a really cold south facing dark, dank house, they are not gonna list that in winter.

Veronica Morgan: But in spring or in autumn it's certainly not gonna come across as bad. Just be very, very mindful of the time of year that you are looking at property and think you know, “Well I'm not going to be seeing or experiencing this house in the real cold or the real heat.” So really pay attention to what sort of heating is there and whether or not there is evidence of installations, all those sorts of things. Going through that list of 17 liveability features is actually really quite useful when you're looking at property.

Veronica Morgan: The other thing too is that if you've never lived in a house with a poor aspect, so if you've never lived in a dark house for instance, you won't necessarily be as acutely aware of how really awful that experience can be. And so if you have, you will. I spoke to a woman the other day who was living in a house with windows in the north and eastern part of the house and she told me when she bought that, that it was an absolute deal breaker for her not to have a north eastern aspect.

Veronica Morgan: And I quizzed her as to why she said, “Because my previous house was a terrace and it ran east to west.” And so there was no northern windows in this house whatsoever. They got front room, got the morning sun and the backroom got afternoon sun and that was basically it so the middle of the house barely got any sun whatsoever. She said it was horrible. It was like living in a mushroom cave in a tunnel. And so for her, that was absolute top of her list when she's looking to buy a property and she will never, never, never give on that because she has experienced the exact opposite to that.

Veronica Morgan: And unless you have experienced the exact opposite, you may not pay enough attention to those sorts of things. And so that's just something to be very, very mindful of. That what you don't know or what you've never experienced, you won't necessarily be on the lookout for. I just think actually that these 17 liveability features are actually quite good for anybody looking to buy a property to just familiarize yourself with, so that you can make better choices.

Veronica Morgan: Join in for our next episode and we have not one but two guests, these guests both representing the engineering profession in Australia. We have John Roydhouse, CEO over the Institute of Public Works Engineering New South Wales chapter and Jonathan Russell who works with Engineers Australia, the peak body for the engineering profession with over 100,000 members. Now we have a very interesting conversation because we don't often think about the role of engineering construction in our built world or our built environment.

Veronica Morgan: We are talking about things like Opal town, Grenfell Tower and Lacrosse Tower and the disasters that can happen when engineering isn't managed properly. We also talk about infrastructure and how that needs to join in with the buildings that we're building to live in and also the lack of registration across Australia. We do have some big, big holes in our whole development process that can ultimately be very, very costly for us individual consumers.

Chris Bates: Don't forget, we're on all the social channels. We're on Facebook, we're on LinkedIn, we're on Twitter.

Veronica Morgan: Or you can connect with us on the elephantintheroom.com.au. The links are all there for you.

Chris Bates: Please connect and send us a message we'd love to hear from you.

Veronica Morgan: The Elephant in the Room Property podcast is recorded at the Sydney Sound Brewery. This week's podcast was recorded by John Risk, editorial by Gordy Fletcher.

Chris Bates: Until next week, don't be Dumbo.

Veronica Morgan: Now, remember, everything we talked about on this podcast is general in nature and should never be considered to be personal financial advice. If you're looking to get advice, please seek the help of a licensed financial advisor or buyer's agent who will tailor and document their advice to your personal circumstances with a statement of advice.


Veronica Morgan