Kate Lawrence and her partner, Sydney Swans co-captain Luke Parker, share their top tips.
If you follow interior designer Kate Lawrence or her partner, Sydney Swans co-captain Luke Parker, on social media, chances are you’re across the design and build of their stunning duplex development in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs.
Over a year, the recently-engaged couple have charted their journey, documenting what it’s taken to knock down an existing dwelling and build their duplex dream homes – one to keep, and one to sell.
The experienced renovators – who have worked on a number of reno projects together – sat down with realestate.com.au to discuss the dos and don’ts of building that unsung real estate hero: the duplex.
Do your research
Before you get cracking on your duplex project, it’s vital to do your research. Find out which properties are sought after in the area you’re building and what’s likely to lure potential buyers.
In other words, really know your market.
“[Know] what’s going to help you achieve that premium price,” says Luke. “Is it pools, extra bedrooms or extra living areas?”
“We knew that we had to have a pool, four bedrooms and two living rooms to be a really premium duplex in this market,” Kate adds.
“Before we found our block, I’d looked at duplexes selling in our area to find out what they included.
“I noticed that the duplexes that were selling for a premium price all had pools. So when it came to deciding the layout of the backyard, Luke and I both wanted to include a pool.”
Do familiarise yourself with local zoning laws
Once you’ve done your market research, it’s time to get to know those council building laws and codes. Afterall, there’s no point in planning a duplex redevelopment if your block isn’t actually zoned for such changes.
“There are different things you can do, and you can vary controls and push the limit on what is allowed,” duplex expert and Futureflip director Neil Hipwell told realestate.com.au recently.
“That’s where you’d employ a town planner or a good architect that really understands the duplex market.
“We know what we can do and what we can’t with councils.”
Engage an architect, town planner or zoning expert to help navigate this often-tricky process – they can liaise with council on your behalf.
Don’t underestimate the cost of a sloping block
“Although you can achieve a unique design with a sloping block, there’s always the potential for those unforeseen costs in excavation and engineering stages,” says Luke, who encountered several issues when going ahead with their build.
These can often hold you back, so make sure you get good advice when you’re still in the planning stages of your development.
Do think about shared wall space
It’s important to remember when building a duplex that your two new properties will share a common wall. Potential buyers will be all-too aware of this, and some may be put off. Put their minds at ease by thinking carefully about which rooms will share this common wall.
For obvious reasons, living spaces, bedrooms and bathrooms are not ideal.
“I (don’t) like the thought of bedrooms and bathrooms being joined,” says Kate. “Luke and I once lived in a place where ours and our neighbour’s bathrooms were joined, and you could hear the plumbing from next door!”
“In our duplex we opted to use the staircase as the only common wall to make each side feel completely separate,” says Luke.
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Their strategy paid off.
“Because of the thought that was put into the design, the two properties feel like two free-standing homes,” says Kate, who is living in one of her duplexes while renting out the other.
“Our neighbours moved in a few weeks ago and Luke and I knew that would be a good test – but we can’t hear them, and they can’t hear us.”
Don’t underestimate council delays
If you’ve ever watched an episode of Grand Designs, then you’ll be aware that it’s often the little things that can massively halt a build. Be sure to factor any potential issues into your plan – and be prepared for considerable hold-ups, especially when it comes to getting your plans through council.
“Our development application actually took six months and after that we made a few design changes,” says Kate. “We were then hit with further delays.
“So my biggest suggestion is (to) lock everything in early and don’t change it, otherwise you’ll be like us and you’ll be waiting for longer.”
Do consider sunlight
The absence of a good light source – especially for one of your adjoining properties – can be a very real issue when building a duplex.
Orientation is everything.
“Try and score yourself a block with a north-facing backyard,” says Kate. “It means that both sides of your duplex will have sun, all day.”
You want to make sure both of your properties have the very best chance of attracting the highest return, so having them both orientate the same way makes total sense – flood them with light, and you’re onto a winner.
Kate and Luke’s homes feature a six-metre void with floor-to-ceiling windows. “Those windows drag light through the house and the void makes the house feel bigger,” says Kate.
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