Observations about places, planning and architecture, as I accompany client RobertsDay on the 2013 Great Places Tour. More detailed posts, with video, will appear at www.robertsday.com.au.

Hampstead, a small new community in Montgomery, was planned - and presumably financed - at a time when sales of 150 homes a year could be expected. It began however during the GFC and since then they've sold 70 lots - plus a few commercial properties, but more on that later. The point is that today's reality is selling 20 homes a year and that's not a lot - not when your holding costs might be as much as $250k a month. (Some of the plans had to be changed to fit the infrastructure already in to make sure the product they developed really met the market - the needs of which have changed over time.)

That said, one initiative and one serendipitous tenant may prove to be the catalyst for increasing growth. The initiative is the farm, based on the property and designed to provide both community plots and production farming land from which the produce is sold via a Community Sustained Agriculture program. With a take up much stronger than they expected - they have a waiting list of 50 - the developers have now taken on a second CSA farm. While it's a not-for-profit, it's turning into one of at least two key ingredients that are appealing to a particular group of people - senior military based nearby that are well travelled and educated as well as other families that are perhaps a little quirkier than much of their middle American counterparts (although not green particularly, as we'll soon see).

The other ingredient that's drawing in these people is the Montessori school, now about to open a high school to complement the pre- and junior school years already there. The Montessori school was brand new at Hampstead; it didn't relocate from elsewhere. Its presence has proved to a major drawcard for new families considering buying into Hampstead but it's now also beginning to be a 'lead generation' tool as parents of children coming to the school from outside the suburb are now thinking of moving to Hampstead.

While it would be nice to think that targeting the tribe of people who might find the Montessori school appealing was a deliberate marketing tactic, the reality is that it was purely accidental. Some teachers of another Montessori school in the region had split from that school and decided to go it alone. They chose Hampstead and they're now going from strength to strength.

That they were able to begin in the village so early on in the peace was due though to something that was deliberate: and that was the decision to build out the town centre way before there were the 'rooftops' sold to really support it.  While it involves cost to do that, the developers really believed that it was important to show people just how this place would be different to what was around it; ultimately it would be easier to sell the reality vs the promise, they reasoned.

But, in another nice unplanned synergy, the school has now built the farm into their curriculum. Children walk across to or three times a week to tend to the veges and the chickens; they sells the eggs and make the money themselves.

So while sales rates are slow, they don't appear to be slow relative to what else is selling in the broader Montgomery area. And, they seem to achieve a price premium - up to 30%. Perhaps part of that is also due to the diversity of product and price point: below is a row of courtyard homes on the market for around $280k while 130m away is a large home that sold for $1.2m. The developers also say that's because they also sell on lifestyle not price per square foot. And when it comes to lifestyle, there's a lot to like they say.

If Montessori's not your thing then there are two other schools just two minutes away. There's a supermarket two minutes down the main road. On site, there's a coffee shop and library and pool, and service-based businesses located in the offices along the main street. 

Finally, surprisingly to the developers, their buyers aren't that green. In one telling example, after building the state's first (and currently only) Green 3.0 home (a home built under a form of sustainability certification), the eventual buyer said, 'well, the only reason I'm happy to pay that $10k extra is because the house is on the end row and gets more light'. All the 'green' attributes weren't really valued.  Despite this, the developers - through their own building arm - continue to do the most they can from a sustainability perspective (without being commercially stupid) because they believe it's right.

And maybe that heartfelt intention is part of what will sustain them over what will undoubtedly be a longer town development cycle than they'd planned.

AuthorAmanda Falconer