Should you buy a double-fronted house or a single-fronted cottage with upstairs extension?
You might think there’s no contest, especially when it comes to a Victorian style house. Why would you buy a house the width of a single room plus hallway, when you could have a nice wide house with two cheerful windows either side of a central hallway?
To some extent that depends on what you can afford. A double-fronter will usually command a premium of $300,000 or so on a double-storey single-fronter, depending on where it is. So you may be looking at spending at $1.8 million for a double-fronter in Hawthorn say, instead of $1.5 million for a single-fronter with a second storey.
But even if money is no object, is a double-fronter always the best option?
That depends on whether there are kids in the picture – and how big they are.
Take a double-fronter like one that sold recently at 6 Bowen Street, Hawthorn. Lovely street presence with picket fence and that rose bush lined path leading to the fringed veranda. Four lovely big bedrooms, nice big open plan living in the back area.
Great for a young family, but what it lacks is ‘separation’.
Now if you’ve got small children, say under the age of 12, the concept of ‘separation’ will make no sense at all. When the kids are little your instincts are to have them close by. You want to be able to hear their snuffles in the night time, you want to be close when they wake up calling for their dummy, or for a comforting cuddle after a bad dream.
But once your children turn into teenagers, the minute those first hormones hit and the first spots appear, what you will crave is separation.
It’s not that you want them to disappear from your life altogether. But you do want them to be far enough away so you don’t have to stumble over the bedroom mess and feel the vibrations of Dubstep doof doof into the wee small hours. Parents need separation from their teenagers, as much as teenagers need their privacy.
If you’ve got a big enough block of land you can achieve this with a bungalow in the backyard. But a well-designed double-storey single fronted cottage can achieve the same thing. Either the kids are upstairs and you get the front bedroom – preferably with en suite and walk in robe. Or you get the upstairs as a parent retreat and they are downstairs – which means you don’t have to notice the midnight excursions to the kitchen, or the late nights lounging around watching video hits.
One big proviso: There’s no point having a parents or teenagers’ retreat if it’s a stuffy low-ceilinged dogbox. Ceilings upstairs need to be reasonably high – 2.7 metres is good. The upstairs will also need good ventilation and probably air conditioning too – heat tends to collect at the top of a house. Make sure too that you can close doors between the lounge-room below and the upstairs area. Sound from televisions and stereos has a way of being funnelled and amplified upstairs.
A house like the one that sold recently at 11 College Street for $1.4 million, Hawthorn, is a perfect example of a house that fulfils these criteria. The upstairs bedroom and study with en suite are ideal for a parents retreat, and the stairs come up from near the laundry, solving that noise channelling problem.
So what about the option of buying a double-fronter, and putting on a second level? That can sometimes be more difficult than it seems. Double-fronters tend to be on shallow blocks – 18 metres deep is not unusual, compared to around 30 metres for a single-fronter. What that means is that it can be difficult to get a second storey through the heritage and planning permit hoops because the second storey will be easily visible from the street. These houses can also create a potential for overshadowing and overlooking problems.
On the other hand, if kids are not an issue double-fronters are certainly a better option especially if you’re at the stage of life where stairs may become an issue. They do have a good flow and a better sense of space, which is why the market does value them at a premium.
But for functional life with teenagers, don’t discount the two storey single-fronter. Just make sure you choose well.
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