Sales records tumble as Perth’s wealthy snatch up penthouses with all the luxury trimmings

Source: The West Australian

Back in the early 80s — when Perth’s luxury apartment sector was in its infancy — advertisements for penthouses would boast of not one, but two wine fridges, and air-conditioning.

Revolving foyer doors, gyms and motorised outdoor umbrellas soon joined the list of hot new features, while Perth’s Lawson Apartments penthouse, owned by businessman Laurie Connell before his fall into disgrace, even had removable wall panels for stashing the family jewels.

They were laughably simple features from simpler times, when penthouses were invariably seen as the ideal bachelor pad or a high-flyer’s city base.

No one could have imagined how things would change over the next 40 years.

These days, features across some of Perth’s most opulent luxury apartments include butler services, hot and cold plunge pools, outdoor air-conditioning — yes, outdoor — and al fresco fire-pits. Some have golf simulators and putting greens, while theatres, wine cellars, dining rooms, gyms and resident-only lounges are fairly standard in the most upmarket complexes.

At Finbar’s upcoming Civic Heart, you will be able to take a yoga class, pump iron, sweat it out in the sauna, walk the dog, watch the sun set from the sky-deck restaurant and buy a new outfit without even stepping foot outside the twin tower complex.

Smart technology is also on the rise in these dwellings, with some garage boom gates using number plate recognition. The Siskas development in North Fremantle even has a rooftop helipad in preparation for flying taxis.

It’s fair to say the future has arrived.

When exactly it arrived is up for debate, but there is no doubt luxury penthouse standards stepped up a notch in 2018, when developer Paul Blackburne began spruiking apartments for his upcoming OneSubiaco tower.

Blackburne is largely credited for lifting industry standards at major, premium apartment developments to a six-star resort level.

Most of the 244 apartments were sold before construction started, mostly to baby boomers from the western suburbs who were so convinced of the quality and lifestyle, they put the house on it.

With completion by Christmas, they will soon set to find out if they were right, and if it was worth the move from their established homes.

The pre-construction run on the apartments has seen the Subiaco development hit several new price records.

In April 2020, one of its penthouse sold for $15.9 million, eclipsing the existing record of $15.2m for a South Perth apartment set in 2014. In July last year, the Rokeby Road complex set another record with a $17m sale.

That same mystery buyer then bought a penthouse on the floor below, solely for the purpose of ensuring he could put in a private pool on the balcony of his 23rd floor abode.

The modification means the bottom of the fibreglass pool protrudes from the ceiling of the 22nd floor, and the two spaces are linked via an internal staircase.

That same buyer bought a neighbouring apartment for family members, taking his total expenditure to $23m, excluding upgraded finishes.

The lavish penthouse includes 1450sqm of indoor and balcony space, including six bedrooms, two living areas, a music room, a games room, private bar, a gym and pool, as well as a fully contained nanny and guest suite.

The buyer, said to be a returning expat, also gets access to 2400sqm of private residents’ amenities, including a gym, sauna, pool, residents’ lounge, private dining and cocktail lounge, rooftop gardens and a butler service.

It sounds impressive — but rumour has it the record won’t last long.

It is believed a penthouse at Blackburne’s The Grove Residences tower in Cottesloe will eclipse the Subiaco record.

It begs the question of what this amount of money actually buys. What more could a home possibly include?

The Grove has plunge pools coolled to 12C, and spas heated to 37C, which are deemed the ideal temperatures for alternating hot and cold therapy.

The Grove also has a kids’ club, reminiscent of Club Med-style babysitting and recreational service. It also has on-site Japanese zen garden, yoga rooms, a high-end gym, a providore and Los Angeles-style cabanas around a luxury pool.

Strata fees for a $6.5m penthouse at The Grove are just under $4500 a quarter, which is slightly higher than at Subiaco.

Blackburne says the price for a Perth penthouse — which is the term used to describe the highest quality apartments on the top several floors of a development — equate to about $18,000-$20,000sqm.

While hefty by Perth standards, it is still well below the $50,000-$100,000 being charged in Melbourne and Sydney.

To most Perth developers, the novelty of a luxury high-rise initially made the OneSubiaco tower seem like a bit of a gamble.

But Blackburne says he was confident of ample demand, after realising how many baby boomers wanted to downsize in their own neighbourhood, and in style.

“I had a gut feeling there was a market for it,” he says. “I could see there was a sweet spot for $3m to $5m luxury apartments, and in the $15m to $20m range.

“I could see there were houses along the river, which didn’t have particularly good views, and which weren’t particularly nice houses, that were selling in that price range.

“I knew we could offer them more, giving people a nicer place and a better view.”

Blackburne claims — controversially — that penthouses were not “done well” before his company started building them.

“The penthouses in Applecross, the city and South Perth didn’t really appeal to the higher end,” he says.

“They were a bit bigger than apartments, but they were still average designs and the views weren’t that great.”

While Blackburne was an early mover, he is by no means the only big player in the premium space.

Major developers at the top end include, but are not limited to, Edge (responsible for stunning Riviere Residences in Applecross as well as The Dunes in Scarborough and Lumiere in South Perth), Mustera Property Group, Prosper Living, Gary Dempsey, Far East Consortium, Finbar, Aria, Multiplex, Giorgi, Barry Baltinas and Birchmead Property Group, which is owned by the Cardaci family.

Megara’s latest offering, a 105-apartment and townhouse complex due to be built on McCabe Street, North Fremantle, has launched it into the premium league.

Like the nearby Taskers developments, Megara’s Serai complex is in the unique position of offering breathtaking views to both the river and beach, often from the same balcony.

The penthouses are selling for up to $15m, excluding upgrades.

Founding director Jamie Clarke says baby boomers have embraced luxury apartment living partly because it made good financial sense.

Arguing that a multi-million dollar apartment, with thousands in annual strata fees, is a good financial move was a hard sell to this initially dubious reporter.

Surely strata fees on your own apartment is akin to paying both rent and a mortgage on the same property? Surely it takes the choice out of where you put your money?

Not so, according to Clarke, who makes a fairly convincing argument on this count, especially in regards to older buyers.

He says there is a prevailing view is that aged-care homes and retirement villages are not great investments.

Luxury apartments, however, provide the same strong security, the convenience of on-site amenities and the comfort of a community that retirement villages do, but they differ in offering relatively strong resale values.

He says this makes it easier for seniors to sell their big family homes, freeing up some cash and at the same time, protecting the kids’ inheritance.

“They’ve worked hard their whole lives and they don’t want to see it wasted,” he says.

Regardless of resale values, he says the on-site shared amenities create savings.

Residents save on things such as gym memberships, while sharing the cost of running the pool, gardens and the general maintenance in other communal areas, ensuring better value for money than at a single established home.

On top of that, the strata fees covered building insurance, which could possibly cover a home in the event of a fire — and sometimes even the cost of window cleaning.

Clarke says the Serai apartments’ energy efficiency, including environmentally friendly appliances, double glazing, solar power and smaller internal footprints than standalone homes, help reduce day-to-day operating costs for residents.

He says baby boomers, who comprise the bulk of his customers, did not see downsizing into a luxury apartment as a downgrade.

It is simply, in their view, a lifestyle change.

Clarke says times have long changed since apartments were identical boxes with paper-thin walls, explaining the advantage of buying off the plan is the ability to customise the floor plan.

At Serai, for example, there are 70 different layout options for the 100-odd apartments and townhouses.

Like many luxury developments, none of the walls at Serai are technically shared, with air gaps between each insulated wall to stop noise from travelling between homes.

However, for all his talk on the advantages, Clarke — like Blackburne — does not live in an apartment, instead preferring to live in a home with a reasonable-sized garden for his two children.

But Clarke says he does expect to downsize into an apartment one day, pinpointing Fremantle as his preferred retirement town.

Architect Barry Baltinas and business partner and wife, Rebecca Frost, have opted for a different model for their luxury abodes.

Rather than including the amenity inside the building, their business model is to develop in areas where it already exists in the vicinity.

They have done three developments on Mount Street in West Perth, the jacaranda-lined hill that links the city to Kings Park.

The penthouse on the Camilla Residences, currently seeking offers from $5m, includes one of the most outrageously luxurious, if energy intensive, features for a penthouse ever seen in Perth — air-conditioning on the home’s rooftop deck, which cools the poolside alfresco dining area.

For a while, the pair has had the edge in sustainable practices in their developments, including water tanks, photovoltaic panels and double glazing long before many of their competitors, but new design guidelines have ushered these features across the board.

Like many other luxury developments, it is the location which sets it apart from many of its competitors.

The Camilla penthouse has the unique vantage point of sitting almost eye-level to front of Parliament House, albeit a few hundred metres away.

Less glamorously, the freeway sits below, and the din of traffic interrupts the serenity on the rooftop.

Inside the home, however, heavy insulation ensures radio silence. The timeless interior design was done by Frost, who calls her work her “passion”.

Baltinas describes Kings Park as the penthouse’s backyard, so to speak, while the twinkling lights of Elizabeth Quay and the Swan River are in the front yard.

“It feels a bit like you are on a boat up here,” says Baltinas, as he takes in the views from the rooftop deck.

Perhaps — if that boat were a luxury liner.