The US is Australia's fifth leading wood products supplier (following New Zealand, China, Indonesia, and Malaysia, respectively), with Australia importing $99 million in wood products from the US in 2013. Leading product categories include softwood plywood, fabricated structural members, and windows. All of these product categories has continually increased, due to strong demand in Australia's housing market. While a small market, imports of prefabricated housing reached $506,000 in 2013
Central issues impacting the housing and building materials market include restrictive fire codes in bush fire areas and strict phytosantiary rules for imported wood products. Following devastating wildfires in 2009, the fire standard for windows was updated and included in the building code on May 1, 2010. The code categorizes areas based on fire risk. These areas have specific requirements for the windows and doors that are used. Additional features required range from metal screens that inhibit fire from embers to specifications for glass type, glazing, frame material, and hardware.
Housing Market & Observations
The dominant residential style is a treated wood frame shell with a brick, stone or stucco exterior. There appears to be more focus on factory built wall sections which cut down on labor cost and may in time expedite the construction process. Very little exterior wall insulation is used; very few windows are double pane (most are single pane, aluminum frame); some structures utilize attic insulation but venting was difficult to determine. Some solar energy is in use. The finish amenities are of good quality. It is apparent that imported finish materials are used and some developers interviewed expressed frustration with the lower quality and inconsistent delivery time of these products. Thus, while the product appears inexpensive initially, it is costly due to delays in delivery and costs associated with having hired labor wait for product. Some of the quality of the imports does not appear to be up to generally accepted U.S. standards.
Controlling costs and maximizing profits for developers are the main reasons why use of lower quality, products and use of single pane windows and the absence of insulation persists. Consumers also must make the choice between larger homes with lower quality finishes and features or a smaller home that is further from the city center.
A residential lot in the Melbourne and Sydney area ranges from $200,000 to $500,000 or more. We were advised that it is important for homeowners to buy land and hire a contractor or builder at the same time to avoid duplicate taxes. Once the homeowner purchases the land (even for spec homes in a developer community owners purchase land separate from the house), the price for a basic spec home starts at approximately $200,000 for the basic house package. Additional costs for such things as the driveway, insulation, double pane glass, added insulation, and higher quality finishes can add up to as much as $150,000.