Australia's 13 million spare rooms.

Aussie renters are not only more likely to be living in homes without excess space, but they’re also more likely to need more of it. 

There might be a shortage of homes to accommodate Australians, but lack of bedrooms isn’t the issue. The latest ABS Survey of Income and Housing revealed that of the total 13 million spare bedrooms, only 2.6 million are in rentals.

The survey revealed that roughly 13 million bedrooms are classed as “spare” in Australian homes. By and large, they all lie in owner-occupied dwellings.

The ABS used the Canadian National Housing Standard to analyse the number of spare bedrooms around the country.

The standard states that no more than two people in a household should share a bedroom and that single people over 18 years should have their own bedroom.

As it turns out, Australia’s well oversupplied with spare rooms.

Although 4% of households didn’t have enough bedrooms (mainly those with multi-families living in one home), more than 75% of households have a spare bedroom.

And, by comparison, 12.5% have more than THREE spare bedrooms.

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According to the report, on average, 3.8% of households needed an extra room, which increased to 7% for people renting through a private landlord. The situation was better for government tenants – just 3.6% needed an additional room.

But the challenge facing government and housing advocates alike is how to even the balance of space versus occupancy so that more Australians can live in houses that suit their lifestyle.

While there are a lot of spare bedrooms, it’s not easy to use them to ease the current affordability challenges. Most spare bedrooms are in multi-family homes or homes with single parents – and redistributing these isn’t an option.

One option is to get people into homes that are better suited for their stage of life, but part of that challenge is financial. Many downsizers risk losing some of their pension because while the family home is exempt from the pension assets test, any home equity unlocked by downsizing is not.

Paying for stamp duty is another likely deterrent. Earnings from the cash released are taxed, whereas capital gains on the house are not.

But financial reasons aren’t the only thing keeping people in big homes when they no longer need them. Some want to stay in the neighbourhoods they love and can’t find suitable smaller homes. Developing smaller, more practical homes could help in neighbourhoods with many ageing households.

That said, what can’t be addressed is the emotional attachments people have to their homes and the difficulty many have with the disruption of downsizing.

So while we might have a lot of spare rooms, there’s no easy solution in getting them better utilised.

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