183 episodes

All about living in apartments (condos), from dealing with your committee to getting on with neighbours and - a dose of healthy skepticism about dubious developers.

FLAT CHAT WRA‪P‬ Jimmy Thomson & Sue Williams

    • Society & Culture

All about living in apartments (condos), from dealing with your committee to getting on with neighbours and - a dose of healthy skepticism about dubious developers.

    Podcast: Pets (again!) with James Valentine

    Podcast: Pets (again!) with James Valentine

    Every so often – about once a month – I get invited on to James Valentine’s Afternoons on ABC 702.

    Last week the topic was pets in apartments – partly because that was all anyone was talking about.

    So we had a couple of people ringing up with their pet questions and complaints, all of which has indirectly added to a pet-heavy Flat Chat website this week.

    And that was exacerbated by my response to a question about whether or not there was a guide to the best dogs for apartments.

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    “Oh, yes,” I blithely replied.  “You’ll find it on the website.”

    I wasn’t sure where but I knew it would be there … except it wasn’t. I don’t know how I managed to convince myself that I’d already done this, but I did and I hadn’t.

    Which is why I spent my weekend digging through and collating the opinions of half a dozen websites purporting to offer the definitive list of the best dogs for units.

    If you are interested, you can find that info here.  Otherwise, if you missed the session on Afternoons, sit back and enjoy our chat from last week which we hope was entertaining and informative.

    Transcript in full

    Jimmy  00:00

    Every so often (I won't say regularly, because it's anything but regular), but just about once a month, I get invited onto James Valentine's Afternoons on ABC 702 radio. Last week, James asked me on to talk about pets, because everybody's talking about pets. Nobody's talking about anything else except pets at the moment. I thought that would make a very good podcast. I'm Jimmy Thomson. This is the Flat Chat Wrap.


    James  00:55

    Hello, Canberra, hello, Sydney, hello, Newcastle. Three of the great cities of this nation, combined together with one radio show. It's a beautiful, beautiful thing. For those in Canberra who haven't encountered Jimmy Thomson, let me set the scene for you. Jimmy Thomson (for longer than even he cares to remember and for longer than most people can), has been looking at the strata rules of largely, New South Wales and the ACT. Now, you might think to yourself, ‘wow, he sounds like an interesting fellow,’ and this is the odd thing about Jimmy Thomson… He makes it very interesting. As more and more Australians (in all those cities I'm describing), end up living in apartments and strata and townhouses and the like; more of us have got to get our head across what that means and what some of the issues are. Jimmy runs a website called www.flat-chat.com.au  He's also written for the Domain and the Herald for many years on these issues. You can follow up on anything we're talking about today by going to www.flat-chat.com.au  and you can look at the debates they've had and the issues that have been there. We found it very, very helpful (and many have, listening to this), to get Jimmy in to talk through changes as they're coming along. Now, we decided to have something of a Flat Chat special today, because Jimmy and I were linked in to a discussion on Twitter, about an assistant dog. Jimmy, g’day!

    Jimmy  02:27

    Good afternoon.

    James  02:31

    Good afternoon. Nice to have you have you along, as always. Look, I'm so annoyed. I can't believe that our building manager is having another go at removing Buddy from the building; Buddy being a dog.

    • 26 min
    Podcast: New pet laws and defining ‘reasonable’

    Podcast: New pet laws and defining ‘reasonable’

    In this week’s podcast we give the NSW Parliament’s deliberations on it’s new strata pet laws a kick along.

    As reported here, the Lower House has taken a good six months to deal with a procedural Bill that would have promoted sustainability and tidied up several odd loopholes in strata law.

    However, it was tagged with an amendment that would have meant pets could only be excluded from apartments if it was detrimental to the animal.

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    The amended Bill, which was approved by the Upper House with its Animal Justice Party alteration, had zero chance of being approved by the Legislative Assembly. Right or wrong, the majority Coalition government was simply not going to approve open slather for pet owners in strata.

    So Sydney MP Alex Greenwich stepped in and wrangled a compromise that basically says pets could not “unreasonably” be refused domicile in apartment blocks while getting a commitment to a parliamentary report on what “reasonable” actually means.

    And that’s where we hop in with our ten cents worth on the podcast.

    Rental as anything

    Elsewhere in the pod, in light of the tax and planning breaks now on offer from the NSW government, we discuss the rise and rise of build-to-rent apartment blocks – there are 40 “in the pipeline” according to real estate marketing giant CBRE.

    But will they be snazzy upmarket facilities-filled developments like Mirvac’s Liv Indigo? Or will they be cheap and cheerless, renters-only versions of the cram-em-in, stack-em-high chicken coops beloved of some well-known developers?  Time will tell.

    Commish kicks butt

    Finally Sue chats about her recent conversation with Building Commissioner David Chandler. 

    Six months into his much-hyped crackdown on dodgy developers, is he making a difference, especially with regard to confidence in our high-rise buildings?

    We dig around for evidence.

    Zany Zoom calls

    And keeping things upbeat, Jimmy points us to these two videos.

    The first, is balm to the soul of any strata chair or secretary who’s had to deal with unruly members at an online committee meeting.

    If you are one of the few people on the planet who hasn't already seen this, it made a global viral video heroine of Council Clerk Jackie Weaver and her ruthless handling of obstreperous members of Handforth Parish Council in England.


    And on a lighter note, there’s the lawyer who appeared on a Zoom video as a cute little talking kitten. 


    Almost as amusing in the video from Texas is the warning in the top left corner that recording the meeting was an offence. Well, that really worked.

    But maybe if we all had to adopt animal alter egos, online strata meetings would be a lot less fractious and a lot more fun.

    Enjoy the podcast and let us know what you think of the new format on mail@flat-chat.com.au.

    Transcript In Full

    Jimmy  00:00

    Big news on the pet front this week in strata.

    Sue  00:04

    Yes! it's all happening, isn’t it?

    • 22 min
    Podcast: Bad landlords and skinny buildings

    Podcast: Bad landlords and skinny buildings

    The Flat Chat wrap this week is taken up with three main topics.

    The first is a petition to parliament to create a blacklist of bad landlords … launched by someone who is a landlord herself.

    Victoria is about to get one next month and it seems only fair that, if NSW tenants can be put on a blacklist that makes it harder for them to get rentals, then bad landlords should also be named and shamed in the hope they sharpen up their ideas to get good renters.

    You can find links to the petition here.

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    Our second topic is the “skyscratcher” hotel planned for Pitt St,  Sydney.  In the podcast we erroneously reference the architects’ (Durbach Block Jaggers) website as the home of some caustic comments.

    In fact, we were thinking of the excellent Dezeen online architecture and design magazine (from which we pilfered the illustrations on this page). Check it out if you are at all interested in innovative building design. 

    And by the way, some reader comments on that site say the plan was just a kite-flying attempt to get publicity and that  development application to City of Sydney had been withdrawn after objections from neighbours.

    That doesn’t seem to be the case if you look at the detailed application documents HERE on the City of Sydney website.

    If you’re excited by innovative high-rise architecture (even though it’s an hotel) have a look at Dezeen for more detail.

    And finally we found the pet-friendliest apartment block in Sydney which has its own cat café.  However, we’ve also found another one in Surry Hills called Catmosphere which offers cat yoga (among other things) for feline-deprived locals.

    It’s bookings only so don’t just turn up or the fur will fly.

    Transcript in full.

    Jimmy  00:00

    Bad landlords and skinny buildings; that's what we're going to be talking about today. That new building in Sydney, they’re describing it as a sky-scratcher, because it's too thin to be called a skyscraper.

    Sue  00:17

    Hmm, interesting!

    Jimmy  00:19

    I think they're splitting hairs there. They are our main topics of conversation and a move to have a blacklist of bad landlords. I’m Jimmy Thomson; I write the Flat Chat column for the Australian Financial Review.

    Sue  00:32

    And I'm Sue Williams and I write about property for Domain with the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age.

    Jimmy  00:37

    And this is the Flat Chat Wrap.


    Sue, you've been talking to somebody about a blacklist for landlords?

    Sue  00:58

    Yes. They had a really bad experience renting property, and they're actually also a landlord themselves, so they know what they're talking about. They had a bad experience; lots of things went wrong. Repairs, problems, and the landlord's mother used to visit their home without giving notice and all that kind of thing. They went to Fair Trading,

    • 20 min
    Podcast: Unit prices stall and ropey reno regs

    Podcast: Unit prices stall and ropey reno regs

    Hi, did you miss us?  We took a little break last month but we are back with our new, improved Flat Chat Wrap podcast.

    We – Sue Williams and JimmyT – are now working on the basis that less is more. We are still going to talk about the apartment living issues of the day, large and small, to keep you informed and amused.

    But we’re going to put a clock on it so while our thoughts may occasionally wander down the odd tangent, our chat will never meander.

    We’re aiming for somewhere between 20 and 25 minutes per episode which is just long enough for a decent coffee break or a short commute.

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    Do let us know what you think and please, by all means, feel free to suggest topics we could discuss.  It’s always good to get fresh ideas.

    This week we talk about the growing disparity between the median prices of apartments compared to houses and why this is happening.  And you can also read more about that HERE.

    Jimmy will be talking about the window-sized hole he found in strata renovation regulations and how Fair Trading dodged the opportunity to fix it.  You can also read more about that HERE.

    And Sue explores the world of community and neighbourhood Facebook pages while Jimmy dreams of a Mexican restaurant called Three Chihuahuas.

    On with the show (we did say it was going to be short and sweet).

    Transcript in Full

    Jimmy  00:00

    And we're back. And in case you thought you dropped into the podcast halfway through, we're back from a little break we took over the holidays, to give you the Flat Chat Wrap again. Hello, Sue.

    Sue  00:11

    Hi, Jimmy, nice to be back!

    Jimmy 00:13

    Happy New Year.

    Sue 00:13

    And the same to you.

    Jimmy  00:15

    Today we're going to be talking about a flaw I found in the New South Wales strata regulations, and you've got something about apartment sales?

    Sue  00:26

    That's right. There's a huge report on apartment and house prices this week by Domain.

    Jimmy  00:33

    And there's a new piece of hardware being used for the Flat Chat Wrap now; it's a clock. We're gonna try and keep it tight. People seem to like podcasts that last less than half an hour, so we'll keep it tight, keep it snappy, keep it going. Keep it light, keep it funny, keep it short, keep it sweet. I'm Jimmy Thomson. I write the Flat Chat column for the Australian Financial Review and edit the Flat Chat website.

    Sue  01:02

    And I'm Sue Williams, a property writer with Domain.

    Jimmy  01:05

    And this is the Flat Chat Wrap.

    Growing gap in house and unit prices


    Sue, there's been a big report about the difference between apartment prices and house prices.

    Sue  01:28

    The latest Domain house report came out last week, and it showed house prices surging remarkably all around the country, but unit prices either rising a little bit or even falling in some areas.

    • 22 min
    Podcast: Which apartment tribe do you belong to?

    Podcast: Which apartment tribe do you belong to?

    Do you know what your strata-living tribe is? Are you economically engaged, young and jobless or under-employed, battlers, established owners, downsizers or even public housing tenants?

    Professor Bill Randolph of UNSW department of the Built Environment was recently interviewed for an extensive feature in the Sydney Morning Herald in which he discussed a survey that reveals the reality of who is living in apartments in Sydney, rather than who is presented on the glossy sales brochures.

    We are not all, it seems, middle-aged middle-class couples sipping chardonnay on our harbour view balconies.  Far from it.

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    Even less likely are we grey-haired newbies who’ve retired and downsized, or been in the same apartments for decades.

    These tribes do exist, for sure, but not in the numbers promotional material would have us believe.

    It’s a deliberately shorter (and we hope, sweeter) podcast this week as we dig into the question of who really lives in apartments and why.

    Awful apartments

    And there was another SMH article that caught our eye in the past week or so; a treatise by architecture writer Elizabeth Farrelly about how awful it is to live in a shitty apartment in a crap building in a crowded area of the city.

    Hey, Liz, we could have told you, if you’d only asked. But, seriously, she makes some very valid points, mainly that too many buildings and apartments are designed for sale to people who have no idea what they’re getting into, or to investors whose only thought is the bottom line.

    To add economic insult to infrastructure injury, they are often managed by cabals of connected professionals whose main purpose seems to be to find ways of extracting more money from renters and owners rather than charging reasonable fees for making their lives more liveable.

    All of which led to a discussion on this week’s podcast about expectation and experience.

    Basically, if you have moved from a grossly overcrowded one-bedder in a building with no facilities, are you going to complain about living in a fairly squeezy two-bedder in a block where the lift occasionally breaks down?

    25 floors, no lifts

    As an extreme example, we cite this block in Chongquing, China, which has 25 floors but no lifts.  However, as we explain, it’s not as challenging for penthouse residents as it sounds.

    The key to all this is money.  If you have enough of it, you can make choices.  If you don’t, you have to choose which compromises you are going to make, whether they be between location, size, facilities or liveability.

    That’s why it make sense to rent when you first set up home, than help pour money into the developer feeding trough by pursuing this national obsession with owning property regardless of who built it and how well or badly it’s managed.

    Finally,  we manage to mention the Infinity building in Green Square without mentioning the reason we are mentioning them … it has won The Urban Developer’s Development of the Year – Hig...

    • 30 min
    Podcast: What a great year … for pets and renters

    Podcast: What a great year … for pets and renters

    This week’s podcast may be the first of 2021 but 2020 doesn’t get away that easily.

    Last year will be remembered in global politics as the year of Brexit, Trump, the Covid-19 Pandemic, and the Trump-rump. Democracy in the USA is hanging by a thread but it will survive.

    Talking about democracy, on a much more local level, we look back at the battle over “no-pets” by-laws and how it tore apart two apartment blocks, and made NCAT look pretty foolish too.

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    Inevitably, we examine the entrails of holiday lets like Airbnb. In NSW, in particular, the slow drip feed of legislation to control the hitherto unfettered spread of holiday lets was a lesson in what happens when politicians make half-baked decisions that they neither fully support nor the consequences of which they fully appreciate.

    Meanwhile, Airbnb’s flacks continue their policy of answering only the questions they wish you’d asked rather than those for which we require answers.

    Sadly, it seems, Stayz aren’t much better these days, especially when it comes to manipulating statistics.  It makes you wonder how dumb our politicians have to be to fall for all this claptrap.

    Collateral damage

    It would be nice if someone just came out and said “we desperately need tourist dollars and apartment residents – especially renters – are just collateral damage in the ongoing battle for bucks.  Please go and live in a crappy area where no one wants to go and give us some peace.”

    We also look at the effect of the pandemic across Australia and realise that it’s all intricately intertwined. Covid-19 lockdowns and lock-outs forced a lot of holiday letting hosts out of the market – which was great news for renters – but then compelled people to holiday nearer to home, which saw holiday lets come roaring back when locals who could travel replaced all the foreign visitors who were not allowed to come here.

    Oh, and the lockdowns persuaded lots of apartment owners to get pets, which takes us back to the first item.


    Then there was the continuing story of apartment block defects and the powers finally granted to Building Commissioner David Chandler to put the blowtorch to the belly of dodgy developers.  We won’t see the results of his handiwork for years, when apartment blocks stop falling over.

    And we talk about changes to the legislations of various states plus build-to-rent, the new (old) way of renting. One landlord, no strata committee, great facilities, long leases and no bond.

    See, something good did come out of 2020 after all.

    Transcript in full

    Jimmy  00:00

    2020 was a pretty horrific year across Australia, and you'd think the only story in town was COVID-19, but we're looking back at the whole year, purely through the prism of strata. There's a lot to talk about. We'll try and get it all into this episode. I'm Jimmy Thomson.

    Sue 00:21

    And I'm Sue Williams.

    Jimmy 00:22

    And this is the Flat Chat Wrap.


    2020, Sue?

    Sue  00:40

    It was a huge year, wasn't it, in lots of ways?

    Jimmy 00:42

    Glad to see the back of it.

    Sue 00:43

    Yes, absolutely. Let's hope the next one is a good one.

    • 40 min

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