INSIDE VICTORIAN COUPLE’S DESIGNER RETIREMENT RETREAT
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INSIDE VICTORIAN COUPLE’S DESIGNER RETIREMENT RETREAT

From faulty family villa to modern beach house.

By J.S Marcus
Thu, Feb 25, 2021 3:04amGrey Clock 4 min

Australian retirees William and Catherine Parsons have settled down in a frontline beach house on the country’s south coast, about a 90-minute drive from Melbourne.

They took the long way home.

Retirees Catherine and William Parsons demolished their previous family home before completing their new beach house in 2019.

Leon Schoots for The Wall Street Journal

Back in 1995, Mr. Parsons, now a 71-year-old retired airline pilot, and his wife, 57, a retired nurse, spent $258,000 on a 1/7th-acre lot on a windy bluff on the, leading to the Port of Melbourne.

Their original plan was to raise their two daughters in a new 371sqm villa, completed in 1998, but faulty construction, they said, culminated in the home’s demolition in 2016. That fiasco paved the way for a $2.1 million do-over with new architects and new builders.

For several years the family endured makeshift living arrangements, including homeschooling their children, now adults, during extended overland trips on four continents, or “road schooling,” as Ms Parsons likes to call it.

Finally, in the autumn of 2019, the couple moved into a new 353sqm, four-bedroom home.

A dark-hue kitchen offers a respite from sunny days on Australia’s southern coast.

Leon Schoots for The Wall Street Journal

The three-story house has a concrete-and-eucalyptus facade sealed against potentially heavy winds and corrosive salt spray. The second floor has a sheltered terrace and pool area accessible from the split-level open living and dining area that highlights ocean views.

The couple make the most of the site, says Mr Parsons, with the help of poured-concrete walls and double-glaze windows. “We’re extremely exposed,” he says, “but the new house is rock solid. With the doors and windows closed, we can just hear the ocean. When they’re open, it’s like a train going past.”

Known for ideal surfing and hang-gliding conditions, the couple’s stretch of peninsula is a dunescape. They went for a wild look with $71,000 in landscaping, opting for low-maintenance indigenous species and a naturally planted roof garden.

The couple worked with Auhaus Architecture, a Melbourne studio specialising in upscale single-family homes. Kate Fitzpatrick, an Auhaus principal, estimates it costs an extra $160,000 to $200,000 to build on their site rather than on a sheltered inland lot. Benjamin Stibbard, her fellow Auhaus principal, says that the peninsula’s predominant southern winds, blowing most days off the ocean, can cause “rain that is horizontal,” adding that the house is “as waterproof as a bathtub.”

The peninsula can also have hot sunny spells in January and February, with temperatures well over 100 degrees. The couple spent $412,000 on concrete, and their double-thick walls help keep the house cool in summer and warm in winter.

The main section of the house includes a top-floor master suite and lower-level granny flat, while an adjoining single-storey wing, separated from the rest of the house by the $79,000 pool area and reached by a first-floor corridor, has bedrooms for their visiting daughters, as well as a music room and a yoga deck.

The shower in the master bath has a skylight.

Leon Schoots for The Wall Street Journal

To navigate the main portion of the house, the couple spent $52,000 on an elevator—an upgrade, jokes Ms Parsons, of the previous home’s dumbwaiter. But their major splurge, they say, was a spiral staircase.

“I have always had a thing for staircases,” says Ms Parsons of the $87,000 set of stairs, which has a looming sculptural presence when viewed from the pool and terrace.

The interior of the home tends to rely on dark elements, including eucalyptus panelling, but the staircase itself is painted gleaming white—at her architects’ suggestion, says Ms Parsons.

She might have opted for the original battered-silver of the unpainted steel, she says, but the white, she decided, “looks elegant.” On the whole, it “takes away the brutality” of the bare concrete walls that show traces of the wood forms used to shape them on site.

The kitchen has a hushed quality due to blue-green Japanese tiles, which give the back wall a dark iridescence. Left over from the master bathroom, one of four in the home, the single-glaze tiles were a last-minute substitute for a continuation of the veined white marble used for a countertop.

“The sun can be glaring in summer,” says Ms Parsons, “but there is something so lovely and soothing about looking at the kitchen—it’s like looking into a rock pool.”

One of two bedrooms reserved for the couple’s adult daughters.

Leon Schoots for The Wall Street Journal

The kitchen cost nearly $111,000, with $46,000 spent on a suite of American appliances from Wolf and Sub-Zero.

The staircase led to a second splurge: the placement of an antique piano that Mr Parsons inherited from his grandparents. Too big for the winding stairs, it was moved into the children’s wing with a crane while the house was still under construction.

“It was our first piece of furniture,” says Mr Parsons of the 19th-century upright, made in Dresden, Germany. Mr Parsons plays mainly classical music, while his daughters when visiting from college, may join in on the flute, guitar or ukulele. The plentiful concrete boosts the acoustics.

Settled into their new home at last, the couple have an easier time visiting nearby fellow retirees: Mr Parsons’ parents. “My father is 102 and my mother is 100,” he says, “and they’re still going strong.”

The exposed lot provides rousing ocean views but also exposes the home to harsh conditions.

Leon Schoots for The Wall Street Journal



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Home prices declined at a faster pace in May in major cities, while other data show a mixed picture for the world’s second-largest economy

By REBECCA FENG
Tue, Jun 18, 2024 3 min

China’s broken housing market isn’t responding to some of the country’s boldest stimulus measures to date—at least not yet.

The Chinese government has been stepping up support for housing and other industries in recent months as it tries to revitalize an economy that has  continued to disappoint  since the early days of the pandemic.

But fresh data for May showed that businesses and consumers remain cautious. Home prices continue to fall at an accelerating rate, and fixed-asset investment and industrial production, while growing, lost some momentum.

“China’s May economic data suggest that policymakers have a lot to do to sustain the fragile recovery,” Yao Wei, chief China economist at Société Générale, wrote in a client note on Monday.

The worst pain is in the property sector, which has been struggling to deal with oversupply and weak buyer sentiment since 2021, when a multiyear  housing boom ended . The market still doesn’t appear to have found a floor, even after Beijing rolled out its most aggressive stimulus measures so far  in mid-May  in hopes of restoring confidence.

In major cities, new-home prices fell 4.3% in May compared with a year earlier, worse than a   3.5% decline in April, according to data released Monday by China’s National Bureau of Statistics. Prices in China’s secondhand home market tumbled 7.5%, compared with a 6.8% drop in April.

Home sales by value tumbled 30.5% in the first five months of this year compared with the same months last year.

“This data was certainly on the disappointing side and may ring some alarm bells, as May’s policy support package has not yet translated to a slower decline of housing prices, let alone a stabilisation,” said Lynn Song, chief China economist at ING.

Economists had also been hoping to see a wider recovery this month after Beijing started  rolling out  a planned issuance of 1 trillion yuan, the equivalent of $138 billion, in ultra-long sovereign bonds in May. The funds are designed to help pay for infrastructure and property projects backed by the authorities. Investors  gobbled up  the first batch of these bonds.

Monday’s bundle of economic data, however, underlined how the country still isn’t firing on all cylinders.

Retail sales, a key metric of consumer spending, rose 3.7% in May from a year earlier, compared with 2.3% in April, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. While the trend is heading in the right direction, it is still a relatively subdued level of growth, and below what most economists believe is needed to kick-start a major revival in consumer spending.

The expansion in industrial production—5.6% in May compared with a year earlier—was down from April’s 6.7% increase. Fixed-asset investment growth, of which 40% came from property and infrastructure sectors, also decelerated, to 3.5% year-over-year growth in May from 3.6% in April.

Key to the sluggish economic activity data in May—and China’s outlook going forward—is the crisis in the property market, which has proven hard for policymakers to address.

The property rescue package in May included letting local governments buy up unsold homes, removing minimum interest rates on mortgages, and reducing payments for potential home buyers. It also included as its centerpiece a $41 billion so-called re-lending program launched by the People’s Bank of China, which would provide funding to Chinese banks to support home purchases by state-owned firms.

The hope was that by stepping in as a buyer of last resort for millions of properties, the government would manage to mop up unsold housing inventory and persuade wary home buyers to re-enter the market. In turn, Chinese consumers, who have  most of their wealth  tied up in real estate, would feel more confident about spending again, thereby lifting the overall economy.

But the size of the re-lending program wasn’t big enough to convince home buyers, said Larry Hu , chief China economist at Macquarie Group. “Meanwhile, their income outlook also stays weak given the current economic condition,” he said.

For the property market to bottom out and reach a new equilibrium, mortgage rates, which stand at around 3-4% in China, need to be as low as rental yields, which are currently below 2% in major cities, said Zhaopeng Xing, a senior China strategist at ANZ. He said that a large mortgage rate cut will need to happen eventually.

The other key part of China’s push to revive growth revolves around the manufacturing sector, with leaders  funnelling more investment  into factories to boost output and reduce the country’s reliance on foreign suppliers of key technologies.

The result has been a surge in production. But with domestic consumption not strong enough to absorb all those goods, many factories have been forced to cut prices and seek out more overseas buyers.

Data released earlier this month showed that  Chinese exports rose  faster in May than the month before.

However, the export push is  butting into resistance  as governments around the world worry about the impact of cheap Chinese competition on domestic jobs and industries. The European Union last week said it would  impose new import tariffs  on Chinese electric vehicles, describing China’s auto industry as heavily subsidised by the government, to the point where other countries’ automakers can’t fairly compete.

The U.S.  has also hit  Chinese cars and some other products with hefty duties, while countries including Brazil, India and Turkey have opened antidumping investigations into Chinese steel, chemicals and other goods.

Beijing says such moves are protectionist and that its industries compete fairly with global rivals.