In this issue of the Kenfrost Homes corner, Adam Gowlett from Kenfrost Homes discusses the benefits of building covenants in an estate. Adam has been with Kenfrost Homes since 2012 and has not only guided the company in the area of covenants but has recently been recognised by the governing body of urban developments in Queensland (UDIA) for his contributions with an award for ‘Distinguished Service’. He joins us in the hot seat today to dispel the concept of covenants taking away all the fun for home owners.
1. Why are covenants in place in an estate?
Probably the most important thing is to try and make sure that houses are built to a good standard and that they are presented well. Quite often we will have building covenants that try and make the front façades look better than what the average street might be or there might be covenants in place to prevent people from parking a truck on their front lawn and those sorts of things. It really is there to try and help make sure the streets and the estates look really nice not only now, but for the future as well.
2. Do strong covenants provide reassurance to investors?
You know what the saying is for investments “you buy the worst house in the best street” but what we are trying to do is build the best streets, and build the best houses in the best streets. It does provide reassurance for a lot of people and it does offer a little bit of comfort that someone is keeping an eye out that nobody is going to have a “toilet block” built next door to them.
3. What are some of those scenarios where the lack of covenants have not protected a street?
Probably the big ones involve parking. Leaving an abandoned car, a boat, or removalist truck container in a front yard is a no go, and the covenants help protect that kind of thing. Another thing is as much as some people like front fencing, these front fences can get out of control and you can see that in older parts of Cairns where you can sometimes see a hotchpotch mix of 6 foot high fences all down the street. This takes away the character of the street and takes away the sense of community. It’s just not ideal, we are not trying to encourage people locking themselves away, we really do want to encourage residents to get out and meet the neighbours. It’s why we spend so much time and effort on parks and footpaths and other things that make our estates attractive and its about getting a community developed and get people talking to neighbours and getting out and meeting each other.
4. What are the simplest examples of covenants stipulated in Kenfrost Estates?
We are not silly to think that people will not have a boat for example, but what we are saying that if you do have a boat, and you are going to park it out the front, then you need to park it on a slab that’s the same as the driveway, or park it on the driveway itself. If you want to have a boat out the front, park it on your driveway or slab so that the grass isn’t going to grow up to its armpits and look abandoned. It’s just terrible to see those boats or cars or caravans where the grass is knee high around the vehicles so they have to move them to mow so it just doesn’t happen. If you can park them on a hard surface it looks neat and tidy, it’s easier to maintain and better for the vehicle also.
5. Are the covenants only in place for the visual aesthetic of the street and estate?
When it comes to the presentation of houses, the one that has the biggest impact is controlling the roof pitches. On a normal house with a hip roof, we normally have a requirement of a roof pitch of about 25 degrees. On a smaller house on a narrow block if the roof is too shallow, say 17 degrees, the roof looks quite squashed like some 1950s, 1960s houses. We are trying to discourage that kind of look, but we are not trying to take away people’s architectural interests, so if someone is looking for a lower roof pitch they could use a skillion roof and introduce some interest where one side would sit over the top of the other. If you have a big wide house, sometimes a 25 degree roof can look too big, it can look like the roof is squashing the house. So there is a balance, we want to see what people are proposing, we can say “yes we agree with you, this is a wide house, it should be 20 degrees and that looks right” or “we can see a skillion roof works well here” or the addition of tropical turrets or something architectural are all things we consider.
6. Are there covenants mandating single level homes only in Kenfrost Estates?
It depends on the estate. Some estates we have restrictions to single storey, some estates we don’t. For instance when we built Half Moon Bay Estate at the beach (off Reed Road) where we have beach front blocks, you wouldn’t expect there to be single storey houses backing onto the beach. They were all quite large two storey houses but there were single storey houses across the street and nearby. If you were looking somewhere like Endeavour Estate where we expect them all to be single storey, we did have a restriction saying all houses are to remain single storey. A lot of people in Cairns still don’t like having a two storey house next door because of a perceived privacy issue. Me personally I do not have an issue, but I know the community mainly see it that way.
7. What comes into play on hillside developments like Rainforest Edge Estate?
The biggest one there is to protect the existing retaining walls to make sure people don’t go and overload or undermine the retaining walls. We have that on other estates also. It doesn’t mean you can’t do something close to the retaining wall, it just means that if you are going to do something, you need to engage an engineer to come up with a solution that doesn’t overload the retaining walls. There’s plenty of options for that – peering, cantilevered footings etc. Pools can still be built right up to a retaining wall, it just needs to be engineered right.
8. Are covenants all about being the bad guy taking away people’s ability to do things to their house?
No it is not about taking away people’s ideas and ability to make changes. For retaining, it is a safety issue and an access issue. If you look at a house in Rainforest Edge Estate, a normal house block has 3 neighbours and if you look at the diagonals on the corner, you’ve really got 5 neighbours. So if you have a retaining wall that gets overloaded and damaged, there is potentially 3-5 neighbours that are impacted on. Because there will need to be access to be able to get into the yard to be able to repair a retaining wall. That’s a very big impact on a lot of people. And if the other people have also built a pool close to the retaining wall then that adds another level of complexity to the repairs. If someone is going to go and do something, the covenants actually say “we realise you want to do this, but please go and engage an engineer because there are certain safety reasons why you will have to proceed a certain way.”
etc. Pools can still be built right up to a retaining wall, it just needs to be engineered right.
9. Other developers put the cost of retaining walls on the buyer, why does a Kenfrost Estates have numerous retaining walls in place before land is sold?
One of the things where the blocks are left with a difference in height, the two owners have to resolve the issue themselves. So when one owner is building in advance on the other, or if the other block hasn’t been sold, then one person is making the decision which may cause issues down the track. So we try to ensure that doesn’t happen by often build retaining walls. This means the purchaser gets to use the entire block and it produces a lot better product. We often build block retaining walls on anything over 800mm high so there’s never going to be any maintenance apart from painting down the track.
10. What are the other items mandated that are common sense but ultimately need to be in the covenants?
Some of the covenants actually include ancient covenants like not having a an incinerator in the back yard. We all laugh because our parents may have had an incinerator, but nobody else does. But if you don’t put it in there, you can just about guarantee somebody is going to do that! If they go and burn off plastics in the backyard it’s going to be horrible for the neighbourhood. We have other things like restrictions on solar panel location on the front portion of the house or shiny tin roof because it reflects sun into the neighbours front of their house. Things like using common sense such as putting a satellite dish on the front of a house is not ideal. The owner probably doesn’t want it on the front either but you don’t know who turns up to install and just whacks it on the front. That won’t be acceptable. Air conditioners should not be put on the front of the house, they go around the side and out of the way. Rubbish bins behind a gate, lots of little things that combine together to present an estate that looks really good. When you look at some of our estates like Northpoint (Smithfield) which is 10 years old, you drive through now and the estates still look fantastic, the residents have looked after estate, the covenants have done their job, they’ve put those behaviours in place, and the estate looks really really good for it.