From the 1950s through to the 1970s, a beach “shack” meant exactly that, a fairly rudimentary house that celebrated its unique coastal surrounds. In more recent times, the “shack” has become the trophy home, with ensuites to every bedroom and several living areas to boot.

Although these beach homes come with all the bells and whistles, are they a good investment? Or are beach houses a lifestyle choice for those who aren’t particularly concerned about the financial return?

Architect Andrew Maynard uses the word “shack” when he’s designing a beach house for clients. This term already suggests an image in the mind of clients that a suburban-style home by the beach won’t be presented to them.

“The problem at the moment, whether it’s a beach or country house, is that it’s often simply a replica of what people leave behind in the suburbs,” says Maynard, who laments the rise of the “trophy” home.

“People think they need a large place to entertain family and friends, but that could occur only a couple of times a year,” he says.

Maynard sees smaller as better when it comes to beach houses, not only for the coastal environment, but also for the return. Maynard’s award-winning beach house at Anglesea, a couple of hours drive from Melbourne, is a renovation of a 1970s abode, owned by the same family since it was built.

Initially, Maynard’s clients were thinking of a new beach house to accommodate the extended family. But that option would have come with a million dollar price tag. Instead, they went for the less expensive option, a renovation to the value of $450,000.

A bunkroom was added, together with a rumpus room and a second bathroom. A large outdoor deck leading from the living areas on the first floor, sits in the canopy of an established tree.

Maynard avoided suburban-style fixtures and fittings and kept the design of the Anglesea house as simple as possible. “Why do people feel there’s a need to import tiles from Italy for a bathroom in a beach house? A simple bathroom and an out-door shower makes more sense,” says Maynard.

ITN Architects also prefers to design simple beach houses rather than large suburban-style homes as weekenders. Its beach house, located at St Andrews Beach on the Mornington Peninsula, is simple and low maintenance.

Designed for a couple with three children, the idea was to “channel” some of the great beach shacks built in Australia from the 1950s through to the 1970s. Clad in timber, the 200-square-metre beach house includes a sunken-style lounge in the living area, four bedrooms and two bathrooms.

Realised with a budget of $400,000, a few elements were altered to save money. Floor-to-ceiling glazing was replaced with off-the-shelf window frames and secondhand blackbutt was used for flooring.

The modest kitchen features plywood joinery and an insitu concrete bench. While some would have built a large expensive home on this site, many feel such a move would lessen the value of this type of property.

“In the long term, the suburban-style beach house holds less appeal for prospective buyers. It isn’t a beach house,” says architect Aidan Halloran, a director of ITN Architects. And for those thinking that building a beach house is a good investment, it’s more for pleasure than financial gain.

“A beach house is generally not a great investment but it’s something that can be enjoyed in the long term,” he adds.

Keryn Nossal wasn’t after a quick financial return when she commissioned ITN Architects to design the St Andrews Beach house.

“We wanted the house to be low key, definitely no marble surfaces,” says Nossal, who didn’t present Halloran with a budget on the first meeting.

“It was more about how we wanted to use the spaces.”

The beach house wasn’t purchased as an investment, but as a lifestyle choice that would remain in the family for generations to come.

“It was never about buying or selling real estate. I often say to friends and family it would be ‘the last thing to go’,” says Nossal.

Fortunately Nossal and Halloran were on the same page when they were discussing plans for the beach house.

“The last thing we wanted was a beach house designed just to impress people. It had to respond to this majestic site, not overpower it,” says Nossal.

While architects such as Maynard and Halloran point to the pleasure of owning a simple beach house, others such as real estate agent Jamie Granger, director of Property Central, see the financial benefits of buying a beach house.

Property Central handles a number of property sales on the New South Wales coast including Wamberal and Avoca Beach.

While many beach homes at Wamberal fetch substantial amounts of money (well north of a million dollars), other areas, such as Blue Bay and Toowoon Bay, are less well known.

“Timing is everything when you’re buying a beach house. Prices are starting to rise, particularly in the bay areas near Wamberal,” says Granger, who also suggests Newcastle as a strong growth area for those looking for more affordable beach houses.

“It’s starting to become a strong beach/cafe culture.”

However, irrespective of the timing, creating a mansion-style house by the beach, customised to the nth degree, is not only costly, but importantly, not always a wise financial decision.

“Financially it doesn’t stack up to add endless bathrooms and slick kitchens you’d find in the city. Do these things really add to the pleasure of getting away?” says Maynard.

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Posted by Stephen Crafti – The Age on 19th October, 2014