Heading towards “The Block” auction – how well do those reality show renovations really work?
Alistair McLean
Category: Interiors, Television

Alistair: Posted on Thursday, 21 June 2012 1:48 AM

So what makes for a good renovation of a period home?  And can an unrenovated property ever be worth more than a renovated one? Secret Design Studio has just stumbled across “The Block” as the four couples fall in an exhausted heap towards the finish line for this strenuous “reality” television show.  The production company paid $3,025,000 on the four unrenovated, neighbouring Victorian terraces.


The concept is clever, and probably fairer than 2011’s “The Renovators” as the properties are fairly similar, and being neighbours are subject to the same market conditions.  But in Secret Design Studio’s experience a good renovation needs as much careful planning in the first half as hard work in the second half.  “The Block” contestants are forced to treat their renovations as a triathlon, with little time for planning and design, as this is “reality” television, and the planning and design processes don’t make for good television viewing.

Each house has now progressed far enough for some glossy photos to be taken and agents to have listed them on their websites for auction on the 30 June, only 10 days away.  According to “Property Observer” the contestants may have high hopes of sale prices around the $1.2 million mark, but could struggle to achieve this given recent sales history.  The Real Estate Institute of Victoria says that South Melbourne is one of the six suburbs to drop off the $1million median house price perch over the past 12 months following soft trading conditions, according to their first quarter 2012 figures.

Real Estate prices are always set by supply and demand and having four similar sized and renovated terraces come onto the market at one time is only increasing supply and diluting demand.  Four terraces may not seem many, but as only 12 terraces have been sold in South Melbourne this year it is substantially increasing supply.

Let us have a quick look at the four terraces and see how the finished product looks.  Renovating a property for auction can be a pressure cooker process, but this process would be made even worse by the constant TV crew looking for drama (and ratings).  The poor contestants would have had to juggle their budgets as well as getting individual rooms finished for weekly judging.  How do you prepare a room that is going to appeal to the judges, but also appeal to the market, which may have more conservative tastes?  What about the heritage nature of the homes – while Victorian terraces are commonplace in most inner city areas, do you try and renovate with authenticity, or just bland over with greige paint?

405 Dorcas Street – the largest terrace and renovated by Brad and Lara. 


This follows the traditional terrace renovation pattern of centering the kitchen to open out the rear rooms to informal living and to provide a relationship with the courtyard garden.  The ground floor powder room, tucked under the stairs seems to be awkwardly placed with an outward swinging door and a too intimate relationship with the food preparation areas.


The kitchen is generous, and appears to have a lot of circulation space and I hope it incorporates a European style laundry.  The kitchen fireplace seems to be oddly positioned as an afterthought without being the traditional Victorian style focal point in a room.  While the generous kitchen will assist with the selling, the lack of a functional laundry and properly separated ground floor powder room may work against them.  A more efficiently planned kitchen, with less circulation space, may have allowed them the room for an efficient laundry and more private powder room.  The living room and kitchen do not try and hide the heritage of the house and this contributes to the charm.



The first floor follows the traditional terrace renovation pattern.  The cupboard headboard in bedroom 2 doesn’t appear to be very practical in visually reducing the size of the room and increasing the circulation, and I wonder what the thinking is behind this.


The only aspect I would call bad design is the mid step in the second bathroom, it looks like a trip hazard, and isn’t helped by the frameless glass shower screen as the only grab point.  I don’t understand why the shower water doesn’t flow down the step into the lower part of the bathroom, so I hope that Brad and Lara remembered to include a floor waste on both bathroom levels.  I can guess that the mid room step may have had something to do with underfloor plumbing, but it seems a clumsy and poorly planned solution that no amount of glossy finishes will ever make practical.


This property has been listed by Buxtons and for inspection details please go to http://www.domain.com.au/Property/For-Sale/House/VIC/South-Melbourne/?adid=2009715441

Buxton’s sales pitch says “Come for a ride into the future with Brad and Lara’s magnificent ‘Block’ home with state of the art electronics and a wealth of energy saving and modern conveniences.
The home has been perfected top to bottom with the greatest of everything and is located in one of the best areas in Melbourne with close proximity to all manner of shops, restaurants, schools and of course the beach close by. The stunning home features three double bedrooms, main with en-suite and two with walk-in robes, a magnificent open-plan kitchen/dining and living room expanse that looks out to the extensive rear decking with built-in pizza oven and BBQ. Nothing has been overlooked with a formal lounge room, powder room, sparkling second bathroom and separate laundry.
The ‘wow factor’ third level deck soaks in 180 degree views to the city and surrounds; a must see!
Putting a value on the perfected home is one thing but putting a value on the expert advice, build quality and resultant interior layout with insightful furniture, colour schemes and accessory choices is quite another.
Leaving the other ‘Block’ homes in their wake, Brad and Lara’s home is bigger and appointed to a higher level than the other offerings, suffice to say, this is the one you want!
Turn the key to a fabulous life in a remarkable home of the future.”

407 Dorcas Street – the end terrace by Dan and Dani.


This terrace follows along similar lines to 405 Dorcas next door, but is advertised as a four bedroom.  Instead of having two clearly defined living areas and three bedrooms, this home relies on having only one living area and four bedrooms.  Secret Design Studio suspects that this may not add value to the property as the occupant of the downstairs bedroom has to go upstairs to use the shower.  While this bedroom could be quite functional as a home office it doesn’t have the period charm of 405’s living room with no fireplace – take out the furniture and it is actually quite a bland room.


Again the same issue with the central powder room with the swing out door into the kitchen and open plan living areas, but even worse as this is the only living area.  They have managed to squeeze an efficient European style laundry into bathroom 2 on the first floor and this is a much more practical solution than the cupboard in the kitchen for 405.


Dan and Dani have made good use of being the end terrace and introduced windows above the kitchen bench on the side wall, which would not have been possible with the other terraces.  It doesn’t appear that they added a window to the ensuite, which would have made a difference to this room.


This property has been listed by RT Edgar and for inspection details please go to http://www.realestate.com.au/property-house-vic-south+melbourne-110681105

RT Edgar sales pitch says  “Winning is a Way of Life! Competitive creativity, focused by the spotlight of ‘The Block’, has produced a brilliant outcome throughout this Victorian terrace. A home where the prominence and profile of the TV show is matched by a position that will ensure lifestyle success long after the cameras have left.

Inspired ideas by Dan and Dani, who responded best to the demands of the contest, add a designer edge to a totally transformed tri level floor-plan. Living/dining areas which link seamlessly on North and West aspects to decked outdoor entertaining surroundings are complemented by a state-of-the-art kitchen where an island bench, soft closing cabinetry and stainless steel Miele appliances illustrate a total commitment to quality.

A generous downstairs bedroom adds light filled luxury to three upstairs bedrooms, including a main bedroom with sublime ensuite and balcony views and a central bathroom of benchmark quality. Above, an inviting study and rooftop retreat with unforgettable outlooks complete sensational spaces. Ground floor powder room, automatic blinds, cafe awning, barbeque kitchen, solar panels and external access to the courtyard lead a huge list of extra attractions just moments from South Melbourne Market, Clarendon Street and city trams.”

403 Dorcas Street by Mike and Andrew.



Probably the bravest plan, and these guys have managed to make it work. By combining an efficient galley style kitchen with a dining area at the rear of the house, that flows through to the central living room, they have managed to save space for a great result.  The combined kitchen/dining/living room has an apartment style feel, rather than your traditional terrace house reno feel.


The front room has some neat cabinetwork that conceals a fold-down bed, so it works really well as a guest room and home office.  Again the unfortunate powder room under the stairs is opening out into the living room, but at least this time it is not opening out into the kitchen!  In fact the whole house seems to have lots of clever cabinetwork to maximize the space, but I can’t find any reference to a laundry – I hope that they didn’t forget.



Secret Design Studio is always pleased to see good use of some mid-century modern furniture and these guys have understood the lightness that this style of furniture can bring to small rooms.  I am not sure how well the honey coloured timber floorboard-style ceiling works with the much darker timber floorboards, but this is only a minor concern.


This property probably has the most contemporary feel than the other three houses, with only minimal references to the heritage, so it is perhaps more likely to feel dated sooner.

Secret Design Studio awards for “Best Contemporary Style”, “Best Cabinetwork”, and “Best Architectural Details”.

This property has been listed by Hocking Stuart and inspection details can be found here:http://www.realestate.com.au/property-house-vic-south+melbourne-110663193

Hocking Stuarts sales pitch says  ” Totally Transformed Victorian Terrace. An uncompromising and ingenious renovation seamlessly combining the luxury of a Five Star Hotel with the elegance of a gold-rush style Victorian balconied terrace creating a brilliant bayside sanctuary with State of The Art designer finishes, sumptuous high ceilings and voluminous light filled living.

Set over 3 exciting levels featuring 4 Bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, lifestyle designed living-entertaining zones, gourmet style kitchen, sumptuous outdoor living and breathtaking roof-top ‘winter garden’ terrace with entertainment bar and panoramic city viewing.
Rich in history and nestled between the City and the Bay, this splendid inner city oasis is desirably located to some of Melbourne’s best bars, cafes, restaurants and parklands.
Note: The property is sold with all furniture and accessories and provides substantial tax deprecation advantages for the astute investors.”

 401 Dorcas Street by Sophie and Dale. 


This couple have attempted to renovate and bring out some of the heritage of the home, but with mixed results.  They have made good use of textures in materials, much more than the other contestants. They have used the front room as a dining room, which is perhaps the only dining space that could be used for formal dining in all of the four houses – and completely opposite to the open plan kitchen dining of 403 Dorcas.  The room is generous for this and with the central fireplace and mantle it would be a special space.  However Secret Design Studio wonders if the buying public still appreciate the function and formality of a dining room, and if this room will dilute buyer interest.


Fortunately it still has good proportions and would easily convert to a traditional style sitting room or home office.  The main concern I have for this room is the way that the plaster has been removed from the brick chimney to give the room an overpowering ‘70’s vibe.  This was common practice in 1970’s terrace house renovations, but in truth the brick chimneys were always plastered over.

The ‘70’s style exposed brick has also been done in the hallway.  The colour, texture and life to this wall is very appealing, but it just looks wrong in this hallway, it should have been saved for a warehouse renovation where the facebrick has always been on show.   Sophie and Dale have also stripped the stair and balustrade of all paint and this would have been a labour of love to restore it to its original stained finish.

Ditto for the previous three houses regarding the powder room and kitchen relationship. Secret Design Studio award for “Best Texture”, “Best Lighting”, and “Best Traditional Style”.

Kay and Burton are handling the listing for this property, and for inspection details go to http://www.domain.com.au/Property/For-Sale/House/VIC/South-Melbourne/?adid=2009733641

Kay and Burton’s sales pitch “Unique in character and flawless in execution, this ground-up renovated Victorian residence features a striking mix of period and contemporary elements that work in perfect unison to provide for an enviable inner-city lifestyle. Nestled in the very heart of South Melbourne – just moments from Clarendon Street shops, cafes, South Melbourne Market, Albert Park Village, city trams and lush parklands – the home delivers a floor plan for the executive couple or family over 3 levels, rare vistas of the city and beyond, and bespoke interiors that exude rustic charm, elegant sophistication and 21st century modernity; all in all providing a warm and inviting setting for fine entertaining and effortless everyday living.

Enjoying an attractive North-East aspect with an abundance of natural light throughout, the ground level features a charming entrance hall leading to a stylish dining room with open fireplace, high quality kitchen with Ilve appliances, and open plan living zone with bi-fold doors that open out onto a wraparound deck and sundrenched garden complete with built-in barbeque facilities.
The first floor delivers a main bedroom with balcony and double vanity en suite, along with 2 additional bedrooms and a sleek central bathroom with laundry; while the top level features an ingeniously designed study area alongside a rooftop terrace that offers unhindered views of the CBD.
Other features that complete this stunning home include a ground floor powder room, substantial storage, heating, security, keyless entry, intercom, custom joinery and finishes, high ceilings and double-glazed windows throughout.”

Secret Design Studio really hope that the market appreciates the hard efforts that these contestants have put into their houses when it comes around to auction day.  I think that it does illustrate that there are many variations on renovating a building, and the right plan really depends on your household and lifestyle.  It is a pity that there was not more time available for contestants to plan and resolve some of the compromises, such as the downstairs powder room position.

So when does an unrenovated house sell for more than a renovated house?  These vendors are hoping for about $1.2m for these houses complete with all furniture and fittings.  Remember what I said at the start about supply and demand?  It warms Secret Design Studio’s heart to see that a mid-century modern 1960’s terrace house, similar in size to these houses sold for $1.3 million earlier this year. From the photos it looks like it is in pretty original condition, and it doesn’t look like a Victorian style terrace with a 1960’s makeover. Is this a sign that finally mid century modern homes are being recognised for more than their land value?

For more information on this property http://realestate.melbourneweeklyportphillip.com.au/overview/3312510/162-nelson-road-south-melbourne-3205/