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"I was always interested in construction and development," Michael says. "I ended up going into a broader degree at university—commerce, financial planning, investments, and professional accounting. I didn't know necessarily what I was ultimately going to be, except that I love property."
After starting in the family business, Michael rose up through the ranks, working a variety of different roles before assuming the position that he currently occupies.
The company itself, Ausbuild, has been operating for 35 years as of July this year, and its levels of success have remained undimmed by time. This success, Michael says, is down to a couple of different things—one of those main factors is the unique nature of the business.
"The key to its overall success is really utilizing capital—partnering with the right people and becoming a developer itself. So now, if you look at Ausbuild today, we're very unique, in that we are a land developer with a housing business selling house–land. We provide finance through brokerage to our clients, and we sell the whole east coast of Australia," he says.
"There aren't many other companies that we can put a label on of any significance of our scale that do that. You have developers and you have builders, but never both. In our scenario, we're both. House, land, and finance is our key."
But that's not the only thing that keeps Ausbuild going.
"One of the other reasons for our current success comes down to creating a really good culture within our company and striving for excellence in every transaction," says Michael. "The way to be successful and create a successful business is to surround yourself with really good people, who understand where we're going, and respecting them."
"This theme of fostering a good environment for people carries through into Ausbuild’s approach to dealing with their customers, something that Michael finds especially important.
“Because we are an end-to-end provider, the big thing is creating an organisation where the customer is absolutely centric to the day-to-day operation of the business,” Michael says. “No matter what you’re doing, at the end of the day the customer has to have an exceptional experience with you, as much as that can happen. We’ve got massive repeat business, in terms of repeat clients, which is quite rare in the house and land world. “We currently have around 30,000 people living and building [with us]—30,000 mums and dads, aunties and uncles, grandparents. We’re quite a big part of [their journeys], we provide the home, the shelter, the place to lay their heads and bring up their kids. So we feel like that is a critical process as part of their life journeys, and we treat it as such.”
Another way that Ausbuild is working on giving back to the community is the gala fundraisers that it puts on for Chameleon Youth Housing. “We have this ability to create shelter. So why don’t we work with people like Chameleon House to create shelter? Not everyone can put up a house, we can,” Michael says. This led to the Ausbuild Housing for Happiness Gala, which raised close to $110,000 last year and is hoping to surpass that this year. Chameleon Youth Housing, which the Gala raises money for, is a not-for-profit specialist homeless service that works to provide safe and affordable housing to young people in the Redcliffe peninsula to assist them to take control of their lives in a safe and supportive environment. “It’s really heartwarming stuff,” Michael says. “For us to be able to put on a gala and raise money is ultimately fairly easy, because we have the resources to do it. To build a house is easy, we do 600 a year, so why not!”
But charity work is not the only place that Ausbuild is making a difference in the housing market. Something that the team has been very successful with, Michael says, is creating diverse housing options, something that is not always met with enthusiasm from the councils of the areas in which Ausbuild is developing. “Some of our biggest success stories are the hard-won battles, where we’ve had to challenge council about the planning scheme on what should be provided to create housing, diversity, choice, and therefore housing affordability,” he says. A great example of this was the work Ausbuild did in Moreton Bay, for which it was awarded the Corporate Social Responsibility Excellence Award in the Moreton Bay Business & Innovation Awards 2023. “We approached Moreton Bay Regional Council, and we did a pilot project with them that had fantastic social outcomes as well as project outcomes. Some of our harder-won battles have been to deal with engaging councils and the community,” Michael says."
"The criteria there was that we wanted a diverse range of housing types. We looked at the housing composition of what a home is made up of—singles, couples, families, empty nesters—how many people live in these dwellings, and then created the product around them."
The decision to opt for more diversity of housing, offering different lot sizes and housing types, meant that Ausbuild was able to create more housing in the area, which in turn meant that more buyers were able to get into the market.
"I was meeting first timers myself, as they were struggling to get into the market, and trying to work through how I could construct a deal to get them into it. Getting people into the market gave them the equity that they have today to live life and support themselves financially," Michael says. "The overall social benefit [of housing] to the country is fundamental."
This is something, Michael says, that developers and the wider development community can keep in mind when trying to combat the current housing affordability crisis, but only if different players in the process can come together and work towards a common goal.
At the moment, Michael says, the potential solution of creating more diverse housing is being hindered by legislation and red tape that doesn't allow for this to take place.
"I think as every year goes by in my career, all levels of government have only made it harder—I don't think they've yet created any policy that has made it easier for us to deliver homes to people," he says. "Providing housing is one of the pillars of our economy, and every year, there's just another layer [of red tape] that they throw at us. It's always a challenging industry to be in, and they're making it more expensive."
Something else that could alleviate the pressure the housing market is currently facing is greenfield development.
"Greenfield development is a great way of producing wholesale amounts of land to fit to solve a housing problem. We need to look at buyer profiles, we've got to look at the most efficient way to bring land to the market," Michael says.
This is something, he continues, that shouldn't be limited to parcels of land on the far outskirts of urban development.
"You don't need to drive an hour-and-a-half and spend a billion dollars when we have very good infrastructure in South East Queensland. We've all got a social context—family, friends, support, work. What we should be doing is trying to develop land within those areas where [that] already exists. And that's where housing choice and diversity comes into it. So, I think well-located greenfield development that is efficient to bring to the market because of existing infrastructure that needs some upgrade allowing people to live within the social fabric of where they live today is the answer to that."
- From UDIA's Establish Magazine