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Alice Stolz: How The Block has changed the way Aussies view property

It’s hard to imagine a time when home renovation and diehard property shows and content did not dominate Australian culture.

This year marks 20 years since Channel Nine debuted The Block, originally set in Sydney, before going on to become what is arguably Australia’s most successful renovation show.

At its heart, The Block is a show about Australia’s love affair with renovating and our obsession with buying and selling property.

From Bondi to Brighton and Port Melbourne to Vaucluse, The Block has shown Australians what’s possible and, sometimes painfully, what’s not.

The show has evolved enormously over the past two decades, in many ways moving in lockstep with Australia’s property market.

We’ve witnessed auctions where contestants reaped the reward of a booming market and, of course, crushing pass-ins where would-be bidders stand with hands firmly in pockets, the winds of the cooling market sweeping through.

And as in the case last season, a mix of all that and more.

Last year’s winners, Omar and Oz became the biggest in the show’s history when their house sold for $5.67 million, pocketing $1.69 million in winnings, while three houses passed in before eventually selling.

As a nation of property lovers, The Block has propelled us forward and spurred us to be more imaginative and curious when it comes to renovating.

The blond brick homes that will be renovated on The Block 2023 in Charming St, Hampton East.

Or perhaps the antidote to such eye-watering price growth is that we have had to be more inventive.

We’ve seen series that centred around transforming blocks of units, former hotels where crimes took place, a commercial office building, a former soap factory, a warehouse and a boarding house.

And of course (my favourite!), the relocation of old weatherboard properties from far flung corners of Australia, condemned for demolition, that were saved, moved and completely transformed to their former glory with all the mod cons of today.

It’s clear, too, that affordability has helped define the direction The Block has taken.

Earlier seasons were based in blue-chip postcodes but as house prices have shot up like skyscrapers, the show has been seemingly cognisant of the issues that many Aussies face.

Should I buy further out to get better value for money? Live in an apartment with the kids but be closer to the city?

Buy in the best school zone? Add a studio on for extra income and future-proof the property?

Where do I spend and where do I save when renovating?

The Block also serves as a pulse check on how we live.

From the rise (and then decline) of open-plan living, super-sized luxe master suites, butler’s pantries for small armies, mud rooms, garage stackers, statement fireplaces, the use of smart tech, the rise of sustainability.

Domain National Managing Editor Alice Stolz on-site at The Block.

The inspiration, the aspiration, the sophistication – it’s all there.

And as with anything to do with property, you’re only ever one moment away from a great thud back to reality.

When the shadow of the pandemic brought Melbourne to its knees, the show had little more immunity than anyone else.

Supply issues, trade issues, restrictions on open homes and shortened marketing campaigns.

But the upside?

You’d be hard pushed to find an agent who did not prosper through the resurging post-pandemic property boom as the city awoke from its slumber and demand for turn-key renovated homes soared.

Part of the magic of The Block is that the modus operandi is very different from what a property developer is up against.

“We operate under a different criteria for development – we under-develop,” The Block’s architect Julian Brenchley told Domain.

“[A past site] would have had 60 apartments but instead, we’re doing [six] units and creating demand for a larger, more substantial dwelling,” Brenchley said. 

And then there are the auction campaigns that see real estate agents charged with conducting what must surely be the biggest marketing campaign of the year.

Domain’s Alice Stolz (right) with Shelley Craft and Scott Cam on-site at The Block.

Agencies involved sift through thousands and thousands of enquiries from active and passive buyers, as well as investors who have long played a prominent role in the final auctions thanks to the alluring tax-depreciation schedules the fully-furnished properties can bring.

And also in the enquiry mix are, of course, the thousands of fans trying to sneak their own private tour of the houses. 

For agents appearing on the show, there is an opportunity to showcase their unique style when it comes to selling.

It’s not an overstatement to say that a show like The Block, with its a national audience, allows an agent and their agency to showcase their individual way of pitching, supporting the vendor and (hopefully!) obtaining an incredible auction result.

In addition to this, The Block shows consumers the role an agent can play in offering guidance when it comes to renovating, understanding potential buyer profiles, the state of the current market and latest pricing.

Ultimately, the most real part of this reality show is what plays out at the pointy end of the season.

The agents are charged with doing their best to keep their vendors, aka contestants, across the current state of the market as well as the levels of buyer interest.

But of course, anything can happen on auction day.

And as in reality, it can sometimes make little difference how much blood, sweat and tears have been poured into a property.

The contestants’ success, just like with any other vendor, is bluntly measured by how much or how little a buyer is willing to pay for a property. 

This year, The Block is set in the family-friendly Melbourne suburb of Hampton East. The new series features five blond-brick houses designed and built in the 1950s – all of which are in need of a contemporary update.

The Block returns on Sunday, August 6, at 7pm on Channel 9 and 9Now.

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Alice Stolz

Alice Stolz is the National Managing Editor of Domain.