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Australia's most affordable housing?

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Nila Sweeney

Let’s take a trip back to post-war Australia. Immigration from Europe is at an all time high and people are having babies left, right and centre. The demand for affordable housing is high but building with bricks is expensive and out of reach for the average family.

Cue the fibro revolution. At the peak of the 1950’s housing boom, almost a third of new homes were owner built and made of fibro. ‘Economical to build and delightful to live in’, fibro helped a number of Australians build and own their very own great Australian dream.

“Over the last 60 years, fibro has enabled more first timers to get out into the suburbs and own a house on a decent block of land rather than simply settling for an apartment or townhouse,” says Angus Raine, CEO, Raine & Horne. “It’s an affordable and durable building material which is still enabling first home buyers to purchase homes in some select parts of Sydney for $600,000 or less,” he says.

Unfortunately, a lot of early fibro homes were made with asbestos – a product that causes a chronic inflammatory condition that affects the lungs called asbestosis. In fact, almost all fibro homes built pre 1980’s contain asbestos. But don’t panic – if left undisturbed, asbestos isn’t something you need to worry about. As it only poses a threat when inhaled, fibro houses that contain asbestos are safe just as long as you don’t go drilling holes in the walls.

“Fibro has been much maligned, however many homes are well constructed and built using hard wood frames. If they are in good condition, the other attraction is that it’s relatively easy to upgrade kitchens and bathrooms and they can also be easily upgraded with brick veneer or cladding,”

Or, you prefer, you could just knock the house down. “After five years, owners can upgrade to a different home or knock over the fibro home and build a new house in its place,” says Raine. “Just be sure to get some professional advice from a builder before starting the demolition process.”

If you’re still not convinced you’ll be pleased to know that while fibro is making a comeback, the modern version no longer contains asbestos. Today cutting-edge architects in Australia and overseas are returning to fibro - now asbestos free - as a cheap and versatile building material that is once again providing affordable housing solutions to many first home buyers.

“Modest fibro homes can be an entry point option for first home buyers and buying a more affordable fibro home and paying off a mortgage is an excellent strategy for building home equity,” says Raine & Horne Dee Why and Collaroy principal Peter Mosedale.

So if you’re looking for something affordable that you can stamp with your own personality, maybe it’s time to take a look at fibro.

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