packers home at 40 Wentworth Road, Vaucluse sold for about $70 million image

Chinese billionaire Chau Chak Wing has revealed he bought James and Erica Packer’s Vaucluse mega mansion for $70 million without even seeing it.

Chau Chak Wing, right, with his son Eric.

Chau Chak Wing, right, with his son Eric. Photo: James Brickwood

In an exclusive interview, the property developer said he had lived at the Hunters Hill home his family bought for $3 million for more than 20 years, and wanted to upgrade to something “a little bigger”.

“I’ve lived in my home in Sydney for a long time now, there are more children at home, grandchildren, so I wanted to move into something a little bigger,” the media-shy Dr Chau said.

The family has owned their waterfront home in Hunters Hill since 1995.

“I never saw the [Packer] house, I don’t know who the former owners were.”

The chairman of Kingold Group said he had delegated responsibility for the purchase to his daughter Winky, who runs the family’s Chinese-language newspaper Australian New Express Daily.

Like the Packers, Dr Chou has impressive business and political connections.

In July last year, he sat in on a meeting with former prime minister John Howard and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, while more recently he accompanied rising Communist Party star Hu Chunhua – who some have tipped as Xi’s successor – as part of a travelling delegation to NSW in May.

Former prime ministers John Howard, Bob Hawke and Kevin Rudd have all been hosted by Dr Chau at his leafy Imperial Springs estate, which boasts a 27-hole golf course and an expansive museum with 20,000 Chinese antiquities. (6)

Henry Sapiecha

House made of 31 shipping containers

This jaw-dropping Brisbane property, made out of 31 shipping containers, is a one-off bespoke design by experienced builder Todd Miller of Zeigler Build. The only other similar house in Australia has been built from five containers.

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Situated on 706 square metres in Graceville, the spectacular home stands out in a quiet neighbourhood of more traditional Queensland properties. Only 8 kms away from the Brisbane CBD, it feels like another world.

container built home 31 image (2)

Sprawling over three levels it features clean lines, open spaces and quality finishes.

container built home 31 image (3)

Glass maximises natural light and a mix of materials, including the signature containers, cleverly used to industrial chic effect.

container built homes images (1)

container built home image

There are four bedrooms positioned over two levels. The master encompasses the entire upper level, with extensive walk-in robes and a private ensuite with tiled mural.

container built home pool image

Outdoor spaces are spread throughout, maximising the tropical climate

container home interior image

Other features include a mezzanine reading room, a pull out queen wall bed in the rumpus room, an art study, workshop, gym space, water tank and saltwater pool.

container built home kitchen image

It’s solar ready and has been constructed to flood code.

container built home hall image

Hear this interview with the builder of this huge container built home Todd Miller


Henry Sapiecha




Bondi shipping container house wins award

container built homes images (2)

What is it about shipping containers? From innovative downsizers, to grand designers, the humble shipping container has become a popular, unique choice of material to fashion remarkable properties.

Last year we saw this stunning Brisbane property made of 31 shipping containers wide eyes and make headlines. Now a design competition has invited architects to create a vacation home created entirely from shipping containers – and the winner is another stunner.

Czech architect Ales Javurek won the AC-CA (Architectural Competition – Concours d’Architecture) with his plans for a stunning and sustainable holiday home overlooking Sydney’s Bondi Beach made out of steel shipping containers and wood panels.

container built homes images (1)

The two-storey home draws on and complements the natural surrounds of Bondi. It features an open concept living space on the entrance level, bedrooms on the upper floor and a roof garden (which also acts as insulation). Wooden slabs are used to define spaces and create zoning throughout the home, while wooden pergolas protect from solar exposure. The design makes use of natural ventilation and light to regulate internal temperature, while glazing adds an additional layer of sustainable support.

“I believe that internal connection between spaces and users’ circulation is absolutely essential. That is why I provided clear, straight connections between platforms with barrier-free entrance and corridors which are orthogonal to the main axis,” explained Javurek.

 Shipping containers are appealing not just because of their distinctive design aesthetic, but their stackability, which can mean quick and efficient construction.


Henry Sapiecha

How to create the ultimate ‘she shed’

Cindy Goode Milman's she shed image

Every woman needs her own space where she can get away from it all. The latest trend in female hideaways is the she shed. The long-awaited antidote to the man cave, she sheds are captivating women who long for an at-home retreat of their own.

Some women are making the most of installing a she shed in their backyard where they can relax, pursue hobbies and entertain friends, while others have found a neglected corner in the house can be transformed into the perfect home sanctuary.

Interior designer Vicki Poulter from Designing Women in Sydney says she loves the idea of the she shed. “I’ve always been a shed girl.” she says. Her own shed is a large American barn in the western Blue Mountains where she likes to entertain friends. She also has an outdoor space in the back garden of her home in Sydney which she uses as a home office and studio. She says she is often called on professionally to create “little spaces and nooks where you can go and read or potter”.

Cindy Goode Milman's she shed also acts as a space for entertaining.

 Cindy Goode Milman’s she shed also acts as a space for entertaining. Photo: Supplied

Poulter says it is easy to create your own bespoke she shed. “It doesn’t matter really how small it is just as long as it has got room for a comfy chair or a daybed and some light, some power points so you can have lamps, and a book shelf or shelving, and a gorgeous rug so that it is warm.”

It doesn’t have to be expensive and it shouldn’t be, says Poulter.  “You should do it shabby chic. You can pick up odd bits and pieces from Vinnies or go to second-hand shops, picking up bargains, painting and staining them.”

An outdoor setting means that what you put in your shed has to survive tough shed conditions. Also what might look old and shabby in your house can get a second life in your shed, she says.

“In the end your she shed has to be somewhere you are really comfortable,” she adds.

Cindy Goode Milman, an artist from Sydney’s northern beaches, recently had a shed purpose-built in her backyard; her own place to paint, entertain her friends and be alone.

“In the end your she shed has to be somewhere you are really comfortable,” she adds.

Cindy Goode Milman, an artist from Sydney’s northern beaches, recently had a shed purpose-built in her backyard; her own place to paint, entertain her friends and be alone.

Vicki Poulter's she shed.Vicki Poulter’s she shed. Photo: Supplied

“I simply love my shed and it has transformed my life,” she says. “As an early riser I will sit in the garden then sneak into the shed and start working on a painting watching the possums. My favourite time. As an artist it is pure bliss to have fresh air and peace.

“It ended up being the same price as buying a shed kit but is far more quirky and personal,” she says. Inside, as well as her easel and painting materials, a dining room table with a Perspex top doubles as her workbench. The ceiling of the shed is a garden with dirt on the clear Perspex bonded roof, complete with a pattern of green roots sprouting its own art display on the underside, says Milman. She also holds painting workshops and hosts lunches and dinners in the shed. “All up it is a busy shed,” she says.

Business owner and mother of three Trish Radge, from Noosa Heads, longed for her own haven away from the family and decided to create a she den in her own home.

“I work with my husband from a home office so we spend a lot of time together in the house. It is important that we both have our own special place to get away from the office, from each other, as much as we enjoy being together, and away from the kids. It allows me to think and not be disturbed.”

Trish Radge’s reading nook image

Trish Radge’s reading nook. Photo: Supplied

Radge says she goes to her she den and reads for a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon and in winter it is her “go to” spot in the sun where she can read or listen to podcasts. “In the evening I will often sit in my nook reading if there is nothing good on TV. The family are very respectful of my time out probably because they enjoy a bit of time to themselves too.”

Michelle Sperinck, marketing manager at Cheap Sheds, which supplies DIY sheds online, says there is a growing trend where women are creating their own spaces in sheds as well as in other areas of the home. “It’s common to see sheds turned into art studios, dressmaking workshops or even a home office,” she says.

“We also often have our female customers tell us they need two sheds so they don’t have to share it with their husband’s trash. They want a safe and cosy potting shed to tinker away in while their men have their sheds for their toys.”

For a shed large enough to set up as a hobby room or studio, expect to pay $500- $200, depending on the size and material, says Sperinck.


Henry Sapiecha



For the last eight months I have lived in a granny flat out the back of my aunt and uncle’s house, forking out just $100 per week.

I’m not the only Aussie embracing these daggy dwellings. The Department of Planning and Environment reports there were 4818 granny flats and dual occupancies approved in 2013/14; an increase of 68 per cent in a year.

People use them for home offices and art studios, extra storage and for housing their teenage children or elderly parents (close enough to keep an eye on them, enough distance to keep the peace).

Indeed, if family folklore is correct my own granny flat once served as an office to sell the display homes on our street.

In a world of million-dollar medians I’m likely to be calling my little pad home for quite some time to come, which is perfectly fine by me – a granny flat is a bit like all the other types of dwellings, only better. And here’s why.

While similar to apartment living, there’s the bonus of not having to share a building with other pesky residents. Not once have I had to deal with noise coming from the apartment above or below me.

A granny flat is a bit like a Tiny House but it has a more humble reputation; people don’t make Pinterest accounts and write blogs about the #journey of their granny flat and how it has transformed them.

My granny flat is minimalist, but not in a cool Scandinavian way. I’m not even one of those people who is passionate about downsizing; it’s just that I haven’t had much time to accumulate a lot of things.

Then there’s the name. Saying you live in a granny flat definitely does not sound cool, but it does kinda sounds hip in an ironic way.

It looks like a miniature house. The reason people like babies so much is that they’re tiny humans and they like cats so much because they look like tiny lions. This principle can also be applied to granny flats.

There are two types of granny-flat residents; those who spend time with their landlords up in the normal-sized house, and those who don’t. I’m grateful to belong to the former category.

For me, renting a granny flat from my super cool (assuming they’re reading this) family members in the house adjacent means I benefit from the good parts of living with other people. I get to eat dinner with them (and not cook), and watch ‘quality’ shows with them at night. Sometimes, they even pick me up from the bus stop when it’s raining. It is also brilliant because we don’t have to have social interactions before midday – my peak time for brooding, caused by my hatred of mornings.

It’s also mostly like living by myself. I can stay up as late as I want because no one tells me not to watch Netflix.

Sure, life in a granny flat isn’t perfect. I don’t do a lot of cooking but if I did I would probably feel disappointed by my “kitchen” (a bench top with a little camp oven, sink, toaster and kettle). There’s also the issue of the smell of brewed coffee hanging around for two days, which feels inappropriate when I’m trying to sleep.

My granny flat is the right size for me. I’ve grown so much over the last year but it’s still just the right size. All the words from all the stories I’ve read, all the songs I’ve listened to, all the hopeless meals I’ve eaten, all the long-winded phone calls I’ve made, they all fit perfectly inside my little flat. All the things that belong to me – tangible and intangible – are there.

Granny flats definitely aren’t suited to everyone, but they are perfect for grandparents, young couples, or for a sentimental individual like myself. (5)

Henry Sapiecha

How ‘boring old farts’ use proxy farming to take over trendy new buildings

man thinking image

Sydney’s smartest buildings are being run by a tiny minority of owners determined to hang on to power at all costs. “They are often retirees with too much time on their hands who treat their buildings like a hobby farm ” Photo: Mags King

 At best it has been described as “boring old farts running trendy new buildings”, but at worst it allows illegal short-term lets and overcrowding landlords to ride roughshod over council zoning and strata by-laws.

Now, as peak strata AGM season gets into full swing in NSW, Sydney MP Alex Greenwich has lashed out at delays to strata law reform that allow one or two owners to continue to control large buildings through proxy farming.

Proxy farming is when individuals or minority groups collect votes from fellow owners who can’t or won’t attend their buildings’ annual general meetings, giving them a majority over those who actually turn up at the meetings.

“I’ve been calling for reforms to proxy votes since I was elected,” says Mr Greenwich whose constituency contains the highest number of strata schemes in the state. “Current practices that allow one person or a small group of people to control management of a building, sometimes at the expense of most owners, are unfair and undemocratic.

“Concern about proxy harvesting is one of the most common strata issues raised with me, not far behind short term letting and overcrowding. In fact some owners say one of the barriers to stamping out these problems is when perpetrators hold majority proxies.”

One Sydney city apartment resident and multi-block investor, who preferred not to be named, told Domain that failure to curb proxy farming means even some of Sydney’s smartest buildings are being run by a tiny minority of owners determined to hang on to power at all costs.

“They are often retirees with too much time on their hands who treat their buildings like a hobby farm. Even in our trendier buildings, half the other owners are landlords and the rest are time-poor professionals, so the boring old farts take over.

“They aren’t necessarily bad people and they may not do bad things – but they do as they and their mates please and it often gets to the point where hanging on to power becomes more important than what they do with it.”

One tactic frequently used by proxy harvesters is to warn owners that failure to get a quorum for a general meeting means it will need to be held again a week later, a waste of time and money (although the second meeting doesn’t need a quorum).

“To be fair, as the laws stand, some buildings would never get anything done if someone didn’t collect a few proxies, just to make a quorum at their AGMs,” says Karen Stiles, executive officer of the Owners Corporation Network, the peak body for apartment owners.

“But, having said that, there is no excuse for one or two owners holding the balance of power or, even worse, holding owners to ransom, demanding their votes in exchange for favourable treatment in the running of the building.

“The strata reforms slated for next year can’t come soon enough. Then every owner, wherever they are, can vote electronically and take part in the future of their home or investment.”

Strata law changes that were supposed to come into effect in July last year and are now hoped to be in place early next year, will limit proxy votes to 5 per cent per individual owner, in line with legislation already in place in Queensland.

“The government promised improvements as part of its strata law reforms but we’ve seen changes delayed by over a year and I am not aware of the opposition’s position,” says Mr Greenwich. “If I’m re-elected I will push whoever is in government to make reforms on proxies and other vital strata issues.”

As numerous posts on the Flat Chat website confirm, proxy harvesters can become highly effective in gaining and then maintaining power, using their privileged access to owners’ email addresses as well as the normal communications through their strata managers.

With highly massaged meeting minutes, dedicated proxy harvesters can easily convince other owners that all is well in their building and suggest that any challenge to their status is a threat to the whole community and, especially, its finances.

“They present themselves as having the building’s best interests at heart and some even agree to vote however the proxy giver wants on specific issues,” says the unnamed strata owner. “But that means they can vote however they want on everything else – including the size of the executive committee and who gets to be on it. The committee then, of course, elects them as chairman or whatever.

“It will be interesting when the new legislation comes in. But you can bet your bottom dollar these guys have already worked out a way to spread the proxy votes among their mates so they can still stay in power.”


Henry Sapiecha

Agents and auctioneers sound warning ahead of big spring homes auction day Sydney

agent with auction flag on shoulder image

Sydney’s real estate agents and auctioneers are calling on vendors to set realistic reserve prices in the lead-up to the biggest auction day so far this spring.

About 1000 homes are expected to go under the hammer this weekend on the first “super” Saturday. But some fear a bloodbath since auction clearance rates have plummeted from near 90 per cent four months ago to 71.3 per cent on Saturday.

“It’s the weakest spring market for three years,” Domain Group senior economist Dr Andrew Wilson said.

“Parts of the city are showing signs of fatigue.”

Auction volumes are up almost 50 per cent this September, with almost 2500 homes going under the hammer so far this month. Auction numbers were also well up over July and August, with 800 auctions most Saturdays – unheard of for winter.

But the high volumes are now taking their toll. The north-west of the city has gone from one of the best-performing regions to one of the weakest. On Saturday, just 54.3 per cent of homes up for auction sold.

Real estate agent Peter Grover of Century 21 Castle Hill says there’s an oversupply of homes coming to the market in his area. “There’s a lot more come on in the last four weeks,” Mr Grover says.

“And a lot of investors are turning away from your traditional 30-year-old dwelling to an off-the-plan purchase – your typical house at $1.2 million is a bit of a stretch for an investor.”

He says banks charging higher interest rates for investors is also starting to discourage many.

“It’s not a catastrophe – if you set a realistic reserve you will probably sell.”

Agents in the Canterbury Bankstown area have also been finding it tough going. The principal of David Kay First National Belmore,  Phil Madirazza, admitted to being a bit nervous about his super Saturday auctions.

“We’ve got three auctions ourselves and they’re all going to be touch and go,” Mr Madirazza said.

“Vendor expectations are too high and they’re just not listening to what the [buyer] feedback is.

​”I think there will be quite a few pass-ins to be honest.”

He said auctions in his area are tough. “There’s been a noticeable change in the amount of registrations and we have to work the floor a bit harder than before.”

Auctioneer Damien Cooley says he has more than 100 auctions scheduled in Sydney on Saturday.

“There’s no doubt that there’s a little bit of panic coming across the industry, with some vendors and some agents,” Mr Cooley said.

“They don’t want to miss the boat but i don’t see any reason to panic, i think the market will continue to grow albeit at a much more calmer pace.

“I’m expecting a clearance rate similar or perhaps slightly down on the week we’ve just had.”

Given the high numbers, he said many agents were trying to sell their properties before the auction. “They’re thinking perhaps we should wrap it up now rather than risk not getting it across the line.”

He, too, said vendors needed to be realistic. “I’ve had cases of where it’s got to $690,000, and the owner wants to hold out for $700,000.

“It’s 10 grand.

“Let’s be realistic as to where the market’s at, let’s listen to what the buyers are saying.

“It’s easy to say that when an owner has seen a recent sale down the road, and they feel their property is better than that.

“A lot of vendors don’t realise that the market is different from even three months ago.”

Many regions are holding up better than others.

“Higher-priced inner and middle suburban areas continue to report reasonably healthy early spring results,” Dr Wilson said.

The city and east recorded the highest clearance rate at the weekend with a strong 84.1 per cent followed by the northern beaches with 82.9 per cent, the inner west 77.9 per cent, the south 76.9 per cent, the lower north 74.2 per cent, the upper north shore 72.7 per cent and Canterbury Bankstown 70 per cent. The west had a clearance rate of just 50 per cent. (8)

Henry Sapiecha

Wall of Chinese capital buying up Australian properties

house sold sign image

It’s a vendors market in Australia at the moment, but how many Australians can afford to buy? Photo: Rob Homer

The “wall of Chinese capital” hitting property markets in Sydney and Melbourne will not ease up until the government introduces its anti-money laundering legislation, says an expert in ‘flight capital’.

James Tee, an ethnic Chinese property developer whose business specialises in “capital expatriation” – that is, getting money out of China and into his property developments in Malaysia – told Fairfax Media the exodus of capital from China was accelerating, thanks to the government’s anti-corruption drive.

“We have been tracking this for two years,” says Tee. Those outflows from China are compounded by the flight of capital out of Canada which is now “bursting” to find a home in Australia.

"There is a mountain of liquidity. China is bursting with flight capital," says James Tee.
“There is a mountain of liquidity. China is bursting with flight capital,” says James Tee.

Due to the bubble in Canadian house prices and ensuing concerns over social dislocation, Canada’s government shut down its investor visa program last year. Some 40,000 Chinese visa applicants with a minimum loan to governments of $C800,000 were handed back their capital.

“That’s roughly $32 billion,” says Tee. “The Canadian government said: ‘We don’t want your money anymore’ and that capital is now hitting the Sydney market.”

“There is a mountain of liquidity. China is bursting with flight capital. They can’t go to the US, they can’t get it into Singapore anymore, or Hong Kong.”

Tee’s comments come at a time of increasing concern that a generation of young Australians have been locked out of the property markets of Melbourne and Sydney due to spiralling house prices.

As reported here last month, there is at least a partial solution to the problem of housing affordability in enforcing the Anti-Money Laundering (AML) legislation the government promised to introduce eight years ago. Despite international pressure, however, successive Australian governments have dithered on introducing the second tranche of AML which covers real estate.

Tee says that if real estate agents were required to comply with AML – as was already required of fund managers and casinos – the bulk of the capital inflows would cease, and therefore moderate the rise in house prices.

The $US50,000 limit on exchanging Chinese currency into $US and $A was being breached in the majority of Chinese property deals in Melbourne and Sydney, and once the AML laws were introduced, the “wall of capital” from China would dry up.

Tee, a colourful entrepreneur educated at Harvard, admits he is “talking his own book”. As a Malaysian property developer, his Titan Square project in Malaysia stood to benefit from Chinese capital, so he had a vested interest in Australia addressing the problem of excessive Chinese capital inflows in metro property markets here.

Nonetheless, he makes a valid point. Property prices in Sydney and Melbourne don’t reflect market fundamentals as Chinese investors are not worried about a property crash since their principal objective is parking money in a secure environment offshore rather than achieving an investment return.

“That means they can afford to take a 20 per cent to 30 per cent haircut,” says Tee.

“Sydney becoming like Singapore and Hong Kong where an entire generation has been locked out of the property market. There are social consequences for this.

“I don’t think anybody understands just how much money is coming in. The anti-corruption drive in China … they [the government of Premier Xi Jinping] are really serious about it”.

Indeed, the dramatic effects have been felt in Macau where the crackdown on black money leaving China has seen gross gaming revenues drop by 39 per cent in the month of April, representing 11 successive months of decline.

“Obviously the slowdown in Macau is more severe in truth than any of the operators foresaw. I don’t think any of the operators could have predicted what has happened now,” James Packer told CNBC last month. “As an Australian investor in China and Macau, it’s very hard to be critical of a corruption crackdown … [but] when and how that ends is something that no one knows.”

Packer’s Crown casino business has large casino operations in Macau.

Tee says recent figures in the media which put Chinese investment in the Sydney property market at 25 per cent of total sales were too low. He says it might be twice this level but it is hard to tell because of the lack of transparency on ownership.

Most Chinese purchases hide behind trustees and proxies. Third parties such as friends and relatives were often used.

“Chinese students are being paid 2 per cent of the purchase price of the property to purchase property on behalf of relatives,” says Tee.

Another person au fait with Chinese property transactions in Australia told Fairfax Media it was simple for Chinese investors to get around the foreign capital restrictions.

“The money never really moves. In a simple example, Kunlun is a forex trading and money exchange company. It has bank accounts in many countries with significant cash balances. So if someone wants $40 million in Australia they put the money in a Kunlun China account and Kunlun transfers the money from their Australian accounts to the person’s friend’s Australian account.

“Kunlun is just one example – any large trading multinational will hold large reserves of cash in each country so they can effect a transfer with an internal paper transaction. No banks or government scrutiny involved. And given that they don’t do effective reporting in this country, who will ever trace it?

“The current situation is that one of the best assets a local Chinese can have is a permanent Australian residence. They will have ‘friends’ lining up to ‘loan’ them money to buy properties in Australia.

All the government needs to do is follow the cash.”

Sadly, for a generation of young homebuyers it seems the government is not interested in following the cash. Otherwise our politicians, of both major parties, would have introduced the second tranche of AML legislation by now and real estate agents would have to prove that their clients’ funds were legitimate.

Henry  Sapiecha

Residential property in Australia is expected to soften says AMP rep

city skyline tall buildings image

Our position has been that the large, dominant shopping centres will be best equipped to combat retail headwinds and the changes announced in this year’s budget add further conviction to this view. After a period of low interest rates, we believe that the residential housing market will soften, leading to more sustainable levels of growth. We welcome further commitments to major infrastructure spending as this will benefit all real estate sectors – residential, office, retail and industrial.

While we expect better momentum in Sydney and Melbourne, we expect Australian businesses to remain focused on cost containment and restructuring until strong economic growth returns. Our research suggests it is important to focus on population growth areas/cities, dominant assets and core locations and to deepen the ‘destination’ and experiential feel of assets to attract customers and staff. This will help offset flatter or declining accommodation demand over the long term.

From a macro perspective, the weight of money into real estate is understandable. Global bond yields remain near all-time lows and are well below the levels of potential economic growth. Part of this is due to monetary policy, part is due to risk perceptions, and part of it is due to the sluggish nature of the global recovery so far


Henry Sapiecha