By anyone’s standards marking 80 years in operation is a milestone, but when it is an Australian business racking up this achievement then it is certainly cause to sit-up and take notice.
Since 1932 AVJennings has been building homes for families. The story began when Albert Victor (AV) Jennings mortgaged his own home to build a dozen houses in Caulfield, in Melbourne’s inner east.
These brick, bungalow style houses featured two bedrooms, a lounge, dining and kitchen, and a front portico with brick pillars, low brick fence and cost just £895.
A.V. Jennings was a pioneer in many regards; one notable difference was that due a financing condition the company had to presell homes before they were built. This was unusual at the time as most new homes were built on ‘spec’.
In 1933, the company made its first foray into land development also in Caulfield – Hillcrest Estate. This is now a National Trust Heritage precinct. A.V. (as he was affectionately known) saw this as an opportunity to build in a much larger scale and with greater efficiency. Another early first was an agreement made with council to make good the dirt road running through the 12-block estate once the homes were completed and AV forwarded its share of the cost.
Other features which made Hillcrest standout from other estates being developed at the time was the decision to sell house and land packages with all road making and services included in the cost of £1095. Each house was solid brick and measured 12 squares featuring five rooms – a sitting room, dining room, two bedrooms and kitchen as well as a bathroom and laundry. High quality fit-outs, a feature of today’s AVJennings homes, started at Hillcrest. These homes all including the highest level of equipment and fittings even French polished joinery.
Another key element started at Hillcrest was attention to streetscape. Home floorplans varied slightly to avoid repetition and homes featured different facades. Two display homes were also built so customers could see examples of the homes.
For his next project, the Beauville Estate in Murrumbeena, A.V. was gaining confidence and he made his first moves toward creating a “community development” rather than just housing. He provide community facilities such as a tennis court and a children’s playground.
A.V. also overcame buyer concerns about a lack of shops by building five shops with second storey dwellings across from the estate.
For the company’s next two projects they went north of the Yarra to Heidelberg and Ivanhoe building Beaumont and Beauview. These projects enabled the company to expand on the knowledge gained from their first two projects and build even grander projects with more community facilities and even street trees – quite an unusual feature for estates in the 1930s.
By 1939 A.V. Jennings Construction Co (as the company was then known), was possibly the largest group home building and development company in Melbourne.
After WWII, the company moved away from just building homes and into the manufacture and supply of building materials as well as government work.
Projects completed in this time included a telephone exchange in Bairnsdale, a camp at Seymour and munitions factories in Stawell and Broadmeadows all in Victoria.
The following years saw several changes to the company. A timber mill was bought and the office moved to Burwood, in Melbourne’s east. A shortage of building supplies also saw the company move away from brick homes and into mass production and prefabrication of homes.
It was during this time that the company made its first steps into volume building with a Victorian Housing Commission project to deliver 40 houses at Aberfeldie in the north-western suburbs of Melbourne.
In 1947, the company became A.V. Jennings Construction Pty Ltd. Then in 1948 the 1000th house was completed.
A major customer during these years was the Victorian Housing Commission. In addition to the Aberfeldie project, Jennings Construction Company Co delivered projects across Victoria building 2454 homes for the Government in 1950.
That same year the company was floated and about 800 people were employed in its various business operations. 1950 also saw the company formally move into other states with businesses established in Sydney, Canberra and Hobart.
After a strong start to the decade, a change in government policy meant that work for the various state and federal housing departments all but dried up. By the mid-1950’s the decision was made to refocus on developing private housing estates.
BACK TO DEVELOPMENT
A return to the company roots also coincided with A.V. taking a step back from the company when he handed his financial shares to sons Doug and Vic.
After some at times bumpy years in the 1950’s a revitalised AVJennings entered the 1960s a much leaner, albeit still very large, company and was again well positioned to take advantage of the boom times being enjoyed by the Australian economy. In 1964-65 the company sold 1808 private homes.
A notable business diversification during the 1960’s was expansion into industrial construction. Diverse projects such as the stand for the St Kilda Football Club at Moorabbin (as an aside current Chief Executive Peter Summers is on the board of the St Kilda Football Club), the second stage of the National Gallery of Victoria on St Kilda Rd and the Wrest Point Casino in Hobart were just some of the numerous projects delivered.
The company continued to deliver non-residential projects including many shopping centres, office buildings and public facilities right into the 1990s. In April 1991 the retail arm JPL was renamed Centro Properties and Centro was subsequently detached from the parent company.
The 1960s saw a renewed focus on building housing estates. The war, shortages in building materials and skilled staff saw the company all-but move away from this area of the business for almost two decades.
To streamline the subdivision process, Vic Jennings would produce sample designs for projects and submit these to council engineers for their input before larger scale drawings were submitted to council for approval. The these estates also came with a range of facilities roads and sewage – all of which buyers of today take for granted, but in the 1960’s was not considered to be the norm.
Another unique feature introduced by Jennings was quality control of estate housing; the quality and attention to detail shown in the display home was to be applied to 100 percent of the homes in the estates – another radical idea for the time.
This step change in the product being delivered was also marked by a change in the way the product was marketed – rather than being known as Housing Estates they became known as Community Developments, a phrase still used to this day.
The home building business was also highly successful and by the end of the 1960’s Jennings was the largest building company in Australia.
Arguably the Construction Group’s greatest contribution to the Australian economy was its role in 1966-74 in building many of the towns that sprang up as part of the Australian mining boom. Jennings was responsible for delivering housing to new communities throughout Western Australia, on the Gove Peninsula in the Northern Territory as well as in Weipa and Mount Isa in Queensland.
Possibly one of the least known business activities of AVJennings to many today was its involvement in mining. Starting with gypsum in Victoria so the company could produce plaster for the homes being built for the Housing Commission, through to mineral sands and even diamonds.
In 1979 the Board made the decision to expand into retirement villages as these were seen to be a logical move for the company. The company developed numerous projects in Melbourne and Sydney over the next decade.
By the 1980’s, not only did Australia’s changing demographics show people were aging, but also younger people had different demands for a home than their parents. In 1983, AVJennings offered over 75 home designs, most of which were on show across 100 display centres. To try and shake-off the public perception that Jennings was only a builder of lower and middle range homes several new brands were introduced – Tempo Homes and Endeavour Homes in 1980 and later that decade the prestigious Castlegate Homes.
As land was becoming more expensive and people were looking for more affordable homes smaller lot products were introduced in Adelaide, Melbourne and Perth.
A change of leadership in 1987, saw a change of focus with housing, property development, the property portfolio and construction all expanded. Retirement/health care, retailing and recreation/tourism also grew.
By the early 1990’s AVJennings homes was by far the largest home builder in Australia, but devolution in business meant that the housing division from state to state only had basic similarities to each other.
Another variation between states was the role of Residential Developments Australia Ltd, formerly the Land Division of the Housing Group. In most states its role was to acquire and develop land for sales either direct to the public of as part of a Jennings House and Land package. In some states it also developed a second role as a project developer of medium to high density small lot estates with a mixed range of spec built medium and luxury homes.
A NEW CENTURY
In 2004 Simon Cheong was appointed as Chairman after he and his associates became substantial shareholders in AVJennings Homes Limited in 1999.
Over this decade, AVJennings focussed its activities on land estates, apartments and home building.
Sir Albert died in 1993, but his contribution to the Australian urban landscape was acknowledged when in 2006 he was voted as one of the 100 Most Influential Australians.
In 2010, the company moved out of contract home building when Sekisui House Australia acquired AVJennings Contract Homes. Under the terms of the agreement, Sekisui House is licenced to use the AVJennings Contract Homes brand name for an initial three year term.
You could say AVJennings has returned to its original beginnings, a developer of housing estates, something they are regarded to be one of the best in the country. Today, the AVJennings product offer can be summarised as follows:
Land allotments within an AVJennings estate can be:
- purchased by a customer who can choose their own builder
- third party builders can purchase and build their own product and on sell
- packaged up with a third party builder to create a house and land package
Integrated/ Development Housing
Master planned neighbourhoods with completed product designed, constructed and sold with warranty by AVJennings:
- detached home including kitchen appliances, flooring, driveways, fencing and landscaping
- duplex home including kitchen appliances, flooring, driveways, fencing and landscaping
- townhome / townhouse generally in a row of 4-6 properties which include kitchen appliances, flooring, driveways, fencing and landscaping
- terrace generally in a row of 6 plus properties which include kitchen appliances, flooring, driveways, fencing and landscaping
Within a low rise multi-storey development planned, designed and constructed by AVJennings:
- purchase an apartment from AVJennings including kitchen appliances, flooring, car space, common areas, body corporate set-up.
With a long tradition in providing quality living options, AVJennings has become the choice for many Australians looking for the reassurance of buying with a trusted brand that offers experience and expertise, integrity and understanding.
Residntial Developer acknowledges the following sources of for this article: