The way we use our homes has changed dramatically over the past decade and this has impacted the design of new houses and apartments as well as the re-configurations of existing dwellings through renovations and extensions.

The rising importance of the home office is a prime example. Previously we often saw the smallest bedroom in the house transformed to a study but nowadays we’re seeing many more properties with designated purpose-built home offices.

When a developer sets out to build a three-bedroom apartment, they’re more likely these days to include a fourth bedroom-sized room designed to be a study. Many studies have built-in furniture such as long bench desks with shelving and drawers and some have separate access from the street or front garden.

The home office is increasingly important for two reasons. Firstly, technology advancements mean people have more flexibility to work from home and this is particularly so with semi-retirees.

The second reason is the rising number of people starting their own businesses. This is happening a lot with young mums who don’t want to go back to the corporate world but still want to work.

An extra bedroom is still more valuable than a study because people like the choice of how to use the room. But it’s great to see new developments with studies now an integral part of their design.

Another change in the use of our homes is the increasing desire for separation between parents and their children. This isn’t because families don’t like hanging out together – it’s because many young people are staying home well into their 20s now and it’s nice to have separate living areas so they can have their independence. The term ‘teen retreat’ is seen more and more in real estate copywriting today because many more buyers are looking for it. And having two lounge areas is also really important – the kids can play their music and video games in one room while mum and dad can relax in the other living area.

A separate studio or granny flat is ideal for a teen retreat or a home office. It’s also a great way to earn some rental income. With vacancy rates so low, many homeowners are seeing an opportunity to build a self-contained granny flat or convert a garage for leasing. Sydney councils administered 1521 DAs for granny flats in 2009-10 compared to 1365 in 2008-09.

Granny flats are also ideal for in-law accommodation. Many grandparents are involved in childcare these days and building them a low-maintenance home onsite definitely makes sense, even if they only stay there one or two days per week. Just make sure you get council approval first.

I think the advent of the ‘parents’ retreat’ is also a fantastic change in the typical layout of a family home. The difference between a standard master bedroom and a parents’ retreat is mainly the living space. Instead of being just a place to sleep, it’s a room with space to sit and read or watch TV.

With an increasing number of parents both working, busy mums and dads are really appreciating having their own private space to unwind at the end of the day. A typical parents’ retreat is pretty large with a designated sitting/lounge area, perhaps a balcony and also a generous ensuite – which is often larger than the main bathroom now in new properties. And the ensuite is purposely designed as a luxury space rather than a utilitarian one.

I really encourage homeowners to be creative with how they use their properties. Just be careful you don’t de-value your home by making it too individualised.

For example, if you want a home cinema but don’t have several rooms to choose from, take a minimalist approach and install an overhead projector, drop down screen and thick curtains in your lounge or rumpus room. Keep the room flexible so it can be used as a living space as well as a cinema.

Same with studies. Don’t make a two-bedroom apartment into a one bedder plus study as this could de-value it. Take a minimalist approach and install a longer narrower bench desk so a double bed can still fit in the room – that way buyers can use the room either as a study, bedroom or a combination of the two.

If you have some quirky ideas for changing your property, ask your local agent to come over for a look and a chat. The good agents will gladly give you their time even though you’re not thinking of selling. Their advice could prove invaluable in ensuring the changes you make add value to the property.