Improving the quality of new homes, the choice available, and the purchasing experience would help get the public on the side of housebuilding
The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) launched its long awaited consultation on the Housing Standards Review on 20 August. Among other things, the government is asking for views on whether space labelling should be adopted for new homes as an alternative to minimum space standards.
With prescient timing, the Housing Forum launches a paper in September arguing that the government should take the bull by the horns and go further with this idea. The Housing Forum report, ‘Housing for the Information Age’, contends that consumers should be much better informed about the implications of their choices before making house purchasing decisions and technology is already available to make information more consumer friendly. Housebuilders, surveyors, estate agents and designers need to be at the vanguard of a technology-led revolution in housing that can help offer the choice, quality and energy efficiency the post Facebook generation will demand.
Surveys frequently reveal the public would rather live in houses built more than 100 years ago
The digital age has transformed consumers’ experience in all aspects of life; how we shop, listen to music, work and communicate – incite revolution, even. The housebuilding industry perceives no reason to adapt and remains with head planted firmly in the sand. This is not only bad news for the consumer who misses out on all manner of improvements. It’s a lost opportunity for the government who might otherwise be able to harness market forces to deliver important outcomes, such as improving the energy efficiency of existing homes. And so long as the industry maintains its ostrich-like stance it faces the risk of disruptive competition from adopters of technologies in other markets.
Improving the quality of new homes, the choice available, and the whole purchasing experience would help get the public on the side of housebuilding, reduce nimbyism and boost the popularity of new homes. As it is, surveys frequently reveal the public would rather live in houses built more than 100 years ago - despite older homes being less energy efficient and costlier to run than new ones.
The report, with foreword by Mark Clare, asserts that government, housebuilders and estate agents should come together to draw up and mandate ‘Home Performance Labels’, which would appear on all advertisements - detailing property size and energy consumption, in a standard, at-a-glance format. Home Performance Labels would allow consumers to compare quickly the size of a house, in terms of floor space as opposed to the number of bedrooms, and the energy performance with other properties. All the information is already available, as it is obtained for issuing EPC certificates so it would not require extra information gathering.
With the buying public thus informed, the government could introduce fiscal measures such as variable tax and community charge rates to encourage quality improvements and help establish energy efficiency as a market differentiator.
The Housing Forum plans to launch a research project, using its unique cross sector base of developers and their suppliers. This aims to accelerate the introduction of information technologies, such as BIM, that have the power to hugely improve the quality of service to both corporate and individual purchasers of homes. The integrating power of IT can be harnessed to bring together everything in one convenient customer interface that the occupant or owner needs to know, at every stage of the development lifecycle from planning, through development, occupation and ultimately to demolition and recycling. We have this facility elsewhere, we need to act to bring housing, our biggest single domestic expenditure, into line with other aspects of our lives.
Ben Derbyshire is managing partner of HTA Design