Housing for the Information Age

Housing for the

Information Age

Empowering consumers to drive change in the industry

A Housing Forum Working Group report

This is a report of work by the Housing Forum on the application of information-age digital technologies with the potential to improve the quality and value of housing by harnessing consumer pull. We propose a system of Home Performance Labelling to kick-start the process.

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The Objective

This is a report of work by the Housing Forum on the application of information-age digital technologies with the potential to improve the quality and value of housing by harnessing consumer pull. We propose a system of Home Performance Labelling to kick-start the process.

  • – Housebuilders, surveyors, estate agents and designers need to be at the vanguard of a technology-lead revolution in housing that can help offer more choice, better quality and more energy efficient homes for a post Facebook generation.
  • – The digital age has transformed consumers' experience in all aspects of life, from the way we shop, listen to music, work and communicate. But digital technology is yet to impact on housing and the house building industry, or help drive energy efficiency – one of the biggest challenges facing the building stock.
  • – This is partly because demand outstrips supply of new homes, so there is not the pressure on developers to innovate and offer genuine product differentiation as in other consumer goods.
  • – Improving the quality of new homes, the choice available, and the whole purchasing experience would help get the public on the side of house building, 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.

  • – This report is published to coincide with the Housing Standards Review consultation instigated by DCLG to which many of our recommendations are directly relevant. In particular the Government is seeking views on whether Space Labelling may be an alternative to minimum space standards in for private sale.
  • – We argue the Governments should take the bull by the horns and go further with this idea. 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.
  • – Our proposed system of Home Performance Labelling uses data already collected for all new and second hand homes for sale or rent and so does not add cost. But the value is incalculable taking into account the benefits to consumers and the opportunity to improve quality of housing products and services.

Recommendations

Even when supply is constrained, more consumer choice can be driven in a number of ways. The Housing Forum is calling for the following changes from government and the industry.

Government, house builders and estate agents need to come together to draw up and then mandate the use of 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 would not require extra information gathering. We are confident that consumer friendly Home Performance Labels would drive more generous space standards in new homes, which are sometimes perceived as cramped and boxy.

Home Performance Labels would provide an alternative driver for improving space standards in the event that government elects not to introduce them for private housing following the DCLG consultation on the Housing Standards Review.

Specially developed Apps could then provide a quick calculation of the cost of heating and lighting. Better informed consumers would be able to compare sizes of new and existing homes more easily and quickly make comparisons about their energy consumption.

Government should introduce fiscal measures such as variable tax and community charge rates to encourage quality improvements and help establish energy efficiency as a market differentiator.

Local authorities should assess the demand and set aside a proportion of any newly released public land for custom build – houses built to customer requirements. This would increase house building and drive consumer choice as a market expectation.

But if custom build is to take off and genuinely provide the Grand Designs Generation with more options, local authorities also need to build in more flexibility into the planning system so that design details can be chosen by consumers at a later stage in the building process. This could be facilitated with the use of Local Development Orders – already enabled in legislation.

House builders and their designers and suppliers need to start harnessing Building Information Modelling to make it easier and less costly to give consumers more choice over layouts and finishes. BIM also provides a tool to allow consumers to visualise different options and understand running costs.

The RICS Valuation- Professional Standards ("Red Book") latest edition due November 2013 - will include a section on a range of issues under the broad heading of sustainability of which valuers should be aware. This will cover energy efficiency and design among other considerations. The Housing Forum proposes a joint working group with RICS and the Building Societies Association to bring the advantages of labelling into the valuation methodology – an initiative backed by 91% of our members according to a recent survey.