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.
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.