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 virtuous cycle of consumer pull

Our contention is that innovation and improvements in quality, efficiency, sustainability and value will come if the industry and Government collaborate to allow market forces to take effect. We postulate a market mechanism which works by responding to consumer pull in a virtuous cycle of continuous improvement illustrated by the diagram.

In the preparation of this report we have frequently been confronted with the grim reality of the post credit crunch housing industry in which homes have become increasingly unaffordable and new supply has slumped to levels not seen since the 1920s with only 111,250 homes built in 2012. Although output is rising along with house prices, demand still outstrips supply so that the market simply cannot function efficiently.

Consumer pull cannot work to improve quality and value if buyers feel they have no choice, and as long as demand so dramatically outstrips supply, that will continue to be the case. But it is widely recognised that supply must be restored – as the best available stimulus of sustainable economic growth. In the meantime the industry must put in place the necessary mechanisms to start this cycle of improvement and move with the times.

What consumers want

The needs and desires of home buyers is a topic well researched with unsurprisingly consistent findings. The most up-to-date large-scale findings are contained in a 2012 RIBA report, The way we live now: what people need and expect from their homes, which was based on research by IPSOS MORI, and submitted for the independent Future Homes Commission's investigation into how the UK can build enough of the right kind of homes for modern British households.

Key findings of what people wanted were:

  • – Large windows for natural light, large rooms and high ceilings, typically referred to as 'period features'
  • – Large main living area for eating and socialising, either with members of the household or for entertaining guests
  • – Layouts which take into account technology used within the home
  • – Space for private time away from other members of the household
  • – Locality was also highly important to most participants in the research: "A sense of a strong community and good local amenities were important to participants across the research, regardless of whether they were renting or buying a home."

Meanwhile, a 2013 RIBA Housing Survey asked "dissatisfied" home owners "Why are you dissatisfied with your home?" The four top findings were: high energy bills (49%); lack of space (32%); lack of natural light (20%); and the need for improved accessibility within the home, for example, adaptations for a disability (10%).

It's disappointing how often surveys seem to reveal that home seekers prefer the aesthetic appeal of homes built a century or so ago, despite much lower running costs of the contemporary product. Indeed, Planning Minister, Nick Boles, has pointed out that resistance to new development would fall away, if only we were to satisfy consumer preferences listed above more fully.

Which era of house do people like best?

A recent BBC on-line survey asked readers to vote for their favourite period of housing stock.

House Types

Which period of house is your favourite?

Here are the results of the BBC on-line survey:

– Georgian38%
– Victorian26%
– Edwardian17%
– Inter-war10%
– Post War9%