So if we put all these developments together – new technology, consumer labelling, more freedom in the planning process to help drive custom housing – what could the consumer end up with? In this section, we paint a scenario of how the industry could look from the consumer's viewpoint – changes that we believe to be within reach inside a decade – and in keeping with the expectations of a post Facebook generation.
Energy costs will rise inexorably and become increasingly important to consumers. As consumer awareness of the relative long term costs increases, mortgage providers will introduce more beneficial rates for energy efficient homes. Meanwhile, Government will see the benefits of differential taxation based on energy performance of homes. Consumers will benefit from smart phone operated software that provides a quick calculation of the costs in use.
The housing supply chain will collaborate to allow customisation of housing to become routine for consumers. They can select from an interchangeable resource of materials and components based on standardised protocols for Building Information Modelling. This will enable the emergence of consumer interface portals where customers can pick and mix alternative designs comparing the appearance, costs, energy performance and costs-in-use of alternatives before settling on a preference.
Street-view databases, which now cover almost the entire developed world, are coming together with three dimensional design software to make it possible for communities engaged in neighbourhood planning, developers seeking support for development or local authorities consulting on planning applications to create accurate visualisations of the impact of new development at very low cost.
Building for Life, the industry standard endorsed by Government for well-designed homes and neighbourhoods is already well established as a nationwide framework for developers, local authorities and communities alike. The obvious next step for this established lingua franca of design quality is to create a web based portal to give communities the ability to contribute views on line. It would use familiar on-line validation methods to ensure only legitimate consultation is taken into account by Local Authority Planners.
The most forward looking Registered Providers of subsidised housing are already providing their increasingly on-line tenant communities with integrated information services that go well beyond repairs reporting and rental records. Keen to build up the social capital and economic effectiveness of their tenant populations, Housing Associations will be providing on-line access to a wide range of available local services.
The "Grand Designs" generation of self builders - battling against the odds to build and live the dream of a lifetime - will give way to whole neighbourhoods where families and individuals will recreate the vernacular charm of places that have grown organically over the centuries – delivered through a new breed of developer exploiting the technologies of mass customisation to provide hassle-free adaptability and choice for consumers.
Custom built neighbourhoods will be preceded by web-based communities of shared interest where like-minded people will come together to create structures for neighbourhood management, embedding social cohesion in new communities long before anyone moves in.