Delivering good news to lighten the post Brexit gloom in the housing market, the custom build sector walked away with three of the fifteen Housing Design Awards recently. This is an extraordinary performance when you think how small our sector currently is compared to the overall size of the housing market. It was more awards than the entire speculative housebuilding sector who build the vast majority of houses in the UK.
The three winning schemes were House by Urban Splash in New Islington in Manchester, Older Women’s Co-housing (OWCH) in Barnet in London facilitated by Hanover Housing Association and our HomeMade custom build scheme at Heartlands in Pool in Cornwall for Carillion Igloo.
These three projects also made up half the schemes showcased at the seminar prior to the awards, so it is clear both that the design cognoscenti recognise the design quality that custom build brings and are hungry to find out more about how this is achieved. Each of these schemes goes about its design process entirely differently.
House is a factory-manufactured house type with significantly more customisation options than would be available from a speculative housebuilder. The designs by ShedKM have a lot in common with the Rogers Stirk Harbour designs currently being rolled out at schemes like YCube and Place\Ladywell, which have their genesis back in the days of the winning £60k house design in Milton Keynes, so has design in its DNA. The common denominator is the manufacturer, SIG.
Urban Splash has acted as a custom build developer providing the plots, sales function and coordinating the build.
The design quality here comes substantially from the co-design process that PTE has undertaken with the group. This is the critical part of group custom build and what gives the German examples their excellent design quality. It’s brilliant to see these skills emerging now in the UK.
HomeMade’s design quality comes from the HomeManufacturers who are all design led including a range of the UK’s top architectural talent including Mae, Aoc, HTA, Ash Sakula, White Design and Rick Frankland and, critically, from the custom builders themselves who bring their own creativity to the co-design process. As with the Dutch, German and New Urbanism US models in particular, HomeMade delivers design variety within a design code that creates places that are streets ahead of most the speculative house builder standard house type ones that we are used to in the UK.
But it’s not only better design that custom build brings to the UK housing market. In a post-Brexit world where the house builders seem mainly to fall into the category of ‘panickers’, which is hardly surprising when you see the damage the stock market did to their share prices, custom build offers a more stable housing supply option to Government.
The Dutch experience during the financial crisis was that when the speculative house builders downed tools the custom builders kept going. That shouldn’t be a surprise. The housebuilder product is unloved by 75% of the population and is mainly bought out of a lack of alternative options. Custom build is the consumer dream and so long as they have the money they are going to shoot for the dream, not something you could claim for a builder’s standard house type.
The post-Brexit housing crisis is, in reality, totally different to the 2008 financial crisis. This time round 52% of the population have had their confidence raised, to euphoric levels in some cases, mortgages are readily available – even trending slightly cheaper, and the current evidence seems to be that sales are, if anything, slightly stronger in Leave voting areas post Brexit.
The same cannot be said for London and the South East where sales have slowed and values are dropping, from vastly over inflated levels, in some places. There the cycle has turned and the bubble has burst.
These are the areas where the need for custom build is greatest. It is also where the custom build opportunity is strongest as the house builders who control most of the immediately developable land supply look to strengthen their balance sheets and continue paying cash for management bonuses and shareholder dividends by selling off parts of their large sites.
As their competitors are not currently in the mood to buy, even they are looking for an alternative category of purchasers. There is a lot of Build To Rent money out there but the highest land value will come from custom build.
So, in our journey to the sunny uplands post Brexit, we could do worse than shout about the opportunities custom build delivers to create well-designed places quickly. And nowhere more so than on land in the South East that the house builders don’t really want right now.
Credit: David Spender; https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Custom build has a cachet that isn’t found with speculative housing – people love the product. But the sector needs the opportunity to get this message out to the public. The fact that the industry is creating award-winning projects will help do this, and in a strange twist of fate, the Brexit vote could well provide the right environment to grow custom built homes in the UK.