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Putting the ‘new’ into new-build housing

1 May, 2019


Innovation in house building and modern methods of construction could lead to more high-quality homes, writes Stephen Ward, director of strategy and external relations at the Council for Licensed Conveyancers

Imagine a future where you can plan your new house online – where the walls are, what the kitchen looks like, whether you have a porch – order it and then a couple of months later it has been manufactured. Manufactured, not constructed, off-site and delivered in modules to be installed where you want it.

That could be the future given a concerted push by government and the industry towards modern methods of construction (MMC), a term that encompasses approaches to housebuilding that are quicker and more efficient, and particularly a process where many of the components are fabricated offsite.

The idea may bring to mind post-war ‘pre-fabs’, and indeed it is the poor quality of these, along with complaints about the quality of some newer property, that this wave of change has to overcome.

But technology has given MMC a new lease of life. A quick look at the websites of the providers turns up plans and images for attractive and affordable housing that appeals to the modern consumer.

House building target
The focus comes against the background of housebuilders failing to meet the government’s target of 300,000 new homes a year. While the number built has increased substantially recently, last year it still stood 70,000 short of that figure.

Shortages of construction workers are also predicted in the coming years as many left during the recession and have not returned, while the remaining workforce is ageing and starting to retire, with too few recruits replacing them. Brexit will have an impact too, of course, reducing the number of EU citizens in the workforce.

Then there is the government’s Construction 2025 strategy being driven by the Construction Industry Council which is seeking to deliver 33% lower costs, 50% faster delivery and 50% lower greenhouse gas emissions in construction.

MMC offers a way to tackle both and indeed boost the manufacturing sector as well. It is already happening – an estimated 30% of modern houses have components built offsite. This also minimises disruption to residents living nearby as the time onsite is reduced.

Housing standards
There are significant issues that need to be addressed though.

First of all, these properties need longevity – they need to last at least 60 years and be built to recognised quality standards. This is why the building industry, lenders, insurers and the warranty providers are all working to agree standards which will be applied for properties constructed through these methods. These are expected to be published this year.

Looking further down the line, when such houses are bought for the second or third time, the buyer’s conveyancer will need to know much more about how the property was built than is currently the case – there is talk of a national register to address this – and what has been done to it since. A cross-industry group is already working to develop potential ‘property log books’ which could help here.

Government agenda
It is striking how strongly the government is pushing this agenda. The 2017 Budget said the government would use its purchase power to drive adoption of MMC, committing five departments to adopting a presumption in favour of offsite construction where it represents best value for money.

The House of Commons Housing Select Committee has set up an inquiry looking into the benefits achieved by housebuilders who have used MMC techniques and some of the drawbacks experienced.

It will examine how national and local government can support the use of MMC and encourage innovation in the sector.

Further, Homes England, the government’s house building agency, is encouraging partners to develop and use MMC through a range of initiatives and by providing development finance For example, £120,000 of funding given to Nuneaton and Bedworth Council for a pilot development has led to the construction of four modular,semi-detached, two-bedroom properties.

It reduced the build time by 10-12 weeks compared with traditional methods.

The council has identified a further seven sites for potential development over the next year and is establishing a procurement framework giving suppliers more assurances and greater volumes, enabling economies of scale. It will also share the knowledge gained with other local authorities.

MMC will play a major role in the future of housebuilding. There is no reason to shy away from properties constructed in non-traditional ways and those who set the standards as well as those who lend and those who insure they are working together closely.

Conveyancers are making sure they know about these new forms of building from the outset so they can make sure buyers understand the implications. In the long run, MMC and innovation in construction may well lead to more high-quality homes built efficiently and quickly which is better for us all.

However your home was constructed your conveyancer can advice you of any anything that will affect your sale of purchase. See our guide to choosing a conveyancer here.

This article was first published in Mortgage Finance Gazette