Tuesday, 5 November 2013

A likely 'storey'

It has been often mooted that Britain’s housing market is broken, and with average house prices running at many multiples of the average salary, and homelessness in its many forms on the rise, it is hard to argue against this notion. 

However this doesn’t tell the whole tale.  Another aspect of the problem, and one less widely reported, is the way that most of the time builders build what they want to sell and not what the customer actually wants to buy.

What am I talking about?  The lack of bungalows!  A recent article in the Guardian newspaper  highlights the issue, but it isn't a new phenomenon, it has been a problem for decades.  It is well known that as people age then as a rule they often wish to downsize and they prefer to live on a single level.  And as a solution they prefer to do that in a nice bungalow rather than an apartment.  Yet no builders are building bungalows.  A recent snap survey by Durham County Council identified that at the time there were only two bungalows for sale across the whole of the county.  Two!  And nationally the picture is no better.  The Express identified that nationally less than 2% of homes being built were bungalows 

Of course it isn't only older people who want bungalows, many younger people enjoy them too, but the reality is that level access living is for many people in advancing years a major factor in their quality of life, and moving to more suitable accommodation – that may also be cheaper to keep warm can be, not to overstate the matter, an issue of life or death.  Particularly in the era of annual 10% heating cost inflation, courtesy of the “Big 6” energy companies.

So if older people want bungalows, and are more able to afford them due to the equity that many possess after a lifetime’s saving, then why is the product not available?  That is the mystery!  It’s not just that there are not enough, it is that there are none at all.  Why is it that social housing providers like DAMHA are the only organisations building bungalows in the North East? 

Over the last few years alone, we have built dozens of new bungalows at sites across the UK. Bungalows that are spacious (two-bedrooms come as standard), bungalows that are efficient (we fit solar panels to all our new-build properties) and bungalows built with older people in mind (with walk-in showers/wet rooms).  And, we never have any trouble renting bungalows!

People want them.  They need them.  They are willing and able to pay for them?  So why is the private sector not meeting that demand?

At a time when Durham County Council are the first local authority in the country currently consulting on their desire to force the private sector to build more homes suitable for older people by insisting that 10% of new homes are specifically built with older people’s needs in mind, it is perhaps germane to reflect on this issue.  Why is the building market so broken that it can’t meet the manifest needs of the UK population without being forced to do so by local authorities?

Being, as we are, in the early stages of the explosion of the “demographic time bomb”, surely the UK urgently needs a building industry more focussed on addressing its real needs?

If you agree that this is a problem and you wish to do something about it, then you could always support Durham CC in its policy discussions and feed back on their proposal.  You can read more about them here.

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