A transparent marketplace
Choosing a new home is notoriously stressful, costly and time consuming, and often happens at a time of other major life changes such as starting a family. Simple and transparent information is therefore crucial. It is clear that most consumers concentrate on location and how many bedrooms they need. They do not always evaluate space, flexibility, running costs, safety or how a property will affect their lifestyle. Yet while the number of bedrooms is the usual point of comparison between homes, the space inside those rooms is often more crucial to consumers.87 Architects, developers and estate agents should talk about new builds, and in fact all homes, in terms of space. Demonstrating the cost per square metre is a simple way of doing this. The benefits of different types and flexibilities of layouts should also be explained. This would help people trying to imagine their household in the home, and how they might make use of separate rooms compared with open plan rooms or movable partition walls.
The industry needs to talk to consumers in plain language. Home buyers are not interested in the technicalities of energy efficient design, but they care about keeping their bills down.88
“Over the last 30 years we have seen the number of bedrooms... becoming a dominant attribute, driven by marketing/sales generated aspirations and status rather than their potential as functional spaces. As this multibedroomed product has developed into the norm, household members have either needed to undertake a wider range of activities in bedrooms (as office space), or build extensions, as alternative uses / flexible spaces have not been generally available in products from volume house builders.” Joseph Rowntree Foundation
If a family is planning to settle in a house for many years, the potential to save hundreds or even thousands of pounds on bills and maintenance over time may well swing their decision about what to buy, yet it is barely discussed. Sales agents should be exploiting this key selling point far more, as consumers do accept that new homes are more efficient.89 The past decade has seen a transformation in the way consumers begin their search for a new home, using online search engines rather than peering through estate agents’ windows. This means the search criteria used on property finding websites control the information people have before choosing which homes to visit.
Yet few online portals in the UK enable people to search on the basis of floor area or predicted energy bills, both of which are available on the Energy Performance Certificate as soon as a home goes on the market. Lifetime costs should also be shown, so that energy savings and other financial projections can be taken into account.
“[The] most effective means of engaging consumers appears to be a focus on the cost savings that would result. Environmental concern remains very much a secondary priority.” Consumer Focus
87_ YouGov poll December 2010, reported in The Case for Space: the size of England’s new homes, 2011, RIBA, and Residential Purchaser Preferences: What drives home buyers’ decisions?, 2012, Drivers Jonas Deloitte 88_ Research includes Big energy shift summary report, Ipsos MORI, 2009 and Zero carbon: What does it mean to homeowners and housebuilders, NHBC, 2008 and updated 2012 89_ YouGov poll December 2010, reported in The Case for Space: the size of England’s new homes, RIBA, 2011