Tag Archives: specification

Micro Homes – Smaller Than A Hotel Room

Welcome to ‘rabbit hutch’ Britain as Government gives the green ight to even smaller micro homes

“Ridiculous” – “immoral” – “dog kennels” – “shoe boxes” – “rabbit hutches” These are just some of the words local residents have used to describe Britain’s micro homes – Government-endorsed “favelas in the sky.”

It would appear the Government is intent on cramming an ever increasing number of ‘hard working British people’ into ever smaller areas and living spaces. Evidence of this provided by the Housing White Paper, with its proposal to review the guidance on minimum sizes for new homes, despite the “nationally described space standard” only being in force since October 2015.

The Government proposes to amend the National Planning Policy Framework to make it clear that plans and individual development proposals should:

  • make efficient use of land and avoid building homes at low densities where there is a shortage of land for meeting identified housing requirements;
  • address the particular scope for higher-density housing in urban locations”

We also want to make sure the standards do not rule out new approaches to meeting demand, building on the high quality compact living model of developers such as Pocket Homes

Micro HomesThe pocket homes the government deem ‘high quality’ are little more than 38sqm – just one square metre larger than the government’s own minimum space standard for one person living in a one-bedroom flat. If two people live there, the minimum space is 50sq m so these new “homes” don’t meet the standard. But many micro homes are under half this size with floor areas often as little as 15sq m.

These ‘pick-pocket’ micro homes, potential slums of tomorrow, are allowed under ‘permitted development rights’ when in 2013, the government allowed office blocks to be converted for new homes without the need to go through the full planning process. As a result homes built in converted office blocks do not have to meet minimum floor areas or requirements for affordable housing.

These office block conversions could also be death traps in the event of a fire. The Building Regulations in England do not require sprinkler systems in residential buildings. Not even in multi-occupation timber-framed apartment blocks. It is inconceivable that these ex-office buildings would have floors capable of structurally supporting fire-resistant masonry partitions which are far more capable of preventing the spread of fire throughout a floor.

Micro homes in Barnet HouseOfficial government housing supply figures for 2015/2016, released in November 2016, show 189,650 net additions to housing supply, with 30,600 coming from change of use from non-domestic to residential, 12,824 of those from conversions of former office blocks. No wonder the government is happy to back micro homes, it helps the figures look better! Nearly three-quarters of the stated growth in housing supply has come from these urban office block conversions. The HBF is also happy to include these in its propaganda “promoting awareness of increases in output and rebut negative claims on build quality”

So now in addition to buying poor quality, buyers have to be aware of buying teeny-weeny  new micro homes, “inspired by yacht design”, often as small as bedroom in a ‘normal’ new house – 4.2m x 3.87m (16sq m) and almost as small as the size of a single garage.

Where are these micro homes being “built”?

A development in Archway of eight flats in Jeremy Corbyn’s Islington North constituency, where two of the apartments were just 13.5sq m, was thankfully refused by the council but only because of “issues relating to previous use.”

Barnet – micro homes, smaller than a Travelodge room”

Micro homes in Barnet HouseMeadow Residential plans to convert an 11-storey concrete block in Barnet into 254 “flats”. The main issue being, 96% of these will be below the 37sq m minimum space standard for a single person. Some of the “apartments” have floor areas of only 16sq m – 40% less than a 28sq m Travelodge room!
Conservative led Barnet council told The Times it could not prevent the scheme going ahead due to permitted development legislation, despite being of the opinion the “flats are not what we think are appropriate living spaces for our residents”. In this area similar sized studio flats sell for up to £180,000 and cost £800 per month to rent.
Barnet House floor plan

Heathrow and London

High house prices in London and south-east England are facilitating the conversion of more office blocks. A former American Airlines office block near Heathrow has been converted to provide 288 “flats”. An application was also lodged for converting Lewisham House in south east London into 230 new “homes.” The Independent reported on Pocket homes in Southall, Ealing that recently sold for £165,000. The latest development, in Brixton, has one-bedroom apartments from £248,500 and ‘boasts’ communal gardens and cycle storage!

Croydon – the UK hotspot for micro homes

It would appear that Croydon, is fast becoming a UK micro homes hotspot. In housing minister Gavin Barwell’s own constituency, Guardian Money found a studio “flat” in the centre of Croydon with a floor area of less than 15sq m. Others in Croydon “tracked down” by the Guardian, included a 14.9sq m flat in George Street and a 16sq m home in Barclay Road. Inspired Asset Management has developed hundreds of micro flats, many of them in Croydon. Unsurprisingly, Inspired told the Guardian it was “delighted” the government plans to review the space standards. A spokesman confirming that a one-bed flat has a typical floor area of 30sq m – 36sq m, whilst admitting it had built even smaller flats previously. They claim there is a strong demand for such property, having built 515 micro “apartments” since 2013 – 90% of which sold before completion.

The housebuilders’ lobby group Home Builders Federation [HBF] have persistently argued against minimum space standards for private housing, with spurious claims it reduces “customer choice” – “If you make a house bigger, it’s naturally going to be more expensive, so if you take away that choice by specifying a minimum size, you are by definition ruling out a section of the market on an affordability basis.”

Gavin Barwell- current housing ministerHousing minister, Gavin Barwell, voiced a similar opinion in a speech last autumn when he suggested it might not now be possible for young people to afford to buy a full-sized home, so builders should look to build ever smaller, more affordable homes. He said:
“Now look: most people, given the choice, would like to live in a nice big home. But I think for many young people – if I was 22 today, I would rather have the chance to own that than be priced out.”

Something tells me that no member of parliament would be prepared to live in any of these micro “homes”, even for just four nights a week.

At least Pocket’s “high quality compact living model” flats of around 37sq m are over double the size of the smallest. The company has built 297 with another 700 in the pipeline. The average price is £255,000 but a one-bedroom flat in Lambeth will cost £332,000, hardly pocket-money prices, but still well below the average price £421,553, paid by first-time buyers in the capital.

In 2014, researchers from Cambridge University discovered Britain’s new homes were the smallest in Europe; with an average floor area of just 76sq m, about the size of a tube train.

Jane Duncan, president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, said late last year.

“We urgently need new homes, but building small homes or cutting corners when converting office buildings to flats is short-sighted and fails the people these new homes are meant to serve. The Government must take action to ensure a fairer minimum space standard is applied to all new homes across the country.”

It has long been recognised that small cramped conditions are detrimental to health and well-being. These micro homes may be perfectly suitable as temporary stop-gap accommodation for those made homeless. But surely they cannot be regarded as part of a long term solution to fix “Britain’s broken housing market.”  As a developed, first-world country, the UK government should not be promoting and rubber-stamping its approval for what is little more than the 21st century equivalent of a third-world mud hut.

Shadow housing minister, John Healey, agrees accusing the government of: “giving developers a free hand to bypass proper planning process, sidestep affordable housing requirements and build rabbit hutch homes that aren’t fit for purpose. Short-sighted new developments are no shortcut to building the homes the country needs.”

Graeme Brown, interim chief executive of Shelter, said:
“In theory, converting offices sounds like a good way of creating some of the homes we need in a time of crisis. But in reality, it’s often used by developers as a way of cashing in on people’s desperation by building unaffordable, rabbit-hutch homes. Our homes are already among the smallest in Europe, and if the government allows developers to cut corners by slashing space standards in homes even more, they will be punishing ordinary families in the process.”

For more information, see Julia Park’s excellent publication One hundred years of housing space standards. What next?  What indeed.

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Leasehold new houses – the next mis-selling scandal?

Caught in a trap – Leasehold new houses

Given the information, no new homebuyer would ever choose to buy a house with a leasehold title. Perhaps this is why some housebuilders hide this extremely important information from new homebuyers. Even if they do think to ask about the property title, it’s no good saying “People are scared of change because it’s something new. But it’s virtually freehold.” As a Persimmon sales advisor told a reporter from The Guardian.

leasehold new houses

Is it Freehold? New homebuyers are getting caught out by newly-built leasehold houses.

Justin Madders MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston, is calling for a ban on leasehold new houses:

“It is clear this system is being abused to drive huge profits at ordinary ­homeowners’ expense. There is no need for there to be leasehold properties, particularly those on an estate where the properties are mainly detached houses.

“They need to be banned – it may be a convenient way for developers to get extra profit from their building work, but once they get in the hands of these private equity companies the profit motive overrides any considerations that there are real people living in their homes, who are being asked to stump up eye-watering sums.”

As Patrick Collinson reported in The Guardian on Saturday 29 October 2016, a new house built by Taylor Wimpey in Ellesmere Port was sold for £155,000 on a 999-year lease in 2009. Seven years later, the owner was quoted £32,000 to buy the freehold from E&J estates who had bought the freeholds from Taylor Wimpey. Another buyer was quoted up to £40,000 by E&J estates for the freehold of their 2011, 4-bedroom £122,000 house and despite a long lease, another new homebuyer in Manchester is was forced to pay £38,000 to buy the freehold on their recently built home.

Escalating ground rent is another issue. Taylor Wimpey set the ground rent at £295 a year on the Ellesmere Port development, with the contract stating that ground rent will double every ten years!

The Guardian reports:

“Like thousands of others in England and Wales, buyers have been trapped by a controversial trend among housebuilders to sell homes as leasehold when they previously would have been freehold. The buyers are given reassuringly long 999-year leases – but later find that buying the freehold is prohibitively expensive.”

Government figures show that around 6,000 new houses were sold as leasehold last year. Previously, houses on new-build developments were sold as freehold, but leasehold new houses are becoming more common with the likes of Persimmon, Taylor Wimpey and Bellway selling houses as leasehold on their developments. Indeed a third of new houses sold by Persimmon are leasehold, around 4,372 in 2015, nearly three-quarters of all new leasehold houses registered in 2015.

Justin Madders, MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston, whose constituency covers the Taylor Wimpey development says the situation is: “morally indefensible”. 

“I have had a number of constituents contact me, saying they were aware at the time of purchase that the freehold was extra. However, they didn’t know the original developer sold the leaseholds to private investors who have ruthlessly exploited the law to line their own pockets.

“The prices they have been quoted to buy the freehold have rocketed beyond any reasonable sum people can afford. I have found constituents are unable to afford the fees being quoted and there are extortionate charges associated with obtaining permission to alter the property. Just over £2,500 was quoted for permission just to build an extension.”

The Guardian said it is easy for buyers to miss the fact that the new property is leasehold. For example, at Persimmon’s Agusta Park development in Yeovil, Somerset comprising of 2, 3 and 4-bedroom homes, all are being sold leasehold. Yet The Guardian reported there was no mention that the houses are leasehold on either Persimmon’s website, or in the site brochure.

Asking about the lease, Guardian reporters were told it was 999 years and the ground rent was £150, then £190, and eventually that the ground rent would go up every 10 years using a formula linked to the RPI. The Persimmon sales advisor said:

“It’s a 1,000-year lease. If she lives to 100 there will still be another 900 years to go. It’s virtually freehold. Flats are always sold as leasehold. Lots of [house] developments are going this way now. People are scared of change because it’s something new. But it’s virtually freehold.”

And regarding buying the freehold?

“It’s not available at the outset, but can be bought within two years. I’ve no idea. We don’t quote on the price of the freehold.”

Potential buyers allege they are not told about the leasehold until late in the process.

One Guardian Money reader said: “We were about to purchase a new house when we noticed that part of the communal charge for the upkeep of open spaces was for ground rent.” alleging that at no stage was the word leasehold used by the salespeople, nor was it in any of the documentation they signed. The reader said they pulled out of the purchase of the Persimmon home after seeing stories of housebuilders charging large fees just to give permission to make alterations, such as installing a conservatory and tens of thousands of pounds to purchase the freehold.

Developers were asked why they are selling houses as leasehold?

Persimmon told the Guardian:

“Persimmon sells a mixture of both leasehold and ­freehold properties. As Persimmon has acquired other ­companies over the decades, it has inherited the freehold reversions of leasehold properties sold by those businesses. There are around three million leaseholders in Britain. All Persimmon leasehold houses carry an extremely long ­999-year lease and customers are informed at ­purchase what type of property they are buying.”

Persimmon refused to state the typical ground rents charged, how much the company makes from selling freeholds, or the fees charged to leaseholders for approval for alterations or things like building a conservatory.

Taylor Wimpey ­confirmed it had sold freeholds to E&J Estates, but did not disclose the price, and would not comment on the £32,000 E&J Estates wanted for a freehold. They told the Guardian:

“At Taylor Wimpey the vast majority of our houses are sold on a freehold basis. However, in a small number of developments, ­predominantly in regions of the ­country where it is common practice in the market, we sell houses on a leasehold basis. Throughout any sale process, customers are fully informed of the ownership structure of the home. If a customer is interested in such a property, the sales team advises them whether the property is being sold on a leasehold basis.”

­Issues concerning leasehold properties will be top of the agenda for the all-party parliamentary group on leasehold and commonhold next month. Chaired by Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick and Tory Sir Peter ­Bottomley, has attracted 43 MPs and lords.

Sebastian O’Kelly of the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership – a support group set up to protect and campaign on behalf of ordinary leaseholders said:

“It is disgraceful that plc ­housebuilders are building leasehold houses that ­ordinarily – and until recently – would have had freehold title. This is an ­erosion of the wealth of ordinary people at the expense of the rich.

Young people, after years of paying rent, finally buy a home and then find they are still, in fact, tenants – which is what a leaseholder is – with all the ­vulnerability that that implies.

The housebuilders are evasive over this issue and it beggars belief that the ­outrageous ground rent multiples come from household-name builders. There is no attempt to justify the adoption of leasehold tenure for these houses, which are not complex communal sites such as blocks of flats.”

 

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House builders are cheating new home air leakage testing

Since 2006, Part L of the Building Regulations – The Conservation of Fuel and Power in England and Wales – has required mandatory air leakage testing of new buildings including homes. These regulations were further revised in 2010. But this does not mean every new home will be subject to an air leakage test to comply even under the latest 2010 Part L.

What is air leakage testing?

Air Leakage TestingAir leakage testing basically checks that a new home is air tight and will not let in draughts or provide a route for heat to escape through gaps in the structure. After sealing up all required vents to windows and extractors, air is then drawn out of the home via a large fan in an external doorway, with the pressure monitored for a set period of time to produce a measurement of the amount of air that leaks back into the home being tested.

So you would think that since 2010, all new homes would be relatively air tight, free of draughts and cheap to heat as a result?

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The Consumer Code For Home Builders Is Failing New Homebuyers

PrintClose examination of the 2015 published case studies for Consumer Code for Home Builders Adjudication Scheme (CCHBAS) shows exactly what is wrong with the house building industry. It is now time for a New Homes Ombudsman to independently deal with homebuyers complaints and award justifiable and fair levels of compensation. At present, the maximum new homebuyers can claim using the CCHBAS is £15,000. The maximum compensation for “inconvenience” is just £250 – this being all that was awarded to a quarter (27%) of the successful claimants in 2015.

A total of 47 complaints made by new homebuyers were adjudicated in 2015. Of these, 41 were successful or successful ‘in part’ due to a total of 110 violations over 17 different Code requirements. Only one Code requirement (3.4) was not mentioned in any of the case studies.

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Housebuilding Prestigious “Bodgers” Awards 2015

Bodge the builder – can they fix it?

bodger trophyWell probably yes, but they will move heaven and earth to avoid doing so. It is at this time of year that I like to produce a light-hearted article, poking fun at the general house building industry. However the increasing  poor quality of new homes and the lack of any discernible after sales service mean that most new home buyers have experiences that are as far from funny as you can get.

Nevertheless, this year I am proud to announce the inaugural winners of the “BODGERS” awards. These are the awards for the very worse in everything housebuilding that I have come across over the last twelve months.

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Attending The APPG Inquiry Into The Quality of New Build Housing in England

The All Party Parliamentary Group for “Excellence in the Built Environment” was formed in July 2010. The group is chaired by Oliver Colvile MP, with Nick Raynsford and the Earl of Lytton acting as vice-chairmen. The latest APPG Inquiry is looking at the Quality of New Build Housing in England and “examining the potential for improving every aspect of the product handed over to new home-owners.” (For details of the full committee see end of this article)

APPG Inquiry at the Houses of Parliament

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New National Space Standards For New Homes Not Compulsory

Thanks to successful lobbying by the HBF, it is a case of Carry On Regardless as housebuilders dodge yet another bullet, this time it is building larger ‘fit for purpose’ new homes.New Home Blog

As with most things that effect housebuilders, the new National Space Standards for new homes have been watered-down to such an extent that it is doubtful that any of the major housebuilders will ever be required (or forced) to design new homes that adhere to the new space standards. Not that this matters as the space standards have been set so low, that the size of the average new homes currently being built all but comply anyway!

The average family home shrinks two square metres in ten years.

Britain’s incredible shrinking new homes

Britain’s tiny ‘rabbit-hutch’ new homes are bad for your health

Unlike other aspects of the Housing Standards Review, the space standard has not been incorporated into the Building Regulations. Establishing compliance and any enforcement action will rest with the local planning authority.

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New Homes To Have Home Quality Mark

HQMThe Building Research Establishment (BRE) is introducing a national quality mark for new housing that it claims should give home buyers and renters a clear indication of the quality and performance of a new home.

BRE logoThe BRE says it is a “world leading building science centre that generates new knowledge through research. This is used to create products, tools and standards that drive positive change across the built environment.” The BRE claim its ownership structure enables the BRE to be “held as a national asset on behalf of the construction industry and its clients, independent of specific commercial interests.” Allegedly protecting the “impartiality and objectivity of the BRE Group in providing research and guidance.” The BRE Trust is a registered company limited by guarantee and also registered as a charity in England.

A number of stakeholders are currently working with BRE on the development of their Home Quality Mark from its beta testing stage. Of the housebuilders, only Galliford – with its perennial ‘four-star’ HBF-rated Linden subsidiary, ‘minnow’ Cala, and Kier are currently involved at present.

CALA Homes, plan to trial the Mark. Cala Chief Executive Alan Brown said: “Independent benchmarking of new homes is hugely important. For CALA, it provides third party recognition of our commitment to consistently build high quality, sustainable homes. For homeowners, it offers a simple and reliable measure of the energy performance of the property they are buying. We look forward to working with BRE on the new Home Quality Mark.”

P1000466

The BRE say “the new national quality mark will transform the way consumers choose the homes they buy and rent and will provide house builders with a valuable independent quality mark they can use to highlight the innovative features of their homes and differentiate themselves in the marketplace at a time of rapid growth.”

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Why are house builders and their agents still deliberately mislead buyers

New homes – all sugar and spice and all things nice?   That’s what the house builders would have you believe.  Slugs and snails and snagging list tales would be closer to the truth!  

Included with last weekends Mail on Sunday was a property paper called ‘The Location’ described as – “44 pages of property inspiration.”   Within it’s covers were some of the most outrageous superlatives I have ever seen used by house builders and their selling agents to describe not only the new homes being advertised, but also the location of the developments.

 Builder ads 1

Not once were the adjectives used to describe the homes and developments backed up with any tangible statement of explanation.  Here is another translation of what the builders say and what it really means

Of the homes they were described as:

“Bespoke”  Implying that they are being built to a buyer’s own specific requirements rather than in all probability, a one-off design forced by the planning process.

“Contemporary”  This just means “of the same age; present-day” yet it is frequently used to imply state-of-the-art features, designs or specifications.

“Exclusive”  This commonly used to imply the development or properties are one of kind – hardly the case with most new homes.

“Uncompromised quality”  Really?  How is this substantiated?  So there we have it, this development does not “compromise” on quality, implying or more usefully, confirming that others do.  

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Advantages and disadvantages of buying a show home

For many, buying the show home may seem a great idea. But anyone considering buying an ex show home should consider the many disadvantages as well as the perceived advantages.

Bovis Sales OfficeThe first thing to be wary of is to not getting taken in by the furnishings and the techniques the housebuilder has used. In recent times, many people have become obsessed with lifestyles and developers are using this to their advantage so potential show home buyers should be sceptical when viewing. 

The most critical issue to buyers is nearly always price. A show home can, and usually does cost, more than the same house type on the development, This is because all the little extras that are in the show home are added to the price. Remember house builders never give bargains! The price will have been very carefully considered to get the maximum amount that can be realistically achieved, in the short time the sales staff may be on the development. You should be prepared to negotiate with the builder, as you will have not been able to choose your kitchen and other options and the home will be used to some extent. 

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