Are microhomes the answer? 29 March 2018
We all know the difficulties and struggles of becoming a homeowner; young people having to endure exorbitant private renting costs. Thousands of families living in substandard housing and rough sleeping is just the tip of the homeless iceberg plus many “hidden homeless” sofa surfing.
Development schemes where property prices start at £810,000 for a 41.7m2 studio (I can’t tell you the cost of a three-bed for fear you’ll choke on your breakfast) and space at a premium in London many having packed up their ambitions for more of it long ago all add to the pressure and difficulties of London living.
We are told we’re in the midst of a housing shortage epidemic, but at the top end of the market, developers are building just enough homes to meet demand. Those who suffer however are low and middle earners. Recent nationwide research from estate agents Savills found that only a third of the homes needed by this group are in the pipeline.
Which brings us on to microhomes, like everything there are arguments for and against these little lodgings but who is right?
An obvious argument for the benefit of small homes is the effect they have or lack there of on the environment. It’s no coincidence that the “green” movement happened to coincide with the tiny housing trend. Tiny homes use a fraction of the resources a traditional home would The smaller square footage allows you to use less energy in the form of electricity and gas. In fact according to Red Planet you could decrease your carbon dioxide emissions by 26000 pounds per year. An average sized house will produce 28,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions every year, while a tiny house will emit 2,000 pounds. Thus, owning a tiny house could go a long way to reducing your personal carbon emissions to a more acceptable level. The primary reason why tiny homes use less energy is that there is simply less space to heat and cool. Another reason is that fewer electrical appliances are needed. Larger homes take a certain toll on the environment. By using less land, fewer building materials and a more modest level of natural resources, micro housing is an environmentally-conscious homeowner’s dream.
Financially cost effective?
Pocket Living established in 2005 are champions of microhomes and offer two types; Pocket Living and Pocket Edition.
Pocket Living is aimed at First time buyers trying to get on the property ladder earning less than £90,000. They are offered to those local to the borough at a 20% discounted rate in comparison to the average property price in the area. Pocket Edition is open to anyone and offer 3 bedroom family homes still compact in space but innovative in design. They are contemporary in style and are conveniently located to the high street, local amenities and transport hubs. They have landscaped courtyards and plenty of secure cycle storage.
As previously mentioned many of the designs are impressive: prefabricated constructions made from steel frames and concrete slabs. They are quicker to build and middle-income tenants will enjoy the sort of generous shared amenities more often found in luxury flats: a gym, roof terrace, bike storage as seen in the accommodation Pocket Living offer.
Architect Anna Rochar designed the Skinny House in Almere Poort in the Netherlands. The frame took less than 2 days to build and occupies less space than a double garage. The living space is spread over 3 floors and has sliding doors and built in furniture.
However though their designs don’t come up short some do. The minimum space regulation of 37m2 for some residential units this has been waived raising the question: is clever design a substitute for actual space?
Does size matter?
In December 2015, the Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba) released a report on new homes that warned, shockingly, that half of all new homes are too small for families “to live comfortably and cohesively, to eat and socialise together, to accommodate a growing family or ageing relatives, or even to store possessions including everyday necessities such as a vacuum cleaner.” Many of these micro homes are inadequate in size some are being offered on the market at 19sqm the same size as two prison cells! National space standards suggest that a one-person dwelling can’t be smaller than 37 sqm. That’s about the same internal space as a tube carriage, and a fair bit larger than the average Travelodge room, which is 28 sqm so 19sm is far from cutting it.
Julia Park, head of housing research, Levitt Bernstein says “if microhomes are part of the solution, they are also part of the problem. Smaller homes lead to higher densities; higher densities lead to higher land prices and higher land prices lead to crazy purchase prices. Each time a micro-flat is sold, it sets up a chain reaction that nudges up the price of everything else.” Though there is certainly a role for micro-homes as one of the options for tackling the housing crisis they come with a big caveat with regards to space and quality of life. Many people will compromise on the size of their home to get a foot on the ladder and this could be hugely exploited if micro-housing became mainstream. A fundamental issue preventing it from becoming mainstream is potentially the difficulty to buy them. How easy are they to buy?
To buy or not to buy?
Not very! Is the answer. According to Which? Lloyds Bank, Barclays and Santander all said although they didn’t have a specific size limit, they lend on the basis of a professional valuation. However Nationwide and RBS wouldn’t lend on properties with floor areas smaller than 30 sqm. RBS added that smaller properties run the risk of ‘restricted demand’ and ‘volatile pricing on resale’. If most buyers cannot easily get a mortgage on the property it will prove difficult to sell plus limit price growth over the long-term.
So we can see that while their popularity is certainly growing, we need to be cautious about this new trend. For some first time buyers and singles they may be perfect but be aware that selling up to purchase the second home or start a family may be tricky as they don’t grow in value. We know the housing market is broken but is a race to the finish line the answer?