Attention to design and placemaking shows dividends for new build homes

When it comes to buying a new build home, a common image that sails into the mind is of rows of identical properties, often crammed together with green space at a premium. However, when developers build more imaginative homes and allow for a real community to develop around them, can this add to the values achieved? Journalist Ben Kochan sets out to find out more. New housing developments frequently come in for criticism because of their lack of distinctiveness and concern for making a ‘place’. These concerns have gone unheeded in many new developments, as the homes have still found ready buyers. However, now new evidence is suggesting that more attention to design and placemaking pays dividends - though the large housebuilders are generally not appreciating it. This new research, sponsored by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and carried out by property consultants CBRE, found that placemaking does add commercial value but there are considerable disparities in the size of the premium - which ranged between five and 50 per cent - and it also varied between different dwelling types.

The study looked at five major recent housing developments where particular effort was expended on creating a ‘place’, and compared values with similar homes in the surrounding areas. The Accordia development in Cambridge, winner of several architectural prices including the prestigious Stirling Prize, was the strongest performer and exceeded local new build values by 56 per cent – though that premium might have been helped by the accolades which the development received.

Overall, smaller terraced houses were often considerably more expensive than new semi-detached local homes. The study suggested that young families, in particular, were keen to move in and were willing to pay a premium, even if it meant compromising on the size of the property. They were prepared to pay a premium for a new home on a development with: good community provision (in particular good schools), extensive public parks and play spaces and community space to meet their neighbours.

The researchers comment that the housebuilding industry tends to focus on economies of scale through standardisation in order to improve affordability. This runs contrary to the delivery of bespoke features, which actually generate a premium.

Another way of creating maximum value uplift from good placemaking is for the housebuilders to hold onto the land for longer than their business accounting processes allow. The report suggests that a successful first phase of development leads to a higher land price for the second phase.

The case study sites (with the exception of Accordia) were promoted by non-traditional developers with an innovative attitude. Their success is something that the larger housebuilders could learn from.

Ben is a regular contributor to Planning Magazine and Placemaking Resource and has recently edited books on Migration in London and the Private Rented Sector.

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