Opinion: Why are there so few design-led homes?

Hi, I’m Gus Zogolovitch and I’m the founder of Rare Space. We’re an agency which is all about finding the best homes in London. So the question I’ve been asked today is ‘Why are there not more design-led homes?’ Why is it so difficult to find them?

And I think the answer comes down fundamentally to an idea about incentives. Now hopefully I won’t get too elaborate and complicated here. But bear with me for a minute as I try and explain what I mean by that.

So, when you’re building a home, you as a developer, you go out, you find a bit of land, and then you commission an architect, you get planning, you build the building and then you sell the building.

So far, so good.

What people forget is the way you raise money really comes from 2 sources. Well, I suppose 3 sources.

Source no. 1: the banks. And they will generally lend maybe up to about 60% of the cost. Then you’ve got what you can put in, and as a business, you might be a relatively small developer, or even if you’re a big developer, you’re not going to put all your money into one thing, so you then maybe put the next 10 to 15, to 20%. But you’re still missing that other level, which is probably another 20% of the money you need to buy and build sites.

Now, the problem is, that 20% comes from potentially high-net-worth individuals, and those high-net-worth individuals are focused on maintaining their wealth and they want a good return on their money for the risk they’re taking in giving you, lending you, investing in your project.

So what happens is the buildings generally get driven through a financial and profit incentive, rather than a wider design, aesthetic, customer perspective. Because, if you think about it, if you can build something a bit cheaper, you’re going to make more profit. And if you make more profit, your investors are going to be happier.

And so fundamentally the problem we have is that it doesn’t pay to spend more on building quality. Because at the other end, unlike in most industries, where, for example, in the car industry.

Let’s say you went to a dealership and on one level, you looked at the price of a Skoda, and a Skoda might cost you £10-15,000, I don’t know, but let’s assume.

If you go to a Bugati, if you go to a Bentley, those are going to cost potentially £100,000. Now, what’s the difference? They’re both cars, they get you from A to B.

The difference is in the quality of the materials, in the design. We all completely understand that. We expect that. And we think it’s completely normal.

Yet, when it comes to housing, we as consumers don’t go, ‘well, that one’s a sort of cheap version of that, which is expensive, so I’m going to pay 5 times as much for that house which is exactly the same location.’

This is driven through valuers and through banks. And valuers will say that’s a 5 bedroom home, that’s a 5 bedroom home, they’re roughly about the same size, they’re kind of in the same street, they should be priced the same.

And we might say well hold on a minute, these homes here have got small windows, they’ve got poor quality windows, they have PVC windows rather than wood or aluminium. They have small doors and they have small floor to ceiling height.

And these ones don’t, they have bigger floor to ceiling, they have floor to ceiling glass, they’ve been thought about, they’ve got higher quality wood.

But that doesn’t matter because it’s about how much space there is, because generally homes are compared and valued on a rate per square foot.

And for that reason, there’s big dis-incentives to spend more money on good design. And that’s what we’re trying to change and that’s what we try to uncover because, frankly, those developers who care more than just getting the quickest buck they can get, and actually want to build something that has legacy, and that lasts, and thinks about the customer first rather than the investors first, are few and far between.

And I think that, ultimately, is why we have so few design-led homes.

Why do you think it’s so hard to find design-led homes? Let us know in the comments!

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