New label for UK homes could transform buying, renting and housebuilding

A labelling system to give buyers key information about homes has been trialled and top housebuilder Barratt Homes has pledged to apply it. The label gives details of the property’s price per square metre, the amount of storage contained in the home, broadband speed, annual energy cost, estimated annual maintenance cost, daylight level and volume of space.

The home performance label has been developed by housing industry body The Housing Forum, working with architect HTA Design and building defects insurer BLP Insurance. It has put the labelling approach to the test in 15 homes and the results of the trial are summarised in a newly released report, The case for home performance labelling. The label can be accessed by consumers via a website – similar to estate agent websites – which gives homes red (for poor performers), amber and green ratings.

The driver for the initiative was the lack of information available to homebuyers. Ben Derbyshire, chair of The Housing Forum and managing partner of HTA Design pointed out, “We know less about the home we buy than about the cornflakes we had for breakfast”.

Barratt Developments group chief executive Mark Clare said he hoped the labelling initiative, which is still in development, would lead to an accredited scheme and that the housebuilder, which is on course to deliver more than 15,000 homes in the 2015 financial year, planned to apply the label to its output. He pointed out that while property price and location were the overriding influences for homebuyers, factors like running costs and broadband speed also matter.

Beyond the consumer, labelling could have a positive impact across the industry, Clare said : “It could help the housebuilders to raise their game. The electrical appliances industry has been transformed by labels”. He added that it could even drive upgrading activity in the second hand homes sector, providing an imperative for homeowners to ‘compete’ with new build homes. Although there are still hurdles for the initiative to overcome, the application of labelling is being seen as particularly useful to better inform tenants in the fast evolving rental market.

The labelling approach is also set to help local planning authorities assess developers’ response to the new national space standard, which is scheduled to come into force this October.

Key findings from the 15-home pilot, included:

  • Despite being newly designed to current Building Regulations or better, only one home scored a satisfactory or better rating in all categories
  • No other unit type scored well in all respects, and none scored badly
  • Storage provision was generally poor – providing evidence to support the frequent complaints about lack of storage space from new homebuyers. One scheme failed to provide any storage at all to the standard required by the London Mayor’s Housing Design Guide
  • The price per square metre showed the smallest home was not necessarily the best value for money
  • Running costs varied widely, from between £3600 and £6500 a year. There was also found to be significant variation in running between new homes of the same size
  • One Victorian home was included in the trial. Interestingly it did not outperform the best new build in terms of daylight and volume – factors chosen to try to quantify the ‘spaciousness’ often associated with period homes. The Victorian home also turned out not to be much more expensive to run than the most expensive of the similar new build types.

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